Many A&D professionals are aware that the building sector is responsible for 49 percent of the energy consumption and 47 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the United States. Most of this consumption results from typical building operations, such as heating, cooling and lighting. But some may not know that approximately 5 to 8 percent of total annual U.S. energy consumption and its related emissions are related to building products and construction. Research has shown a significant amount of embodied energy and GHG emissions from building materials and products, including furniture, equipment and appliances.
And while 5 to 8 percent of the nation’s energy consumption and related emissions may seem like a small piece of the sustainability puzzle, industry veterans know the building sector’s outsized influence makes every percentage point count when it comes to fighting climate change. Architecture 2030—the independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization responsible for 2006’s landmark Architecture 2030 Challenge—believes that the building products industry is in an ideal position to make a difference.
“The building sector is responsible for most of the energy consumed in the U.S., much more than transportation or industry,” says Francesca Desmarais, research associate and director of the Architecture 2030 Challenge for Products. “But this is something that no one had really been focusing on.”
While the original 2030 Challenge aims to transform the overall building sector from a major contributor of GHGs into a carbon-neutral bulwark against climate change by 2030, the new Architecture 2030 Challenge for Products focuses specifically on encouraging product manufacturers to incrementally decrease carbon and GHG emissions generated from the manufacturing and transportation of products and materials.
Manufacturers, as well as architecture and design firms, will be encouraged to reduce the carbon-equivalent footprints of building products by 30 percent by 2012, and by 50 percent by 2030. Companies who sign onto the voluntary initiative agree to take the necessary steps to decrease GHG emissions and energy consumption, reduce their carbon footprints and create cost-effective, sustainable products.
Inside the Challenge
To assist participants as they work toward the long-term goal of trying to reduce their carbon footprint, Architecture 2030 is collaborating with leading organizations to offer a range of tools and resources for grappling with the complex data involved.
“We are incorporating the challenge into product selection tools and databases while developing draft specification language to make the process of finding, understanding and specifying low-carbon building products as easy as possible,” says Desmarais.
“Because the field of carbon footprinting is so nascent, it can be complicated for a manufacturer to go through the process of calculating a product footprint and having it verified. The methodologies have to be consistent, so what’s key are specific rules for each product category, so that a carbon footprint is always calculated the same way,” she adds.
Product designers, manufacturers and other professionals in the building materials industry interested in signing on can participate by developing Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and/or Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) according to Product Category Rules (PCR) for relevant categories, and committing to reducing their carbon footprint according to the Challenge targets. While Architecture 2030 does not certify products, a list of manufacturers who have adopted and met the 2030 Challenge for Products goals will be posted at the organization’s website.
Architects, designers, firms and other professionals working in the building sector can adopt the 2030 Challenge for Products by pledging to use low-carbon products in line with the Challenge’s goals, and use LCAs/EPDs to make informed comparisons between products within the same categories (provided that the same standards and procedures were followed). If products don’t meet the required carbon-equivalent footprint reduction, those with the smallest footprints while still meeting performance criteria should be specified.
Architecture 2030 has also developed a Request for Information letter that can be sent to product manufacturers, asking for the embodied carbon content of their building products, information on the underlying LCA, PCR and/or EPD, and the third-party verifier.
Feedback from 2030 Challenge for Products participants has been positive. “What we’re hearing from manufacturers is that it’s worthwhile doing a full analysis of your supply chain to identify ‘hotspot areas,’” says Desmarais. “By addressing those, you can streamline or make your supply chain more efficient and reduce both your carbon footprint and manufacturing costs. These analyses often reveal issues that manufacturers didn’t know about, and can lead to great innovations in the supply chain or manufacturing process.”
“[The 2030 Challenge for Products] has grown larger than we ever thought it would, which is fantastic,” she adds. “It was a call to action and people have stepped up to the challenge.”
Interfaceflor Signs On
InterfaceFLOR, a manufacturer of modular carpet tile and a leader in sustainability, recently became the first manufacturer to commit to the Architecture 2030 Challenge for Products. Taking on the challenge was an easy decision and natural fit for a company that began its commitment to sustainability in 1994, says Melissa Vernon, director of sustainable strategy, LEED AP for InterfaceFLOR.
Interface’s Mission Zero sustainability program is committed to transparency and reducing carbon footprints. The company has maintained its efforts by conducting Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) that study and measure every step of the manufacturing process, from harvesting raw materials to recycling and disposal, and releasing Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for each of its products. In 2003, InterfaceFLOR introduced the first climate neutral “Cool Carpet,” which is available at no additional cost to the customer. Vernon notes that the company already offsets the entire carbon footprint of carpeting sold in North America. (The entire life-cycle of 10,000 square yards of carpet generates about 295,300 pounds of GHG emissions. Offsetting 295,300 pounds of GHG emissions has the same impact as removing 25 passenger cars from the roads for one year.)
InterfaceFLOR also endeavors to use the fewest raw materials possible and incorporate recycled content into its products. “Carpet is typically a very petroleum-dependent product,” says Vernon, “and the yarn typically comes from virgin oil. The back of the carpet is also mostly derived from petroleum.” InterfaceFLOR’s EPDs for 2011 cover products made with both nylon 6,6 and nylon 6 fiber. The nylon 6 fiber is 100 percent recycled content. “Switching from those virgin nylons to recycled nylons is what drives the huge embodied carbon footprint reduction of our product,” she says.
“We’re very much in line with the Architecture 2030 Challenge for Products goal of reducing the embodied carbon of products by 50 percent by the year 2030,” Vernon adds. “The Challenge requires us to look at our footprint compared to the industry average. Based on the changes that InterfaceFLOR is making in moving toward higher levels of recycled content and reducing the impact from our own factories, when we compare our products to the industry average, I believe we’ll fare very well against the commitment that the challenge is asking for.”
For more information about the 2030 Challenge for Products, visit http://architecture2030.org/.
Elianne Halbersberg is a contributing writer to Interiors & Sources. She has previously covered
sustainability, architecture and interior design.