Two new reports are revealing information that will change the way AEC firms select sustainable, lower-carbon building materials. Released by Perkins&Will in collaboration with the Healthy Building Network, the reports spearhead both environmental sustainability and human health in the built environment.
Drywall and flooring production are the focus points of the research, as they cover key touchpoints in concerns over emitting high CO2 emissions to the environment and hazardous chemicals to those interacting with the product.
Gypsum drywall and flooring: Reducing embodied carbon
The first report, “Embodied Carbon and Material Health in Gypsum Drywall and Flooring,” focuses on identifying key drivers of embodied carbon (EC) in gypsum drywall and flooring products frequently used in building projects. The report underscores the significance of reducing energy consumption at manufacturing sites to lower EC in gypsum drywall. Additionally, it advocates for using natural gypsum instead of synthetic gypsum to mitigate mercury emissions and enhance material health.
In the context of flooring, the report suggests that opting for product types with lower environmental impacts represents the greatest opportunity to reduce EC and avoid harmful chemicals. It recommends plant-derived bio-based flooring materials like linoleum, cork, and hardwood for their lower embodied carbon and safer base materials. Strategies for minimising the environmental impact of carpeting and resilient flooring, such as reducing impacts associated with carpet fibre production and extending the service life of resilient flooring, are also presented.
Insulation’s impact on material health
The second report, “Embodied Carbon and Material Health in Insulation,” translates assessment tool results into guidance for manufacturers, AEC firms, and green building programs. It emphasises that not all insulation types are interchangeable and that insulation choices play a pivotal role in reducing EC and prioritising material health. When normalized by R value, the report identifies specific product choices as crucial for achieving these goals.
Recommendations include giving preference to insulation manufacturers with established take-back programs and selecting products with third-party verified Health Product Declarations or Environmental Product Declarations. The report also includes an Appendix offering specifiers lists of insulation product types to prefer, reduce, or avoid for lower embodied carbon and better material health.
“Our research collaboration with Healthy Building Network underscores the importance of industry partnerships in effecting change,” says Leigh Christy, Principal and co-director of Research at Perkins&Will. “These reports give project teams and the industry at large vital information to make informed decisions about materials and products that are good for people and the planet.”
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