Quick Comparison

The Armstrong Ceilings Sustain portfolio puts ceilings on a carbon diet.

Armstrong was a sponsor of the Metropolis Perspective: Sustainability 2021 Symposium.

The green building advocacy group Architecture 2030 estimates that the global building industry is responsible for about 40 percent of all carbon emissions worldwide, but those emissions don’t all come from the same place. About one quarter of those emissions are “embodied” in materials, meaning that rather than the result of operating a building, they are the result of producing materials for the built environment: including everything from steel and concrete to interior finishes.

“Unlike operational carbon, it is nearly impossible to decrease embodied carbon with updates in energy efficiency after the building is constructed. But we can begin to consider and plan for the materials’ entire life cycle to be used in construction early on as part of the design process,” explains Helen Sahi, vice president of sustainability for Armstrong World Industries.

A first step to reducing embodied carbon in the built environment is for architects to identify carbon hot spots—the materials or systems that contribute the most to a building’s embodied carbon. It is also important to consider when reviewing finishes, that over the lifetime of the building, the cumulative embodied carbon of interior renovations may surpass the emissions of both structure and envelope. The most widely accepted way to do this is through a whole-building lifecycle assessment (WBLCA), along with other tools like the Carbon Leadership Forum’s Embodied Carbon Calculator for Construction (EC3). Architects, designers, and engineers can compare materials based on a uniform understanding of their lifetime contributions to the climate crisis.

With the full picture of a product or material’s carbon costs, specifiers and interior designers can then make the best choices for the environment when selecting interior finishes as well as structural materials. Ceilings in the Armstrong SUSTAIN® portfolio, for example, are free of Red List chemicals per Living Building Challenge™ 4.0, have HPDs that say exactly what chemicals and materials are in each product, and have Environmental Product Declarations, that show the lifetime impact the product has on the environment. They also have Declare® labels, which are easy references that are sometimes called nutrition labels for building products. This wealth of information takes the uncertainty out of embodied carbon analysis, combined with an evaluation of material health, both allowing designers to make smarter choices more easily. Reducing the carbon footprint of the built environment is a massive undertaking, but the specification choices designers make add up, making a difference in decarbonizing the built environment.

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