Cement, concrete and steel make up much of the buildings, roads and other structures we rely on every day, but they come with a climate cost. Production of cement, as the key ingredient in concrete, and steel together produce around 16% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The good news is that momentum around industrial decarbonization has grown in recent years (see Figure 1 below). The U.S. has seen a flurry of activity that seeks to prioritize the public purchasing of lower-carbon cement, concrete and steel, and recently joined the international Industrial Deep Decarbonization Initiative. Internationally, momentum has been building, through initiatives like the UN Industrial Development Organization’s Industrial Deep Decarbonization Initiative, the World Economic Forum’s First Movers’ Coalition, and the Climate Group’s ConcreteZero and SteelZero partnerships.

Timeline of international and US domestic green public procurement action

These new international efforts are important since international collaboration will be key to decarbonizing the industrial sector. Heavy industry products such as cement and steel are often traded across borders, so shared innovation and learning can accelerate development and deployment of the decarbonization technologies needed for a low-carbon transition.

U.S. participation in these initiatives is important in order to help address the 30% of U.S. emissions that come from the industrial sector and to ensure domestic manufacturing processes are internationally competitive. Such participation can also demonstrate leadership in industrial decarbonization, help retain competitiveness for internationally traded industrial goods, and jumpstart the process of aligning decarbonization standards and definitions across borders.

US Involvement in the Industrial Deep Decarbonization Initiative

Among international collaborative efforts, the International Deep Decarbonization Initiative (IDDI) is particularly important because its first-of-its-kind Green Public Procurement (GPP) Pledge is shaping up to be the largest international public procurement initiative in the industrial sector.

Launched in September 2022, the GPP Pledge encourages governments to create markets for low-emission cement, concrete and steel through public purchasing of low-carbon alternatives. This is important because intergovernmental cooperation on decarbonization has not been seen at this scale within the industrial sector before. And because governments are the leading buyers of construction materials, public procurement can be an effective way to jumpstart market development and drive demand. Globally, public construction projects account for 40% of cement and concrete purchases and 25% of steel purchases.

Over the past year, IDDI working groups composed of national governments, companies and other stakeholders have collaboratively developed data collection and reporting frameworks, set standards for low-carbon products and established international targets for the GPP Pledge. The GPP Pledge aims to use government purchasing to standardize measurement and reporting for carbon intensity of materials and increase demand for and production of near-zero-emission construction materials.

Members of IDDI must commit to one of the following ambition levels within the GPP Pledge:

  • Level 1: Require disclosure of embodied carbon in cement/concrete and steel procured for public construction projects by 2025.
  • Level 2: Along with Level 1, conduct project life cycle assessments by 2030 and achieve net-zero                     emissions in all public construction by 2050.
  • Level 3: Along with Levels 1 and 2, require procurement of low-emission cement/concrete and steel in public construction projects at the highest nationally possible ambition level by 2030.
  • Level 4: Along with Levels 1, 2 and 3, require procurement of a share of near-zero-emission cement and/or crude steel for signature projects.

In addition to the United States, IDDI members include Canada, the UK, Germany, India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Sweden. After joining IDDI, member countries must decide on their level of commitment within the GPP Pledge. Several countries have started this process through a series of national consultations. Additional countries and details on commitment levels are expected through COP28 at the end of 2023. 

Hands work on metal infrastructure
Embodied carbon is the greenhouse gas footprint of a building material or project including emissions from manufacturing, transport, installation, maintenance and disposal. Photo by Jimmy Nilsson Masth/Unsplash

Next Steps for the US

The U.S. joining IDDI is an important first step toward industrial decarbonization, but its level of commitment is yet to be decided. A Biden administration proposal put forward in November 2022 would require large federal contractors to disclose GHG emissions and set decarbonization targets. If enacted, the proposed rule would align with Level 1 of the GPP Pledge. However, the U.S. should aim beyond just the first level of the pledge. The U.S. needs to maximize the impact of joining this initiative by making an ambitious commitment backed by swift action.

At the same time, questions remain on how (and over what timeframe) the U.S. will be able to align domestic processes and standards with IDDI and other international standards. The challenge with this alignment stems largely from differences in manufacturing practices and industry standards between the U.S. and other countries, which can lead to decarbonization standards and benchmarks that aren’t directly comparable. As the International Energy Agency’s 2022 report on international collaboration warns, without cross-border alignment to resolve these differences, achievement of net-zero emissions targets in the heavy industries could be delayed by decades.

For cement, concrete and steel, this will require alignment of standards and benchmarks for measuring and setting limits on GHG emissions between the U.S. and initiatives in which it participates, as well as with other member countries. Consistent data collection and reporting standards are vital first steps in monitoring long-term decarbonization progress and consistently and credibly labeling a product with designations like “low-emissions” or “near-zero emissions.” Since no single entity or body has regulatory oversight over developing standards, countries, including the U.S., will need to collaborate to align their reporting mechanisms, such as environmental product declarations, to be consistent across borders. Benchmarks defining near-zero and low-emission cement and steel also need to be made consistent across international initiatives and between those initiatives and U.S. domestic procurement policies to avoid misalignment of decarbonization targets. Efforts in this space today in the U.S. and overseas, such as IDDI, First Movers’ Coalition, SteelZero, ConcreteZero and Buy Clean, have similar aims but are using different definitions, which can cause confusion and inappropriate comparison (see table below).

Joining IDDI engages the U.S. in ongoing discussions about harmonizing standards across borders to advance markets for low-carbon cement and steel. This participation will help ensure that the U.S. industrial sector is well-positioned to begin aligning its domestic standards, adopt state-of-the-art technologies and innovate on par with the international community.


Pledges for members with varying definitions between each initiative


  • Level 2: …achieve net-zero emissions in all public construction by 2050
  • Level 3: …procurement of low-emission cement/concrete and steel in public construction projects at the highest nationally possible ambition level by 2030.
  • Level 4: …procurement of a share of near-zero emission cement and/or crude steel for signature projects

First Movers

Purchasing at least 10% near-zero steel, cement and concrete per year by 2030.


Using 100% net-zero concrete by 2050, with two interim targets of using 30% low emission concrete by 2025 and 50% by 2030


Procuring, specifying or stocking 100% net-zero steel by 2050 at the latest

At the same time, U.S. participation in IDDI also sends a signal that the country is serious about advancing international collaboration to decarbonize cement, concrete and steel. However, meaningfully delivering on this signal will require the U.S. to adapt and enhance domestic policies in accordance with harmonized, international standards for low-emission construction materials. This is particularly important as the U.S. tries to decrease its dependence on imported industrial materials while simultaneously securing and decarbonizing its industrial supply chains. With carbon border adjustments (i.e., a fee on imported goods such as steel and cement based on their emissions) on the horizon in overseas markets, U.S. producers will need these supportive domestic policies not only for climate mitigation, but also to ensure their competitiveness on the global stage.