When one thinks about carbon emissions, images of spewing smokestacks or tailpipes likely come to mind. But there is a pollution problem hidden in the built environment around us, from the buildings we live in to the roads we drive on.
A seventh of the world’s carbon emissions are associated with building materials like steel, cement, and aluminum. And globally, most companies that make these products are not on track to hit net-zero emissions by 2050. Put simply, there is a construction- shaped hole in our global efforts to combat climate change.
Fortunately, solutions exist. Steel can be made without coal in an electric-arc furnace. Cement and concrete can be made with lower carbon fuels. In fact, many lower-carbon building materials are already available at little or no extra cost. And there are a number of new technologies—such as clean hydrogen for steel and carbon capture, utilization and storage for cement—just around the corner that could reduce the carbon footprint of these materials to almost zero. The problem is that many are likely to cost more than the dirtier alternatives, which could hold up development and adoption.
The good news is that Canadian governments have the power to accelerate the shift to cleaner construction materials. And they can do it while supporting Canadian industries and workers.
Governments are among the largest buyers of building materials in Canada. And by procuring construction products with a lower carbon footprint, governments can effectively support a sizeable market for clean building products. This approach is referred to as “Buy Clean,” and it’s taking hold around the world, from the Netherlands to California.
This report quantifies the size of public infrastructure spending in Canada and recommends how Canada’s governments can most effectively use Buy Clean policies to cut emissions while supporting Canadian industry.