News Brief

Interior Products Can Have Enormous Carbon Footprint

The structure and envelope have the most up-front embodied carbon, but replacement cycles may make interiors more important than previously thought.

cover of report on interior life-cycle analysis

Interior life-cycle analysis may be more important than we thought.

Image: Hawley Peterson Snyder
Conventional wisdom tells us that the structure of a building, and secondarily the envelope components, are the main considerations when measuring embodied carbon—the upfront emissions caused by production of building materials. Yet a new study from architecture and design firm Hawley Peterson Snyder suggests interior products are more important than we realize, while offering step-by-step guidance on how to assess and improve the embodied carbon of interior fit-outs.

“Initially the impact of the materials used to build the core and shell, especially in the case of concrete and steel structures, is far greater than the impact of the building envelope and interior fit-out combined,” notes the report. “However, if we compare the life cycles of the interiors, which are subject to renovation or replacement on a conservatively estimated average 15-year cycle, to the 60-year building model, it becomes evident that the interiors can actually have a greater impact over the life of a building than the original structure does.”

The report goes on to identify barriers to assessing the embodied carbon of interiors (e.g., lack of data in software programs) as well as strategies for moving forward, including:

  • prioritizing lower embodied carbon over durability
  • requesting or requiring environmental product declarations (EPDs) in specs
  • analyzing material options early in design to help optimize decision-making
  • understanding and managing high-carbon-impact products, including furniture, ceilings, and carpet
  • educating clients about low-carbon choices that don’t have budgetary impacts
  • identifying champions and engaging leadership
  • participating in policy development

“By finding ways to measure, consider, and compare the potential impacts of materials being considered for interior design projects in a timely manner, real reductions can be made on a project by project basis,” the report concludes.

More on embodied carbon

The Urgency of Embodied Carbon and What You Can Do about It

Structural Engineers Study Embodied Carbon of 600 Buildings

Marin County First to Adopt Low-Carbon Concrete Code

The Exponential Growth of Embodied Carbon Accounting

For more information:

Hawley Peterson Snyder

Published July 7, 2020

Melton, P. (2020, June 19). Interior Products Can Have Enormous Carbon Footprint. Retrieved from

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