The Low Embodied Carbon Concrete Leadership Act (LECCLA), OpenAir’s very first advocacy mission, kicked off in New York State back in June 2019 as a very rough idea jotted down as a few bullets on a google doc.
Today, after input and support from dozens of OpenAir members and allies, it is fully realized legislation introduced in the state legislatures of both New York and New Jersey. Other campaigns are gaining momentum in states all over the country, as well as in the UK and Canada.
Now that LECCLA has hit its stride, it’s a good moment to pause and take stock of what the legislation is all about: what it is, why it matters, how it would work if made into law, and, most importantly, how OpenAir members can start or join LECCLA missions in their own states, provinces and countries.
Why LECCLA Matters: the concrete-climate-negative emissions Link.
Concrete is the second most used material on earth after water, and the production of its main binding ingredient, Portland cement, generates about 7-8% of total global carbon emissions.
At the same time, carbon from both industrial sources and from the air can be used as an input in the production of multiple concrete components and production processes. This expanding category of solutions is often referred to as Carbon Capture Utilization & Storage, or CCUS. At large scale, billions of tons of carbon could be locked away permanently in concrete every year.
If we are able to drive down Portland cement emissions, and ramp up carbon storage, concrete could even ultimately evolve into a carbon negative material! At OpenAir helping transition concrete to carbon negativity is our ultimate goal, and LECCLA is a powerful way to accelerate this process.
What is LECCLA, and what would it do AS LAW?
LECCLA is legislation that would require states to incorporate climate impact as a factor in the procurement of concrete by public agencies.
Because of the huge amounts of concrete used in public infrastructure and taxpayer funded projects, state governments are often the single largest consumers of concrete in most states. As a consequence, the decisions they make around the kinds of concrete they use can help fuel early and consistent demand for low embodied carbon (i.e. low climate impact) concrete.
LECCLA builds on some elements of other state and city policies but its core “climate competition” mechanism is unique. This incentive encourages concrete producers to incorporate low carbon alternatives by making them more likely to win state contracts if they do so. This all hinges on the fact that the climate performance of a proposed concrete mix can be quantified using a life cycle analysis known as an environmental product declaration or ‘EPD’.
Normal state procurement of concrete is driven above all by cost, with the least expensive bids generally winning contracts. With climate competition a discount rate is applied to the proposed cost of bids that have superior EPD scores. Basically, for the purpose of bid assessment and selection, those bids with good EPD scores are considered less expensive than they really are, and are therefore made more competitive. The better the EPD score, the bigger the discount, the more competitive the bid.
Where are LECCLA MISSIONS happening right now?
OpenAir members are leading LECCLA missions at different stages in a growing number of places. Here’s a breakdown of our expanding map right now.
New York and New Jersey: LECCLA has been introduced as legislation in these states, and OpenAir members are actively campaigning for its passage.
Virginia and Wisconsin: OpenAir members have proposed LECCLA to interested legislator sponsors and have begun education and outreach to support organizations.
The United Kingdom: A small but very active group of OpenAir members based in London have started to lay the groundwork for a federal LECCLA in the UK.
California, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Alberta: New OpenAir members in these states and provinces have expressed interest in launching campaigns, and have taken steps to research sponsors and build core organizing teams.
What does it mean to join or start a LECCLA MIssion?
Our LECCLA experience to date has not only produced innovative new climate policy; it has also created a template for volunteer-driven collaborative action that the OpenAir community can follow and continue to evolve as the basis for new advocacy missions in the future. Anyone anywhere can start a LECCLA mission, or join one of the above in progress, and there are many ways to contribute and have an impact. Here are a few high level features of LECCLA missions, as they have taken shape so far.
The main activities of a LECCLA mission are focused on 1. recruiting legislators to sponsor LECCLA biils in state, provincial and even national legislatures; and 2. raising awareness and building support for the bill among lawmakers, and organizations who can help drive elevate and drive the bill forward. This involves a lot of direct 1-on-1 outreach to legislators and organization staff by email and by phone. LECCLA mission teams are almost like mini-citizen lobbying operations.
LECCLA missions are driven entirely by volunteer members, nearly all of whom have had little or no prior background in either concrete, or policymaking and advocacy. We learn and support each other, creating, experimenting and sharing new approaches and strategies as we go. So far, this all amateur, citizen-led approach has worked incredibly well!
Most LECCLA missions are organized and driven by small handfuls of dedicated people, with core participants rarely numbering more than 5 people in each location. State mission teams typically meet once a week for an hour on zoom to plan and divide tasks that members can carry out during the week. As with everything, some members are more involved and have more bandwidth than others, and levels of contribution change organically over time.
True to OpenAir’s general theory of change and community structure, the key to moving a LECCLA mission forward is our collective’s Discord server. This free platform (kind of like Slack) provides the online environment where all of our members learn, share and coordinate action. There are both general and mission specific LECCLA ‘channels’ where we connect. At a minimum, joining the Discord is essential to participating in OpenAir and any LECCLA effort.