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Shaw’s Kellie Ballew spoke with Stacy Smedley, executive director of Building
Transparency, about the organization’s role in decarbonizing the construction
As 2023 comes to a close, Shaw Industries chief
sustainability and innovation officer Kellie
Ballew sat down with
Stacy Smedley, executive director
of Building Transparency — whose
mission is to provide the open-access data and tools necessary to enable the
broad, swift action necessary for the building industry to address embodied
role in climate change.
Stacy Smedley: Building Transparency is a nonprofit organization. We work
globally to provide free, open-access tools and data to reduce embodied carbon
emissions of construction materials. One of our key goals is to provide data and
mechanisms for manufacturers to inform customers and to decarbonize their
SS: Exactly. I always say that embodied carbon accounting is like an onion:
There are layers to it and our eyes water as we peel back the layers. There's a
lot of details to consider; but we need to get actionable data into the hands of
the decision makers as it pertains to these products, whether it's procurement
professionals or designers or manufacturers. Some of our key areas of focus are
Support program operators and life cycle assessment (LCA) practitioners that
want to go digital in the generation and verification of the data.
Work with other NGO partners and stakeholders to create education and
technical assistance programs.
SS: When you think about EPDs, they are similar to nutrition labels:
On a box of cereal, you have a gram of carbohydrates per unit or per serving
size of that cereal. If you're on a low-carb diet, you look at the grams of carbohydrates on
different cereals and pick the one with the lowest carbs.
The same is true with EPDs and the information they give you for
environmental impacts. For instance, you can look at two or three different
that meet your requirements and you can procure the one with the lowest CO2e
per cubic yard of concrete for your project.
EPDs have enabled this to be done in a way that sets up consistent rules for
manufacturers to follow within a category and have third-party verification.
This way purchasers can leverage the information and use it to make decisions.
EPDs essentially let us put the construction sector on a low-carbon diet.
SS: If you think about a building, there's all sorts of materials and
products that go into that building. Looking at high-impact materials, you could
start with a couple of different “buckets.”
On the structural side,
concrete and steel are high carbon emitters — together, they account for upwards
of 10 percent of global emissions. And there has been some good progress made in
those areas. For example, there's been a model set up for concrete that enables
on-demand EPDs. So, it’s simple, efficient and more cost-effective for concrete
For every mix that a concrete supplier is producing, they input the
amounts of each ingredient for the mix they're making right at that moment
and can click a button to get the environmental impact data for each mix.
The supplier can then generate EPDs for those mixes at the time of
procurement. Then, when they actually make the concrete, they can verify
again and generate an EPD for what they make six months later. We've made a
lot of progress in just getting to that level of specificity and accuracy
And we are now seeing it applied to more categories. Companies are developing
EPD generators for asphalt, glass, steel and interior materials.
A lot of good work has also been done with carpet. As you know, it was one of
the first nine categories that we published in the Embodied Carbon in
(EC3) because of the amount of data available and the number of
manufacturers that are working on it.
SS: Every material has lots of different components and processes that have
to be understood and often require engaging with multiple layers of the supply
chain. The challenge is gathering all that data and then trying to figure out
the hotspots and how to reduce the environmental impacts.
The importance of engaging, disclosing and conducting LCAs can’t be understated:
LCAs provide perspective on the environmental impacts and help manufacturers
make products better.
This process allows manufacturers to gain credit and credibility, and stay
competitive via third-party-verified EPD generation based on their LCA
This is why we need more LCA professionals. It’s all about education,
training and finding people that love math and methodology.
SS: I'm excited about policy funding. One example is at the US
federal level with the Inflation Reduction
where we have funding and grants available from the Environmental Protection
We have proven that going digital and providing data that moves between
platforms and databases is important. And that’s at the core of what Building
Transparency does — take in this data, put it in a standard format, and provide
it for free to the world.
We're going to continue to do this and prioritize and support those that are
creating the data and verifying it to go digital first. We are happy that we
have 180,000 EPDs in our EC3 tool, but there are hundreds of thousands more
needed. We need all products represented and we will get there if we work as an
ecosystem across the data and the tools.
Our goal is also to support the creation of harmonized product category rules
for manufacturers to comply with in North America, Europe and Asia. We are
trying to provide better standards that are more aligned to make it easier for
manufacturers to comply.
SS: Great question. Funding and more participants in this embodied-carbon
ecosystem. I am also excited to see the progression of work in EPDs and
Funding will accelerate this work and attract more players to produce
EPDs will benefit consumers who prioritize the environment when choosing
goods or services.
Growth and acceptance of the EC3 database will lower carbon in construction.
Taking a holistic view of product and company impact on people and the planet —
including environmental impact, as well as material health and social fairness —
are how we can all
Published Dec 28, 2023 8am EST / 5am PST / 1pm GMT / 2pm CET
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.