American Structural Steel Leads the Way as White House Prioritizes Low-Carbon Construction Materials

Photo credit: CPH, Inc.

Federal agencies will prioritize the purchase of key low-carbon construction materials, the White House announced Thursday, the latest action in its Federal Buy Clean initiative.

America's structural steel industry stands ready to support that mission, and it has already exceeded the Kyoto Protocol's emission reduction requirements by a factor of seven.

"We applaud the Biden administration's efforts to lower emissions in the construction sector, and we look forward to continued collaboration with the Federal Buy Clean Task Force," said American Institute of Steel Construction Director of Government Relations and Sustainability Max Puchtel, SE, PE, LEED Green Associate. "As America already leads the world in producing low-embodied-carbon fabricated structural steel and transparently disclosing environmental impacts--all while responsibly complying with environmental and labor regulations--the structural steel industry is uniquely positioned to continue its leadership role and deliver on the administration's Buy Clean and Buy America priorities."

AISC has worked closely with state governments and the federal task force and provides resources and information about Buy Clean programs on its website at

"A clean, green future is critical and it's already building in steel today. The hundreds of thousands of Americans in the structural steel industry have been working toward carbon neutrality for decades," said AISC President Charles J. Carter, SE, PE, PhD. "The smokestacks are long gone--in fact, the vast majority of the few emissions that remain from structural steel beam production now come from the power grid."

That's because today's American steel mills use electricity to turn scrap metal into new structural steel beams; the average steel beam or column made in an American steel mill contains 93% recycled material. That process emits 75% less carbon dioxide than traditional methods--and it's how every single American structural steel beam is made today.

It's also a stark contrast between American steel and foreign steel. Chinese steel has three times the global warming potential of domestic steel.

American steel will continue to get cleaner as more renewable energy sources come online, but the industry isn't waiting. Across the nation, mills are building their own sustainable power fields and installing carbon scrubbing equipment. AISC's member fabricators, who prepare steel for building and bridge jobsites, are taking their own steps to reduce their energy consumption, too. Fabrication shops can be vast, and companies are taking advantage of the space by installing solar roofs.

The American steel industry already thinks in terms of generations because it's a cradle-to-cradle material.

"Steel is the most recycled material in the world, and American structural steel leads the way," added Puchtel. "A new beam, fresh from the mill, contains 93% recycled cars, appliances, and other scrap--perhaps even the soup cans from your recycling bin--which diverts huge amounts of waste from landfills. At the end of a building or bridge's service life, steel goes right back into the supply chain to be recycled over and over again with no loss of properties."