CC: What are the main issues your association is currently addressing in regards to the construction industry?

Ken Simonson: The Associated General Contractors of America's (AGC) number one concern is the weak state of construction, which continues more than 15 months after the end of the recession. We believe it is vital for Congress to enact long-term infrastructure funding legislation and to provide stability and certainty for tax rates affecting private investment. We are also very involved in making sure the industry is not unfairly burdened by environmental, occupational safety, union protection, or anti-immigration legislation, regulations, or enforcement.

Brian McCarthy: I believe the concrete and cement industries are facing three main issues: an increasingly intense regulatory oversight environment; a slowly recovering economy; and the importance of positioning our products as the most sustainable and economical building materials now and for the future. Understandably, these three issues are also interrelated.

This summer EPA published the final rules for the NESHAP regulations covering mercury emissions, total hydrocarbons, hydrochloric acid, and particulate matter. Compliance with the rule will cost the industry several billion dollars, and require investments in pollution control equipment at a time when available capital is considerably constrained due to the state of the economy. Moreover, the large number of other regulatory requirements anticipated to affect the industry during the coming years, including a greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting rule and a "tailoring" rule for regulation of GHG emissions, complicates acquiring and installing the necessary emission controls for this rule. This could lead to additional cement plant closures, job losses, and a reduction in U.S. cement production capacity.

Yet at the same time, although cement consumption has compressed along with the U.S. economy during the last couple of years, the Portland Cement Association (PCA) expects volume gains in consumption to become more robust beyond 2012. By 2013, it is likely that all construction sectors-public, residential, and nonresidential-will record strong positive growth. However, increased EPA regulations will have to have a significant impact on domestic capacity. More cement will need to be imported to make up for shrinking domestic supply. We fear this could constrain the U.S. government's efforts to stimulate the economy, create jobs, and rehabilitate the nation's infrastructure.

As the construction sector and the U.S. economy recovers, there will be increased focus on the need to rebuild the nation's infrastructure sustainably and economically. This uniquely positions concrete as the material that can create durable structures at not only a low-first cost, but also at lower maintenance costs. The public will demand residential, commercial, and public infrastructure structures built with low-carbon, sustainable products. The industry needs to be ready to address this need.

CC: How could these issues impact the industry in both the short and long term?

Simonson: Without adequate funding, infrastructure will continue to crumble and the heavy construction industry will continue to shrink. The other threats may make construction prohibitively expensive for private owners or investors to undertake, further devastating the construction sector, which has already lost 2.1 million employees, or 27% of its workforce, since August 2006. Job losses for construction began nearly 18 months before the rest of the economy and have continued in 2010, while other private employers have added workers every month this year.

CC: Is there a particular innovation or technology on the horizon that could impact the concrete industry?

McCarthy: As sustainable development continues to evolve, the appropriate life-cycle analysis of structures will be crucial. Design professionals have long known the benefits of durable concrete structures. It is now our responsibility as an industry to communicate this as a sustainable benefit. PCA is involved in two initiatives to address this emerging trend.The first is the study "The Edge of Concrete: A Life-Cycle Investigation of Concrete and Concrete Structures," being conducted by the Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSH), a research center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that was cofounded by PCA and RMC Research & Education Foundation late last year. The research will focus on the development of a rigorous basis for identifying and quantifying the ecological and economic performance of concrete compared to other materials in some classical areas, such as pavements and buildings.

PCA also is actively involved in the development and maintenance of several national efforts to standardize and codify design and construction requirements for sustainable or green buildings. In addition to issues like energy efficiency, water use, and indoor air quality, PCA continues to work within the national codes and standards development processes to integrate the much needed functional resilience requirements into codes and standards intended to address sustainability. Buildings that require frequent routine maintenance, have short life spans, or are susceptible to significant damage in the event of natural or other disasters are not high performance, sustainable buildings. Functional resilience is crucial to the design and construction of sustainable buildings, having buildings that allow communities to be more sustainable, and truly minimize the long term negative impacts of buildings on the environment.

John Nehasil: ACI's Adhesive Anchor certification program. We are partnering with the Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute to develop and launch a program to certify concrete adhesive anchor installers. The certification program is under development with the support and cooperation of the Concrete Anchor Manufacturer Association and will require the passing of both written and performance examinations. It is expected to be launched in late 2010, with full operation in 2011. Also, the new ACI 318-11: Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete and Commentary is expected in early 2011. Finally, plans for construction of new nuclear reactors in the U.S., and the need for specially trained concrete craftsmen.

CC: Are there current or future ACI/ASTM regulations that could impact the concrete industry? If so, how would these regulations impact the industry?

McCarthy: First note that ACI International and ASTM International develop voluntary consensus standards rather than regulations. Local, state, and national government agencies issue regulations that are legal documents addressing various public and private activities. Some recent initiatives within ACI and ASTM promise to be significant to the concrete industry and its sustainable development activities:

ASTM Committee C01 on Cement has recently begun to consider including provisions within the blended cement specification for a portland-limestone blended cement that would contain from 5 to 15% limestone. The concept is to have the same physical requirements for portland-limestone blended cement as those in place for the current portland-pozzolan (Type IP) and portland blast-furnace slag (Type IS) blended cements. The objective is to implement proven technology into the marketplace to obtain desired performance and improve sustainability of concrete. This particular standards activity is being conducted jointly with ASTM and the American Association of State Highways and Transportation Officials Subcommittee on Materials.

ACI's effort to develop performance alternatives for concrete specifications springs from a similar need to provide producer flexibility to optimize resources and technology while ensuring performance. Jump started as an ACI innovative technology, the recently organized ACI Committee 329 on Performance Criteria for Ready-Mixed Concrete is now considering the ACI Innovative Task Group 8 report on performance criteria for concrete as an ACI document and is developing recommendations for performance alternatives in ACI codes and standards. These would include documents such as ACI318 Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete and ACI301 Specifications for Structural Concrete.

These first two examples illustrate initiatives that have been brought to ACI and ASTM standards development forums by the industry. This final example is an ASTM activity that is the result of a broad coalition of interests representing government agencies, specifiers, various construction industries, consultants, and academia. Culminating from initial work within ASTM Committee E06 on Performance of Buildings, ASTM formed Committee E60 on Sustainability in 2008 to develop and revise standards related to sustainability and sustainable development including analysis and assessment of attributes of materials, products, and services, and how they contribute to sustainability. Since its formation, ASTM Committee E60 has maintained an aggressive agenda for developing standards and working documents that focus on green products and materials and green buildings. The challenge for the concrete industry will be to ensure that E60 standards for assessment of the sustainable attributes of concrete construction place appropriate value on the strength and durability of concrete as a construction system that have made concrete the most used and arguably most sustainable construction material on earth. We have been working on the development of life-cycle assessment tools that will recognize these sustainable attributes of concrete and are advocating this approach within ASTM E60.

In summary, we cannot simply be satisfied to speculate on how codes and standards development activities might impact the concrete industry. We must continue to proactively seek to identify and champion standards development activities that will ensure the future of concrete construction. Compliance with current and proposed EPA regulations for the cement industry could add a minimum of $26/ton to domestic cement production costs by 2020.

Nehasil: The EPA's proposed regulation may have an impact on the beneficial use of fly ash in concrete, though the proposal only suggests regulating coal combustion products destined for waste. Public comment on the issue closes Nov. 19, 2010.

CC: In your opinion, what role does sustainability have in the concrete industry?

McCarthy: Concrete is a responsible choice for sustainable development. Its durability and inherent energy-efficiency minimize maintenance, repair, and heating and cooling needs for concrete structures. These benefits more than outweigh manufacturing energy needed.

These are transformational times. As the construction sector and the U.S. economy recovers, there will be increased focus on the need to rebuild the nation's infrastructure sustainably and economically. This uniquely positions concrete as the material that can create durable structures at not only a low-first cost, but also at lower maintenance costs.As the call for an increased emphasis on environmental issues grows louder, the concrete and cement industries have proactively established CSH at MIT to focus on quantifying and enhancing the sustainable nature of concrete.

Researchers from MIT's School of Engineering, School of Architecture and Planning, and Sloan School of Management will participate in the CSH's research activities with the goal of accelerating emerging breakthroughs in concrete science and engineering and transferring that science into practice.

The CSH's research will be organized around three focus areas: concrete materials science, building technology, and the econometrics of sustainable development. The first two projects, "Green Concrete Science," and "The Edge of Concrete: A Life-Cycle Investigation of Concrete and Concrete Structures" are already underway. "Green Concrete Science" is nanotechnology research aimed at optimizing the sustainability of cement and concrete manufacturing processes.

Feature: What's Next?
This year's roundtable panelists discuss the state of the industry.