News Brief

Buy Clean: Federal Funds to Have Low-carbon Strings Attached

The Biden administration is going bigger on embodied carbon by committing to lower emissions from 98% of its construction material purchases. New standards will apply to all federally funded projects.

a pile of U.S. money
Photo: Jericho. License: CC BY 3.0.
The U.S. government is vowing to buy lower-carbon construction materials—and to require projects using federal funds to do the same.

Details of the federal government’s so-called Buy Clean Initiative—a program that will require procurement of construction materials that have lower carbon footprints than standard products—are still under development by the Buy Clean Task Force, but the Biden administration has made it clear not only that more agencies are adopting procurement standards but also that all federally funded projects will have to follow them.

Inspired by state-level programs like California’s 2017 law (which mysteriously does not include concrete), the federal government announced its own forthcoming Buy Clean plans in December 2021 amid other initiatives designed to make the government carbon neutral by 2050.

The General Services Agency (GSA) released its Buy Clean standards for concrete and asphalt earlier in 2022, but the list of target materials for the wider federal government is expanding to include steel and flat glass. “These four construction materials are some of the most carbon-intensive, accounting for nearly half of all U.S. manufacturing [greenhouse gas] emissions and representing 98% of the government’s purchased construction materials,” according to a White House press release.

And the goal is to spread low-carbon procurement to all federally funded projects. The U.S. Department of Transportation, for example, has stated its intention to consult environmental product declarations (EPDs) and set embodied carbon policy for transportation projects it funds.

But how and when standards will be developed and applied by different agencies remains to be seen. The concrete industry is well positioned to provide EPDs and has long-established strategies for reducing embodied carbon, but other industries are not as far along.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be supporting improved standardization of EPDs for construction materials, as well as providing technical assistance to U.S. manufacturers—and developing a low-carbon label for construction products—as we reported in our coverage of the Inflation Reduction Act.

More about Buy Clean initiatives

Feds Introduce Decarbonization Specs for Government Projects

Biden Orders Carbon-Neutral Federal Government by 2050

California Law Uses Environmental Product Declarations to Drive Low-Carbon Procurement

Concrete Pours through Loophole in New Carbon Law

Published September 30, 2022

Melton, P. (2022, September 30). Buy Clean: Federal Funds to Have Low-carbon Strings Attached. Retrieved from

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November 21, 2022 - 3:31 pm

NYS adopted a specification for Lower Carbon Concrete that was informed by the excetional work of the Port Authority of NY/NJ. The team that put this together included about 30 people, and I was pleased to convene this idea and this group to do the work. They were amazing. It is open access along wiht many other (mostly commodity) specs - Approved GreenNY Specifications | Office of General Services

I also was invited to speak on a panel discussion about the process of writing and approving this specification, as well as the intent behind it, at the Global Clean Energy Action Forum in Pittsburgh in September. Don Horn of the GSA was part of the panel along with Soledad Reeve from Office of the Federal - Natural Resources, Canada, and Jordan Palmeri of the Oregon Dept of Environmental Quality, all working on procurement of lower carbon concrete and steel.  

This is the time and we are the movers and shakers.