The sustainable choice

Feb. 9, 2017

A new Eco-Label will make life-cycle assessing better

Asphalt pavements are inherently sustainable. A fully reusable material, more than 99% of asphalt pavement removed during maintenance and repair activities can be reclaimed for use in new pavements. During the 2015 construction season, a total of 78 million tons of asphalt pavement was reclaimed for later reuse, and 74.2 million tons of RAP went into new pavement mixes.

Similarly, warm-mix asphalt (WMA), an industry-led innovation, makes it possible to create high-quality asphalt mixtures that reduce energy demands and increase worker comfort and safety. In 2015, 119.8 million tons of WMA was produced, which is a 524% increase since 2009, when FHWA selected deployment of WMA as one of its first Every Day Counts initiatives.

For drivers, asphalt pavements’ superior smoothness improves fuel economy, and reduces vehicle wear and tear.

Now NAPA is working to quantify these sustainable attributes in a way that is easy to understand and report, so that our customers can assign sustainability values to their asphalt pavements.

The FHWA has made sustainability a priority for road owners, leading research, programming and policies to educate and encourage state and local agencies to consider sustainability factors when making efficient pavement decisions.

In addition, three green construction rating systems—Green Globes, Greenroads and INVEST—have all taken steps to recognize and reward specific sustainability properties of pavements.

From both the public and private sector, there is an increasing desire to ensure that construction projects and materials align with environmental, social and economic sustainability goals.

Given this, NAPA saw a need to develop a resource for the asphalt pavement industry that provides an accurate life-cycle assessment (LCA) of asphalt pavement mixtures using environmental product declarations (EPD), the gold standard for LCAs.

In basic terms, EPDs are like nutrition labels, letting consumers see and understand what they are buying. Instead of vitamins and minerals, an EPD describes the sustainability characteristics of a product. Many industries have developed their own EPDs, and they are increasingly being requested by architects and project developers. The ready-mix concrete industry recently completed development of its own EPD for concrete plants and mixtures.

Louisiana, Oregon and California are currently piloting the use of EPDs to determine future transportation project decisions. The Louisiana Transportation Research Center is researching the integration of EPDs for pavement LCAs. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is offering financial incentives for concrete contractors to use EPDs; the Asphalt Pavement Association of Oregon is working to get the same arrangement for the use of asphalt pavement EPDs. And the California High-Speed Rail Authority has already begun requesting EPDs for projects on its rail system. Other DOTs are watching these projects.

Requests from private road owners and property owners for asphalt mixture EPDs are increasing. Several large NAPA members have reported private owners including requests for asphalt mixture EPDs in their project RFPs.

To meet this increasing need, NAPA has developed the Emerald Eco-Label, an easy-to-use tool that takes local information to generate a credible, third-party-verified plant- and mix-specific EPD for use in bidding on pavement projects.

With the launch of the Emerald Eco-Label, asphalt mix producers will be able to meet the need for calculated EPDs, and to document and demonstrate the sustainability advantages of asphalt pavements.

About The Author: Acott is president of the National Asphalt Pavement Association, Lanham, Md.

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