Embodied Carbon of Building Materials

Reducing Carbon

All Ellenzweig projects in design

As we make significant progress in creating highly energy-efficient buildings, embodied carbon in construction materials takes on greater consequence. We are analyzing these not only in terms of their global warming potential, but also in terms of their potential for acidification, eutrophication, smog formation, and ozone depletion; their primary energy demand in fabrication; and whether or not they rely on renewable energy in their fabrication.


A comparative analysis of contemporary exterior materials reveals that informed choices can be made to reduce the environmental impact of the building sector. The data in the graph above should be factored into a greater context, rather than taken at face value. As an example, while triple glazing may have a significant overall environmental footprint until installation, its use contributes to a higher R-value in an exterior wall assembly, thereby reducing the amount of energy required to heat or cool a building. For a research space with operational energy consumption driven by air-change rates, a case-specific technical analysis can determine the environmental payback period of triple glazing.


Our continued focus on building-material embodied carbon in the next 10 years will meaningfully contribute to lowering the building sector’s carbon emissions, which currently surpass both the transportation and industry sectors.