It's been a rough year for our industry. So when I hear good news, I quickly try to relay it. Imagine my chagrin when in mid-October I was given an insider's tip on some great news, but asked to keep it quiet until the results were officially announced.
Brian McCarthy, president of the Portland Cement Association (PCA), was my source. In a confidential discussion, he provided me hope. “I've just reviewed a preliminary research report that could be a game changer for our industry,” said McCarthy in San Marcos, Texas.
On Dec. 9, researchers with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Concrete Sustainability Hub confirmed what McCarthy told me. At the press conference, the MIT team provided preliminary results on two ongoing studies—”Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Buildings” and “Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Highway Pavements.” These studies provide the framework needed by the scientific community, industry leaders, and public policymakers to determine the environmental life-cycle costs of building materials and paving over the lifetime of projects.
In simple terms, structures made with concrete contribute to reducing society's carbon footprint more than previously thought. MIT's research incorporates the best available data (using life-cycle modeling) and incorporates all stages of “cradle-to-grave” analysis.
The MIT announcement is more than reassuring—it's vindicating. When McCarthy tipped me off about the upcoming reports, he admitted that the oversight committee had some concerns about inviting the independent MIT review. But I think he's pulling his punch, as our industry has had decades of sound LSA research indicating concrete and its role in masonry construction is an important sustainable construction material.
What I find most satisfying about the announcement is the integrity surrounding the research. Anyone challenging the results isn't taking on the concrete or cement industry. They are challenging MIT's integrity, an institution with a reputation of actively defending its researchers.
There is great value in this new research. Green construction is no longer a buzzword; it's the norm. The MIT research provides evidence that concrete and masonry structures can not be discounted in their value to sustainability solely based on the CO2 emissions of cement operations.
Research like this can be expanded to help all segments of our industry. Masonry structures can reduce society's carbon footprint due to the energy savings their designs provide, and their durability. A structure that will stand the test of time is the ultimate in sustainability.
Some have suggested the PCA has backed off in its support of masonry construction. At a time when cement sales have plummeted and the industry finds itself under assault from the Environmental Protection Agency's emissions regulations, it is important to note that much of the funding for the MIT project came from the PCA. This investment has the opportunity to return great dividends to masonry construction.
To learn more about the latest developments in Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Concrete Sustainability Hub, visit www.whataretherealcosts.org.