Global architecture and design firm Perkins&Will, in collaboration with nonprofit research organization Healthy Building Network, has released two pioneering reports aimed at transforming the way architects and designers select sustainable, low-carbon gypsum drywall, flooring and insulation. Gypsum drywall and flooring have a notable environmental footprint during production and transport and can also emit hazardous chemicals. Insulation can also negatively impact the environment by releasing greenhouse gases throughout its lifecycle, and can contain toxic chemicals that migrate into interior spaces.
In the U.S. alone, annual sales include nearly 24 billion square feet of gypsum board and an additional 29.69 billion square feet of flooring in 2022. Insulation distribution, amounting to $57.5 billion, is equivalent to about 11.5 billion square feet sold. Given the sheer volume of these product categories sold each year—which can collectively cover the entire state of Rhode Island—even small reductions in their carbon footprint and improvements in material health would significantly contribute to creating a healthier, more sustainable built environment.
The comprehensive reports, titled “Embodied Carbon and Material Health in Gypsum Drywall and Flooring” and “Embodied Carbon and Material Health in Insulation,” provide guidance for designers and architects to choose the best materials that take these two concerns into consideration.
“This guidance enables project teams to scale the selection of product types that are best in class for both embodied carbon and material health,” says Gina Ciganik, CEO of Healthy Building Network.
Key highlights from the reports include:
- Optimized Products for Material Health and Embodied Carbon: The reports show that products which improve material health and embodied carbon are available across all the examined product categories: flooring, gypsum drywall, and insulation.
- Screening for Optimized Product Types: Professionals are advised to first screen for optimized product types before selecting specific products. The biggest improvements can be made by selecting different product types within a product category.
- Navigating Potential Contradictions: Acknowledging that embodied carbon and material health considerations are sometimes contradictory, the reports emphasize the importance of reviewing the provided guidance to make informed decisions.
The reports represent a significant step forward in sustainable design practices, offering actionable insights that empower professionals to make environmentally conscious choices without compromising on carbon or health priorities.
“Our research collaboration with Healthy Building Network underscores the importance of industry partnerships in effecting change,” said 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.”
Both reports are available for download at perkinswill.com/carbonhealth.