Composites Sustainability – ACMA Insider – February 22, 2024

New PCR for Utility Poles will Facilitate Comparison with Competitive Materials

A newly available Product Category Rule will guide the development and presentation of information on environmental impacts associated with the manufacture and use of utility poles. Environmental Product Declarations prepared following the PCR will allow electric utilities to compare the environmental impacts of composite, wood, steel and concrete poles when evaluating options for the purchase of new poles.  

The Product Category Rule for utility poles was published on February 7, 2024, by PCR program operator Sustainable Minds. Development of the utility pole PCR was sponsored by ACMA and supported by a grant from ACMA’s CGI Fund. A PCR is also called a “Part B: Product group definition”. 

Several ACMA member companies manufacturing composite utility poles participated in the consensus panel that developed the PCR, along with representatives of manufacturers of wood, concrete and steel poles. The consensus panel (committee) began work on the PCR in June 2023 and met weekly. With the guidance of Sustainable Minds, the committee worked through challenging issues including development of an approach for describing the unit that will serve as the basis for presenting information on environmental impacts, characterizing the expected service life for electrical distribution lines, and specifying how pole manufacturers will provide reference service life for their products. 

With the new PCR, utility pole manufacturers can prepare Environmental Product Declarations for their poles. An EPD is a statement of environmental impacts associated with the manufacture and use of a product in a standardized format that allows evaluation of the impact information by infrastructure owners and designers, such as electric utilities.  Federal policy will require infrastructure owners using federal funds, possibly including utilities using FEMA funds for reconstruction of distribution lines after a storm, to use EPDs to evaluate the environmental impacts of product and material options being considered for a project. 

The utility pole PCR features several advanced characteristics not commonly found in PCRs developed to date. It is a multi-material PCR, developed by a committee that included representatives from the industries using different materials to produce poles. It allows manufacturers to develop EPDs for their products that convey information about use-phase environmental impacts and benefits instead of just the cradle-to-gate impacts. And it was developed in compliance with the new ACLCA guidelines for PCRs. 

Contact John Schweitzer for more information. 

EPA Seeks Input on Climate Labeling Program for Construction Materials

In a February 15 notice, the Environmental Protection Agency asked for comments on a draft “approach” for identifying and labeling construction materials that have substantially lower embodied carbon (cradle-to-gate emissions of climate warming gases).  

EPA’s labeling program was mandated by the Inflation Reduction Act, which authorized $100 million for EPA to develop a program to “identify and label construction materials and products that have substantially lower levels of embodied greenhouse gas emissions associated with all relevant stages of production, use, and disposal, as compared to estimated industry averages of similar materials or products”.  

Initially, EPA’s program will evaluate and classify the cradle-to-gate emissions associated with steel, asphalt, concrete and plate glass products, although the agency wants to extend the program to include other materials and other lifecycle phases “as soon as possible”. 

EPA’s draft approach states that the label program is not intended to facilitate comparison between different material types or for project-level design decisions. Instead, the label program will help specifiers and procurement officials identify materials and products with substantially lower embodied carbon within an already-determined material type and performance needs.  

EPA does expect that the embodied carbon data improvements and embodied carbon thresholds identified during development of the labeling program will facilitate improvements in whole-building and whole-construction project approaches to further reduce embodied carbon of federal infrastructure projects. 

Contact John Schweitzer for more information.