Focus on environmental sustainability, training, and education
Canadian Design and Construction Report staff writer
The precast and prestressed concrete industry is adapting and evolving to meet new industry demands and construction technologies, supported by associations working in uniquely collaborative partnerships.
The industry is served by three key groups: The Canadian Precast Prestressed Concrete Institute (CPCI); the National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA); and the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute. The NPCA is the largest of the groups with more than 1,000 members across North America. PCI has about 200 members and CPCI has just over 50 members but carries about 80 per cent of Canada’s precast industry volume, says managing director Brian Hall.
Hall says all of the associations work with infrastructure interests in Canada, undertaking research and development to support a commitment to public safety. “We have also set a goal to reduce our impact on the environment.”
Hall says this is being targeted through a North American Sustainable Plant Program that launched in 2012. He says all three associations are working to create a culture of sustainability, starting with lifecycle assessment programs.
These programs take place at two levels. “At the manufacturer level we look at lifecycle and identify areas where processes have an impact on the environment. Then we look to mitigate and negate the impact on water use for instance or initiate higher levels for dust control and reduce our energy consumption.”
He says it is important to note that these initiatives have come out of the industry, they have not been mandated, and they are being put into place across North America.
NPCA president Ty Gable says this is just one example of a co-operative effort between all three organizations. “We all realized the importance of this and have banded together to find a common solution.”
Gable says while many trade associations tend to be reactionary, the intent here was to be proactive. “It makes sense to us to work with government to promulgate law, to be included in the laws as they are made and to help develop them.”
Hall says in Canada the associations have been approached by provincial governments, looking to understand the initiative and to be part of the solution.
Another way the associations are working together is in the development of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), which include environmental data about products, including lifecycle information, and which are now required for many projects.
“There are many ways to develop EPDs but we believe they need to be verified by a third party in order to be effective,” said Hall. “We are working with ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) in the U.S. and Canada and hope to have EPDs in place by the end of 2015.”
Other co-operation is evident in the NPCA’s Precast University. Gable says this educational program provides company owners who truly embrace environmental protection an opportunity to educate their team. Owners themselves can mandate employees and to attend but the association does not force the requirement. “A truly sustainable environment only exists when everyone in the building knows what and why and how things need to be done.”
Gable says Precast University courses are offered online and in person. Starting with basic concrete technology, the courses are designed to teach students to become experts at production. In the end, graduates receive certification as a master precaster.
Covering safety and sustainability from a philosophical level right down to practical situations on the plant floor, courses are suitable for office staff, upper management and employees in every stage of production.
Hall says NPCA opens its courses to CPCI members as well, sharing the information and resources to ensure the industry overall is strong.
CPCI has also undertaken an educational program designed for architects and engineers. “We do a lot of seminars across Canada including one called Infrastructure for Life in which we demonstrate to owners and designers that first cost may not be the real cost.”
Hall says the program intends to educate professionals in costing out projects, looking at lifecycle and maintenance costs. The industry he says is working to create concrete that is more durable and the industry should be planning to and expect to build structures and infrastructure that can last 100 years.
Beyond infrastructure, the associations are also contributing to research on building envelopes. “We’re working with climatologists in North America doing research on our weather and the way we are seeing more extremes,” said Hall. “In the future it will be more important to build more resilient homes that can adapt to and withstand these extremes.”
He says while other materials may not be tolerate to extreme weather, concrete is resilient, durable and adaptable to whatever will come.
The associations are also applying social media, communicating key messages through Facebook, Twitter, e-news as well as through more conventional methods including newsletters and their own precast concrete print magazines. For more information on the North American Concrete Industries visit www.npca.com, www.pci.org and www.cpci.ca.