Editor’s note: We’re so honored to have an article contributed this month by one of our Sponsors, Armstrong Ceiling & Wall Solutions. You can learn more about them and their courage to pursue meaningful change in the article below, and you can also learn more about work like this and how you can make a difference, at this year’s Living Future conference, LF21: Inclusion + Unity, on screens everywhere April 20-23. Register today. Teams of 5 get one ticket free! 

The building industry is at a tipping point in our ability to really make a difference when it comes to combating climate change and its impact on human health.  And action begins with each and every one of us.  

Since buildings generate nearly 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — primarily the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change — the building industry has a major impact on the environment.

At the same time, we are dealing with resource scarcity. Since less than one-third of all construction and demolition waste is being recovered and reused, we are rapidly depleting valuable virgin raw materials.

And, we continue to build at a growing rate in cities worldwide. The world is currently undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in human history. More than half the global population is now concentrated in urban areas.  By 2060, two-thirds of the expected population of 10 billion will live in cities.

To accommodate this tremendous growth, we expect to add more than two trillion square feet of new floor area to the global building stock, doubling it in area by 2060. That is the equivalent of adding an entire New York City every month for 40 years.

With the staggering amount of building and rebuilding that will take place over the next several decades, there is an urgent need to reduce CO2 emissions, making it imperative that this new building stock be designed and operated to meet zero net carbon (ZNC) standards.

While tremendous strides have been made in reducing operational carbon – the CO2 emissions associated with the energy usage of a building – our industry is just beginning to develop strategies for reducing embodied carbon – the emissions generated through the extraction, manufacture, and transport of building materials. New materials, new technologies, and new ways of manufacturing products must be created to move to reduction.  

Since embodied carbon represents one-quarter of the CO2 emitted during the life of a building and 11 percent of all global CO2 emissions, it is critical that we rapidly increase our efforts to reduce embodied carbon emissions in the buildings we design.

Fortunately, members of the global building industry are already collaborating to create awareness of the importance of evaluating and choosing materials with a low carbon footprint.

ILFI and Carbon 

We commend the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) for the steps it has taken to raise the bar on Carbon Action.  

ILFI created the Zero Carbon (ZC) certification as a way for design teams to fully decarbonize their buildings and meet their climate action goals. 

ILFI continues to educate our industry through the Embodied Carbon Guidance document. This document guides teams on where they can make the biggest moves to actively work to reduce the carbon impact of their buildings. It guides projects through the process of embodied carbon evaluation and reduction for both the Zero Carbon Certification and the Living Building Challenge 4.0 Energy Petal.

Declare Labels and Embodied Carbon

With the addition of embodied carbon alongside ingredient disclosure on its new Declare product labels, ILFI has reinforced its commitment to transparency in the building products industry. Partners Armstrong Ceiling & Wall Solutions, Interface, and Superior Essex Communications have supported this paradigm shift through several pilot Declare labels that broaden the scope of material health.

From the sourcing of raw materials, manufacturing, and transport, to the waste created through the entire product cycle, quantifying the contributions of the supply chain and the manufacturing of building products to the climate change problem creates data that can be turned into action. With the additional knowledge of how environmental impacts can further exacerbate human health outcomes, these new Declare labels now incorporate new critical decision-making criteria into an important procurement and specification tool.

As a pilot manufacturer of this new Declare feature, Armstrong has shared its assessments of these impacts through third-party-verified environmental product declarations (EPDs) for each of our products. These EPDs are completed under relevant product category rules (PCRs) that define common parameters for each product category’s calculations.

Armstrong Ceiling & Wall Solutions has been doing life cycle assessments for more than 10 years. We have used this valuable tool to gain real insight into our products and their impact on the environment. As with all our transparency efforts, we have incorporated it into our Design for the Environment Process. From the screening of new materials in our products to reviewing optimization opportunities at our plants, we are driving the reduction in impact of our products.

We are currently waiting for the finalization of updated Product Category Rules (PCR) by our industry so we can update our EPDs with current, optimized results.  

The Living Product Challenge

Through the Living Product Challenge, ILFI has consistently challenged manufacturers to look at all aspects of our products and what can be done to make them net positive.

Armstrong was one of the first adopters of the Living Product Challenge, achieving Imperative Certification for our TECTUM Ceiling and Wall Panels. Made of natural fibers from the Wisconsin Aspen tree, this unique wood fiber product is truly a living product. Trees are very efficient at gathering atmospheric CO2, giving our TECTUM ceiling and wall products the added benefit of carbon sequestration.

Rainforest Alliance Certified™ to Forest Stewardship Council® standards, our Tectum Living Product is chain-of-custody certified throughout its supply chain to be made from raw ingredients derived from forests that are cultivated with care for the environment, the ecosystems within the forest, and the communities that surround the forest. 

Tackling Carbon as an Industry

Armstrong is proud to be a member of the Materials Carbon Action Network (MaterialsCAN).  This network is comprised of seven members of the building industry, including Skanska (Contractor), Gensler (Design), Interface (Flooring), CertainTeed (Insulation), USG (Wallboard), Kingspan, and Superior Essex, who are ready to act on the smart prioritization of embodied carbon in building materials.

In partnership with more than 30 industry leaders, the Carbon Leadership Forum at the University of Washington created the Embodied Carbon Calculator for Construction (EC3).  Armstrong continues to be a proud sponsor of CLF. The EC3 tool is a free open-access tool that allows architects, engineers, owners, construction companies, building materials suppliers, and policymakers to easily compare and evaluate embodied carbon emissions from construction materials, empowering them to reduce embodied carbon in buildings.

The EC3 tool is based on the industry’s first database of third-party verified Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). It can be implemented in both the design and procurement phases of a construction project to look at a project’s overall embodied carbon emissions and potential savings. It can also sort and compare embodied carbon emissions of similar building materials from different suppliers, enabling the specification and procurement of the lowest carbon options. The EC3 Tool is free to use by registering at buildingtransparency.org.  

LYRA® PB Shapes for DESIGNFlex™ are smooth fiberglass ceiling panels available in shapes, tailor-made sizes, and colors with SUSTAIN® performance.

Product Transparency and Certification

As a Material Partner and founding sponsor of both the EC3 Tool and MaterialsCAN, Armstrong has included our EPDs in the calculator, providing easy access to the carbon emissions for each of our products and furthering our commitment to transparency.  Armstrong is the first ceiling manufacturer to create EPDs for its products and continues to be transparent about the life cycle of its ceilings. For more than 10 years, we have been publishing EPDs, updating them, and looking for ways to optimize our products. We are in the process of working with our industry organization CISCA (Ceilings and Interior Systems Contractors Association) and UL (Underwriters Laboratories) to update our product category rules, which define the reporting of our life cycle assessment information into our EPDs. Due to the changing environment of reporting, including new EC credits in all standards, it is encouraging to see broader use of this data. We will be updating our EPDs in 2021 under this new format.  

We All Must Do our Part 

The building industry, specifically manufacturers, have a long runway to do our part to contribute to climate reduction targets if we are to limit the rise in the global warming temperature to 1.5C.  

To keep to 1.5C, CO2 emissions would have to decline by about 45 percent between 2010 and 2030 and hit net zero in 2050. That’s significantly faster than what is needed for 2°C — a reduction of around 20 percent by 2030 and net zero by 2075. (IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C)

We can further reduce embodied carbon emissions through waste prevention and reduction. By using recycled streams in new products, we are using materials that are basically free of any impact because the burden of the material stream has already been accounted for in its initial production. This then reduces the overall carbon footprint of the product.

Armstrong Ceiling and Wall Solutions is committed to making a positive impact on the environment in all we do. Our focus on reducing embodied carbon starts with our 2030 Goals. We are aligning our reduction targets to the Science Based Target Initiative. We are in the process of joining this initiative and setting our reduction goals for Scope 1, 2, and 3.

By defining set targets in our sustainability initiatives including our Design for the Environment process for new products, our material innovation, and our industry-leading ceiling recycling program, we can track our progress.  

Circularity and Carbon Reduction

Retrofitting working-class buildings presents a huge opportunity for sequestering carbon and fighting climate change by incorporating building products made from recycled materials that are free of any impact. 

Since 1999, the Armstrong® Ceilings Recycling Program has been taking back discarded panels from renovation and demolition projects and upcycling them into new ceiling panels. Over the last 20 years, the Ceilings Recycling Program has diverted more than 200 million square feet of used ceiling materials away from landfills. By reclaiming the old ceilings and using them to manufacture new ceiling products, the Ceilings Recycling Program has saved over one million tons of virgin raw materials and prevented 100,000 tons of construction waste from being deposited in landfills. 

By finding a responsible end-of-life solution for its ceiling products, Armstrong has eliminated waste, lessened its impact on the environment, and reduced the environmental footprint of the ceiling industry overall.

Having undergone the most unprecedented year due to the pandemic, we can reflect on the impact the last 12 months has had on our everyday lives as well as the lives of our friends, families, and co-workers.

Like the pandemic, climate change affects all of us – from wildfires and flooding to mental health and social equity. And the list goes on. Climate change affects our environment, our health, and ties to all we do. It is personal. We all need to act and do our part.

Join Us!

As we rise to meet these challenges together, we invite you to explore the Sustain ceiling portfolio to help create better spaces.

Cover image: TECTUM® Direct Attach Acoustical Ceiling Panels are made of natural fibers from the Wisconsin Aspen, one of the most sustainably harvested trees. Tectum is the first acoustical ceiling and wall panel to receive Living Product Challenge certification. 

Written By

Anita Snader

As the Sustainability Manager of Armstrong Ceiling and Wall Solutions, Anita is an integral member of the Sustainability team at Armstrong World Industries. She is leading our 2030 Sustainability platform; and manages our product sustainability strategy. She leads Armstrong’s commitment to Health and Wellbeing of occupants called Better Spaces; and drives the material health and transparency efforts through Armstrong’s SUSTAIN™ portfolio of high performance ceiling systems. Anita has led the Armstrong Ceiling Recycling Program in existence for over 20 years. As a LEED AP, she co-chaired the LEED EB Platinum certification for their Headquarters in June 2007, and recertification in 2014 and 2020. Just recently, she led the FitWel Certification for the new Customer Avenue renovation on the Armstrong Campus. She serves as an SME for our sales force for all sustainability projects and has provided industry education through articles, courses, and has presented and trained extensively both in person and virtually.