Solutions to Reduce Building Materials’ Carbon Footprint

Climate change and its consequences have arrived in the building sector. In addition to energy consumption in the ‘use’ phase, the focus is increasingly on the emissions related to the building materials themselves – the so-called Embodied Carbon. These are the emissions caused during the production of building materials, transport and the actual construction of the building. Numerous pilot projects for new construction methods present different solutions. However, one thing is clear: time is running out, and it is now necessary to move from the pilot phase to the series production phase.

Reducing embodied emissions applies both to the production of the building structure and to its interior design. Builders, planners and manufacturers, in particular, play an important role.

What are the main solutions, and what makes building materials more sustainable? Below, we answer two key questions:

Solutions for Carbon Reduction  

There are three main solutions to reduce carbon in the embodied emissions:

  1. Plan with less material and less new space
  2. Use alternative materials
  3. Decarbonise conventional materials

Planners set the course for the subsequent processes; the potential for reducing emissions decreases – and quicker – as projects progress.

With regards to these approaches, the concepts, tools and measures are diverse, with Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) being particularly interesting and effective.

LCA as a Decision-making Tool in the Planning Process

The LCA is a planning tool that can be applied to building materials and the entire building. It serves product, process and building optimisation while offering decision-making support for product evaluations.

The LCA examines the potential environmental impacts and energy balance of a product or the entire building. All phases of a life cycle are considered, including:

  • Production
  • Assembly
  • Usage
  • The end of a product’s life, combined with the potential for reuse and recycling.


With this tool, potential carbon reductions in the various life phases of the products or the building are systematically detected and can be implemented step by step. This starts with the selection of materials: modular solutions with bio-based and/or recycled materials instead of petrochemical solutions.

Product design should be checked for ease of installation, repair, replacement, conversion, renewal and the reusability or recyclability of the product and its materials. A prerequisite for the reuse or recycling of the product or its materials is a take-back program. The results should be documented and, depending on the product, retrievable over a long period of time.

It makes sense to define the system boundaries (cradle-to-gate, cradle-to-end-of-life, cradle-to-cradle) before each analysis. These can vary depending on the product and the goal of the analysis. It should also be clarified which environmental data should be considered in the decision, in addition to the carbon footprint. If a complete component consists of several components, they should all go through an individual LCA, and the phase of installation and merging of building components into construction products should be thoroughly considered.

In addition, further criteria beyond the consideration of LCA should be queried, including:

  • Does the manufacturer support the installation of the product in the building with solutions that simplify the reuse and recycling of the product?
  • Are there services to extend the useful life and a take-back program with established end-of-life processes?
  • Is the manufacturer continuously working on further optimising the carbon footprint of its products (PCF – Product Carbon Footprint) and the company (CCF – Corporate Carbon Footprint)?
  • Does the manufacturer currently offer carbon-neutral or carbon-negative products, and is the company carbon-neutral over the complete value chain?

Does the manufacturer provide valid, measurable data at the product and company level? Are they transparent and easily accessible?

EPDs Provide Figures, Data and Facts for Potential Environmental Impact

The EPD – Environmental Product Declaration – provides information on the possible environmental impact of a product over its entire life cycle.

EPDs are created by independent institutes, which ensures they are third-party verified and valid. In contrast to many environmental labels, which provide a qualitative statement on previously defined requirements of a product, EPDs deliver data and figures. They serve as fact checks and significantly simplify simulations with the help of BIM software or building certifications like DGNB, BNB, LEED and BREEAM.

Circular Economy as the Most Promising Solution

The aim of the circular economy is to use scarce resources as sparingly as possible. This is to be achieved with slowed, closed and minimised material cycles. This may sound utopian to many, but it is becoming more and more realistic and increasingly concrete. It may not be possible to have a 100% closed product material loop, with many manufacturers working to get closer towards this. Meanwhile, it’s important to consider whether the waste from one industry can be useful for another.

Interface currently offers a closed-loop material cycle in the US and is working towards implementing it worldwide.




With its modular floor coverings, Interface focuses on drastically reducing waste, replacing petroleum-based primary materials with bio-based products and recycled materials, extending the product life and aligning the take-back process with reuse.

Here are a few facts and figures:

  • Interface’s textile flooring is made from an average of 88% bio-based and recycled materials
  • Up to 100% recycled yarn is used for the wear layer of the carpet tiles
  • Interface relies on bio-based materials with a high proportion of bound carbon as the basic building module in carpet tiles. It is the first manufacturer to offer carbon-negative carpet tiles with a carbon footprint of up to -1.1 kg CO2 e/m².
  • The product design is focused on recycling and recycling
  • With the specially developed installation system, TacTiles®, carpet tiles can be installed without liquid adhesive and dismantled without leaving any residue. This creates the best conditions for reuse and recycling
  • Support regarding cleaning and care, also on-site, as well as replacement or renewal of individual tiles, even during operation, extend the service life of the entire floor covering
  • High-quality materials and production processes guarantee a service life of at least 15 years

Worldwide, 70 % of used and returned carpet tiles make it into a reuse or recycling process. This is made possible by the ReEntry® take-back program. Reuse comes first and is carried out in cooperation with local partners.


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