Buy Clean California & The Steel Supply Chain Webinar – Q&A

Q: Why are metal buildings excluded?

A: (JOHN) The definition of structural steel is taken from the AISC Code of Standard Practice and specifically metal building components are not included in that definition.

Q: In your opinion, will this evolve to include privately funded projects, or stay only on projects with public funds?

A: (JOSEPH) As stated earlier, there is a lot of stirring in the architectural community about this effort.  They’re embracing this to change the industry for the better, and in my opinion, this may bleed into privately funded projects. 

(JOHN) Agrees with Joseph.  Evaluating embodied carbon is certainly a trend with any product used in construction.  Goal eventually being reducing the embodied carbon in a new building to the point where the building becomes a net zero carbon structure.

(MAX) Certainly is moving into the private sector as evidenced from different professional organizations that are encouraging their member companies to make their own internal pledges, such as the Architecture of 2030 Initiative and the SE 2050 Initiative.  These movements will continue to grow.

COMMENT: Caltrans, in their EPD pilot project, is requiring asphalt concrete, concrete, and aggregate EPDs as well. This is just for data purposes for now and is only applicable to projects with certain dollar budget and material quantities.

COMMENT: The City of Los Angeles, Bureau of Engineering, will be implementing BCCA at the local level.

Q: Would Buy Clean apply to ancillary structural products such as structural bolts?

A: (JOHN) It will not include bolts at this point.  Just hot rolled structural sections, hollow structural sections, and steel plate.

Q: How far away is Washington State from implementing something like this?

A: (MAX) There has been legislative activity in Washington State.  There was an explicit Buy Clean Law that did not make it out of the current session, although in the recent State budget, there was a line item to study the possibility of a Buy Clean Program. There are current efforts continuing and underway and we would expect more Buy Clean legislation to be introduced in the next session.

Q: EPDs have to be backed by PCR. I have not heard about PCR in this presentation. PCR is the document that explains how cradle-to-gate LCA is done to produce an EPD.

A: (JOHN) The PCR is the document that sets the requirement of how an EPD is done.  The PCR has to conform to ISO 21930, which is the ISO standard that controls environmental product declarations.  All EPDs that meet the requirements of Buy Clean California have to meet the requirement of the current steel PCR that is used for domestic environmental product declarations.  This covers all construction products using steel in the US, either produced in the U.S. or used in the U.S.  That PCR was just updated and is available through Underwriters Laboratory (program operator for putting together PCR).  The final version went out in late December 2020. It is also a third party reviewed document that has been approved.

Q: How do you know if an expiration date from an EPD for a producer will meet the project schedule? 

A: (JOHN) When you send in the documentation of where you will be purchasing your material, the EPD would have to be valid at that point in time.  You would have to talk to your individual agency that is handling implementation and alert them that this EPD is going to be expiring within three months.  The other side of this is typically if an EPD isn’t updated or is in the process of being updated, there can be an extension of the timeframe for the existing EPD (typically up to six months). From the time of issue, an EPD has a life of five years until it expires.

Q: To clarify, the EPD must be valid through the fabrication date of the steel?

A: (JOHN) This has not been sorted out.  Again, talk to your individual agency if there is an issue involved of where you are going to get some of the steel from.  Also talk to the supplier.  My guess is once there is an EPD out there for a specific product or a specific mill facility, there will be a continuing commitment on the part of that producer to keep those EPDs up to date.  I think you are going to be fine.  Good communication will solve a lot of these problems.

Q: Who reviews and tracks the submittal documents on the design side?

A: (JOHN) That’s an interesting question because it goes back to the individual agencies.  The law is not written specifically on the design side.  It leans to when a bid is submitted – there has to be a demonstration that the material being used will meet the requirements of Buy Clean California.  It would probably go up through the General Contractor’s side rather than the design side, unless the designer has a contractual obligation to keep track of the documentation that is coming in on this.  Again, this is not an issue of the design side making a decision in terms of what type of material can be used in the design of the project; it is a decision in the procurement phase of the project in terms of from who you will purchase the material you will use based on its GWP levels.

Q: Will this include steel pipe In A252 grades?

A: (JOSEPH) This is not specified in Buy Clean California.

Q: Does this include material ordered prior to July 1 and to be delivered after July 1?

A: (JOHN) It is for contracts entered into after July 1.  If you have a project that is ongoing right now, it is not when that steel is going to be delivered, it is if your contract is dated after July 1 you have to comply.

Q: How do you see the Buy Clean affecting the downstream users of steel, such as for coatings (paint/galvanizing)? Will the coatings industry be asked to supply EPDs in additional to the steel EPDs?

A: (JOHN) I think at this point, the EPD we are looking for Buy Clean California is from the mill.  For a mill with fabrication EPD, we can back it to what the mill is.  When you start talking about LEED and some other programs, they may want EPDs that also show subsequent steps like galvanization or shop painting.  The AISC numbers go through the actual fabrication.  They do not include galvanization or shop painting of the project as it goes forward.  That would be a separate EPD that, in effect, would be added on.  I think at this point it is wise for every product to assume we are going to need EPDs out there at some point in the relatively near future, but I do not think a separate EPD for galvanized structural steel would be necessary for Buy Clean California.

Q: As a structural engineer designing projects with structural steel, what do we need to do to comply?

A: (JOHN) I do not want to say you don’t have to do anything, but you don’t have to do anything.  When you are designing and if you are attempting to minimize the amount of embodied carbon in a structure, what you would have to do is run a whole building life cycle assessment and look at the various design functions, design alternatives, and various materials you would use.  Those analyses are typically done using an industry average impact for each material.  Once you have completed your design, then that would go to the agency that would let that project out for bid.  When that project goes out for bid, it would have a requirement for so many tons of fabricated structural steel.  It would then be the responsibility of the fabricator (going down through the general contractor) to make sure that the structural steel purchased for that project meets the requirements for the GWP threshold for Buy Clean California.  So that really doesn’t link into the design side.  Buy Clean California is a procurement process and requirement, not a design process and requirement.

Q: Who decides/defines the PCR acceptance?

A: (MAX) On the EPD itself, on the first 2 or 3 pages, it will define a lot of introductory scope and material and it will identify which PCR the EPD was produced in accordance with.  There will only be 1 PCR. 

(JOHN) I should point out that the Buy Clean California legislation specifically says that the EPD has to be produced according to the industry’s PCR that is currently in place.  There is only one that is allowed by Buy Clean California.  For steel, that is defined.  The European PCR for structural steel would not qualify in California.

Q: Will this evolve to non-structural steel products such as pipe, electrical conduits, etc.?

A: (JOHN) I think the answer to that is yes.  What we are seeing the amendments proposed right now basically says it’s for any products for which there are EPDs available that are significant in the project.  California is the leading edge of that, but I think you’re going to see every product that goes into a building will have an EPD associated with it.

Q: EPD for plate has not been implemented/available how do we support EPD documentation to agency?

A: (MAX) This is a good question and frankly we do not have a good answer.  Frankly, the plate producers are aware of the issue, they’re working on it, and they’re going to be available soon.  How agencies, particularly in California, decide to deal with that will be up to them in the meantime.

Q: To clarify, since metal buildings are excluded from ‘Buy Clean’ does that exclusion also apply to all the HSS and structural steel that would be used within the structure?

A: (JOHN) If it’s part of the metal building system, yes. 

Q: Are there any groups in California working on incentive plans to help support suppliers meet these new EPD requirements?

A: (JOSEPH) I am not aware of any incentive plans other than trying to comply with Buy Clean California.

(JOHN) The legislation that is proposed for concrete to put thresholds in place actually takes an incentive approach rather than a penalization approach.  Buy Clean California is a penalty-based system.  If you are above the threshold, you can’t compete.  The concrete proposal that’s out there is if you comply with the threshold, you get a 5% deduct from your bid on a competitive basis.  You are incentivized to lower it because you’ll become more competitive in the marketplace.  Personally, I think that’s a much better approach.  I wish it was used for all materials because it allows everyone to compete and it rewards performance rather than penalizes it.  In terms of producing EPDs, there have been some California groups that have been a helped fund EPD for small businesses.  That’s kind of an on and off approach.  Again, we’re talking about mills that do not qualify under the small business category. 

Q: Is AISC in contact with EC3 and Sustainable Minds to ensure that the steel EPDs are posted there?

A: (JOHN) We are in contact with both Sustainable Minds and EC3.  The problem with EC3 right now, which is the predominant tool people are using, is that it’s a beta version.  When you get into it, it’s not very well organized in terms of defining the scope of the material that’s in a category.  They’re coming up with averages where some of the individual things that are being averaged in may be a scope of the mill gate, some may be the scope of the fabricator gate, and some may include galvanization.  Also, if you click structural steel, there will be some steel products included in there like merchant bar quality bars that really aren’t structural steel and shouldn’t be averaged in.  We are working with them to try to clean up those categories and make it more effective.  The concrete industry is saying that they have over 30,000 EPDs in EC3.  If you look at steel, there are only 50.  The reality of the situation is that their 30,000 EPDs in EC3 are based on different mix designs and in terms of coverage, only represent about 3% of the concrete produced in the U.S.  When you look at hot rolled structural shapes, the 5 or 6 EPDs that we have in EC3 represent 95% of the market.  You have to be careful about what you’re looking at in EC3 and make sure you’re getting the right information and getting the right averages between those components. 

Q: On slide 13, it states that this applies to “Any contract after July 1st”.  What is meant by “contract”?  Is this the prime contract for the tax dollar funded project? Or the contract with the mill for supply of steel?

A: (JOHN) It’s the contract that is entered into by the agency of the State of California.

Q: Will Clean California apply to pressure vessels?

A: (JOHN) Not according to the AISC code of standard practice.  

Q: What are the ballpark percentages of domestic steel to foreign steel used in US building construction?

A: (JOHN) You have to answer this question in a couple different ways because you have foreign material imported either as mill material or fabricated material.  When you’re looking at the West Coast and our discussions with the Department of General Services (DGS), you see about at 35% import rate between both fabricated and mill material for structural steel going into the California market.

Q: Does this law apply retrospectively to construction projects already awarded by State of California or only on new projects?

A: (JOHN) It would only be for new projects contracted after July 1st.  The only caveat is that there are some requirements for EPD provision and things like that that Caltrans has been handling separately.  They’ve had their own rules as well.  There may be something there that you would have to comply with, but in terms of complying with Buy Clean California itself, it would only be after July 1st, 2021 in terms of meeting that threshold.  Prior to July 1st, 2021, there was a requirement to provide EPDs on projects. 

Q: With regard to imported steel, do you know of any foreign steel producer that has EPDs that comply with the North American PCR?

A: (MAX) I am not aware of any foreign producers that comply with the American PCR.

Q: Define the use of plate.  Is that in the form of pipe or in the natural state which is just flat plate?

A: (JOSEPH) It does not include foreign pipe or foreign material that would be considered pipe.  In the HSS EPD, it relates to material that is rolled in the HSS process, then welded, then shaped.

(JOHN) With respect to plate, it would include structural steel plate used as plate in the structural frame, not plate that is formed into another product.

Q: Will AISC review this documentation in their audits of facilities?

A: (MAX) If you’re referring to AISC certification audits, I could see this could potentially have implications with certified fabricator’s purchasing procedures.  It would be a pretty good idea, in my opinion, for a certified fabricator to have a process in the quality management system to address this kind of procurement detail.  This may come up tangentially as an example of something an auditor would look at for audit evidence.  But currently there is nothing formally in the certification program to include this. 

Q: Will the August 2021 pending facility specific HSS EPD be one EPD with these 7 suppliers and their physical location listed out? Or should we anticipate separate EPDs for each HSS facility?

A: (JOSEPH) Each member producer will have their own company HSS EPD which will break out their facility specific EPD data.  Some producers only have 1 facility, some have multiple.  For those with multiple facilities, the facility specific data will be differentiated in the company EPD.

Q: Is the pipe spec A252 exempt given that it is not included on the specs so far provided?

A: (JOSEPH) Yes, it is not included in the Code of Standard Practices. 

Q: Companies will have to procure domestic slabs vs using foreign slabs after what date?

A: (JOHN) It sounds like what is being discussed is if it is a facility that is producing a steel product from a billet or slab that comes in from overseas. It would be based on a mix of what that facility is using in terms of the GWP of its input processes.  If it is getting slab that can be run through the process and produce a product that has a GWP level lower than the threshold, then there is no restriction on the fact whether it be a domestic slab or an imported slab.  If the slab is coming from a facility that is above the GWP level when it is made into a product, then that would not qualify.

Buy Clean California & The Steel Supply Chain Webinar On Demand

STI and AISC presented a joint presentation to provide clarity on the new Buy Clean California statute. Whether you are an engineer, structural steel producer, steel service center, structural steel fabricator, or just interested this webinar is for you.

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