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Find the Carbon Hotspots

Designers can’t lower carbon emissions if they don’t understand where the biggest emissions are.

Focus on the Top Carbon Hotspots:

Identify the product categories used in the largest volume with biggest carbon footprints. For commercial interiors, the Carbon Leadership Forum’s “LCA of MEP and TI in Buildings” project identifies these top 5 hotspots:

  • Cubicles
  • Furniture
  • Flooring
  • Ceiling Panel Suspension Systems
  • Walls

Acknowledge that Hotspots can Change:

Depending on project stage and type, different products might need to be prioritized:

  • In SD, when the elements of the projects are still up for discussion
  • In DD, when product types are decided and it’s about weighing options
  • In Public projects, where bid scenarios might limit options

Example: Ceiling panel systems are a carbon hotspot. If this fact leads to a decision to minimize the use of ceiling panels during the SD stage, then the discussion of hotspots in the DD stage should focus on other product categories.

Research the Hotspot Product Categories:

Take an iterative approach to hotspots, diving deep into one product category at a time, or addressing one product category in one project at a time.

Familiarize yourself with the product options available in each category.

Connect with sustainability experts or knowledgeable representatives at product manufacturers in those categories to find out what information and documentation is available for those products.

Prioritize hotspot product categories for collecting EPDs and gathering information on Global Warming Potential (GWP).

If EPDs in the hotspot areas are not available, ask manufacturers to provide them. Point out that funding for their efforts is available under the Inflation Reduction Act.

Identify the “hidden” elements that don’t need client buy-in. For example, with flooring, educate yourself on low-carbon or material-saving options for subfloor, underlayment, or adhesives.

Screen Specifications with Hotspots in Mind:

Assign green buddies/green champions at firms who review all specs in the hotspot categories.

Only provide a filtered set of product options within the hotspot categories to the design team (You can use resources like Material Bank’s Carbon Impact Program to do this.)

Use Hotspots to Build Your Carbon Expertise

Carbon assessment is an iterative process. It might not be possible to analyze every product type or assembly in every project, so identifying a first set of three hotspots is important. Once the process and information for the first three hotspots is in place, work on a next set of hotspots.

Use one project at a time to model assemblies or products for the hotspots in BIM. This will build up your interiors product libraries in BIM, allowing you to estimate product volumes and carry out carbon analysis more easily in the future.

Pick a hotspot as a community (in a city, as an association chapter) and help each other to tackle that at your firms and in your projects. Share resources and recommendations that will help you make better decisions in the hotspot categories.

If you have feedback on the Climate Toolkit for Interior Design, write to: [email protected]

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