From The Editor

View from the Corner Office: Aluminum - A Missed Opportunity

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The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program was introduced to the construction market by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1998 with a purpose to promote and certify green construction practices. The program has taken off to the point where a recent study showed that 71 percent of projects currently on the boards, valued at more than $50 million, are being designed at some level to LEED specifications.

LEED certification is built on a point system with base level certification requiring 40 points and Platinum level certification requiring 80-plus points. Points are earned based on material choices, waste reduction strategies, energy-efficient design and the like. Certified LEED consultants are engaged to assess each qualifying project’s point totals.

Metals are significant components in almost every construction project, and as such there are significant opportunities to achieve points toward LEED qualification. One way to achieve several points is in the use of materials with high recycled content. Points are awarded based on the percentage of recycled content of all materials used in a project based on cost or weight. Ten percent recycled content gets one point, 20 percent gets two points. 

The steel industry is to be commended, as steel is the only material to have achieved a 25 percent default recycled content. In other words, for every pound of steel in a project, a LEED consultant can plug in 25 percent of recycled content without having to resort to the effort and expense of certifying the mill origin of every pound of source material. This default value has provided a big boost to the use of steel in green construction.

To achieve this recycled content distinction, the American Iron and Steel Institute worked with the Steel Recycling Institute and the U.S. Geological Survey to provide industry-wide statistics on the production of primary steel, reclamation of scrap and the use of recycled steel in the production of steel. The survey included both basic oxygen furnace (lower recycled content) and electric arc furnace (high recycled content) production. The survey was further validated by a study led by Fordham University. When the survey was completed, the steel industry was able to prove that on a total annual production basis, recycled steel represented more than 30 percent of total content. A 25 percent default recycled content value was thus awarded by the USGBC.

Aluminum has a great story to tell regarding recycled content. Cans are recycled at a rate of more than 50 percent. Several building product suppliers produce material with up to 70 percent recycled content. Novelis in its most recent annual sustainability report listed recycled inputs at 55 percent of total content. I would estimate that if the aluminum industry were to use the same methodology applied by the steel industry, a default rate of recycled content for aluminum could be as high as 50 percent.

This article is a call to action. I believe the Aluminum Association should work with the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries to achieve a certifiable default recycling rate for aluminum. Production and recycling rate statistics are out there – they just need to be compiled. The result should be a great new marketing opportunity for the aluminum industry.

Mike Petersen is CEO of Petersen Aluminum, Elk Grove Village, Ill., which manufactures PAC-CLAD architectural metal cladding products in multiple gauges of steel and aluminum.