WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Washington, D.C., practice of global architecture and design firm Perkins&Will has pledged to eliminate embodied carbon in every commercial interiors space it designs by 2030.
“We’re setting this ambitious benchmark as a necessary response to the global climate crisis,” says Perkins&Will architect and sustainability expert Jon Penndorf. “We believe the District of Columbia and surrounding communities can lead the way for the rest of the country.”
Embodied carbon is the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions that a material, system, or assembly represents over its life cycle. It’s an aggregate of all emissions released during ingredient extraction, product manufacturing, transportation, and end-of-life reuse or non-use. Statistics suggest embodied carbon is responsible for 11% of all global greenhouse gas emissions annually. In the building sector alone, it accounts for more than a quarter of emissions, with the design and construction of interior spaces acting as a major contributor.
“We know carbon emissions are a key factor in the degradation of our planet, including severe weather patterns and public health challenges,” says architect Rod Letonja. “And while it’s been ingrained in architects and designers to think of heating and cooling as the biggest culprit, some of the worst climate change offenders—our building materials—are hidden in plain sight.”
The problem is compounded by interior renovations and new tenant fit-outs. Old interior building materials frequently get discarded rather than reused, and with large leases turning over every 10 years, on average, the emissions impact increases over time.
“What this means is, in the end, all of the emissions released into the atmosphere during the materials’ manufacture and transportation were for nothing—it’s all a big waste,” says interior designer Brittany McNairy. “Subsequently, even more carbon is emitted through the use of new, replacement materials. Once the tenant lease is up, the cycle begins all over again.”
One Goal, Many Milestones
To ensure all of its interior design work is net-zero embodied carbon by 2030, Perkins&Will’s Washington D.C. studio will work toward achieving a series of milestones over time:
- Starting immediately, design teams will prioritize materials that have low or zero embodied carbon.
- Design teams will also make it a priority to plan for end-of-life use for all materials—recycling, reuse, reconfiguration, and biodegradation.
- By the end of 2021, every project team will research and specify at least one interior product or system that can help reduce the project’s overall embodied carbon.
- Starting immediately, the studio will partner with product manufacturers and design engineers to make adjustments to the supply chain that reduce carbon emissions.
- The studio will report its progress every six months for accountability.
- By 2025, design teams will reduce embodied carbon in their interior design work by 50%.
- In cases where design alone cannot ensure net-zero embodied carbon, design teams will work with clients to choose carbon offsets.
A global effort
The Washington, D.C., studio’s commitment to designing net-zero embodied carbon interior spaces is one of the latest examples of Perkins&Will’s global leadership in sustainability. Recently, the firm’s London studio pledged to meet a similar goal for clients in the U.K. and Europe. The firm’s Vancouver and Calgary studios also committed to providing clients in Western Canada with free carbon assessments to reduce operational carbon and embodied carbon.
Perkins&Will has a long-standing commitment to environmental stewardship across its 25 studios worldwide. The firm has been publicly reporting reductions in energy intensity through the Architecture 2030 Commitment for over a decade. In 2011, it created the first publicly available material database for healthier, more transparent material selection. It authored the first certification platform for climate adaptation and mitigation, known as RELi, which is now a U.S. Green Building Council program. And in 2020, the firm launched a new work paradigm called Living Design, which seamlessly blends sustainability, resilience, well-being, regeneration, and social equity into every project.
“We see this undertaking as the next horizon for the design community,” says interior designer David Cordell. “We don’t profess to have all the answers, but we promise to use all the tools at our disposal to offer our clients the opportunity to be good stewards of the planet. Combined with the efforts of the industry at large, we can have a significant positive impact.”
Follow the conversation on social media using the hashtag #netzeronow.