The mission of nonprofit organization Architecture 2030 is to transform the building sector from a major contributor of greenhouse-gas emissions into a key player in reducing climate change and energy consumption. In February 2011, the organization launched the 2030 Challenge for Products, which joins similar challenges for buildings and planning to significantly reduce the carbon emissions of the built environment by the year 2030. Francesca Desmarais, 24, director of the 2030 Challenge for Products for Architecture 2030, recently gave eco-structure more insight into what this means for building products.

What was the impetus for expanding the 2030 Challenge to the product realm?

The reason we wanted to focus on it was that while most of the emissions that come from the building sector are from building operations such as heating, lighting, and cooling, there are embodied emissions, energy, and greenhouse gases that go into building products.

A typical building life is 50 to 60 years, but if we’re concerned about having a significant impact by the year 2030, that is a shorter time frame for a building built today … [For those buildings] almost half of its energy consumption by 2030 will come from the products that went into building that building.

What are the overall challenge targets?

All of our challenges are very similar. They have incremental targets that increase until 2030. For the building challenge, the end target is carbon-neutral buildings, and for the planning challenge, we aim for a 50-percent reduction in water consumption and greenhouse gases from transportation. A carbon-neutral product would be amazing, but also more difficult. For the product challenge, the overall goal is a 50-percent reduction of a product’s carbon footprint compared to an average product for that industry.

What does adoption mean for an architect or green-building professional?

We’ve divided adopters into three main categories. The first is design professionals—architects, contractors, and builders—the individuals in the building sector who specify products. Adopting the 2030 Challenge for Products for them means committing to specify products that meet the challenge targets.

Would they commit to that goal for every product they specify?

Right now, it’s [a commitment to do so] when they can because the field of carbon footprinting is very new. They send inquiries about whether a manufacturer has considered calculating their [products’] carbon footprints. This is critical and key to why we issued the challenge. The carbon footprinting movement is very bottom-up and needs a lot of demand to drive it to a place where we can have serious impact. Architects provide that demand because they specify hundreds of thousands of products for their projects. When they start considering this issue and asking manufacturers and suppliers about it, we can drive discussion.

For product manufacturers [the second adopter group] to adopt the 2030 Challenge for Products, it means calculating your carbon footprint—we start with one product, but would like to build up to a suite of products depending on the manufacturer—and then communicating the results in a transparent manner along with committing to reduce that impact.

The third group [of adopters] are supporters who are building professionals who do not either directly specify products or manufacture or produce products, but still raise awareness and provide technical support, tools, and programs that we need. This is the biggest group of adopters we’ve had. It includes experts in green products such as BuildingGreen and the Healthy Building Network. We’ve had fantastic support from experts in carbon footprinting such as life-cycle assessments (LCAs) and environmental product declarations (EPDs), groups that include the Carbon Leadership Forum, the Green Standard, and the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute.

What tools does Architecture 2030 recommend to identify a product’s carbon footprint? What metric does the challenge use?

The standard methodology would be an LCA, which calculates and sums up all of the emissions over the life of a product, taking into consideration raw-resource extraction, transportation, manufacturing, the use over a product’s life, and how the product is disposed of. We feel strongly that an LCA is great, but we highly encourage that additional standards are followed.

One of those standards would be a carbon footprint such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol’s Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard that was released last year. The protocol outlines a consistent method for calculating the carbon footprint of a product and adds a little bit more guidance when calculating an LCA. The gold standard we’d really love to see are EPDs, which require rigorous product category rules (PCRs) that set boundaries per product.

The final metric that comes out of all of these is kilograms carbon dioxide equivalent, which is the international standard of a carbon footprint.

Once someone adopts the challenge, is it up to them to make sure they are making progress toward the 2030 target?

Yes. That’s been our philosophy with all of our challenges. They’re voluntary. We want to set the vision and target, and then encourage and support adopters to take the challenges on as their own.

What kind of progress has been made since February 2011?

The last year has seen phenomenal support from the building sector. People have been talking about it and asking about it. We’ve also been working with some of the LCA and EPD experts on completing a few PCRs and are getting those ready for 2012. It’s been a support-building year.

What do you see going forward? The year 2030 is obviously the big deadline, but are there other milestones?

The targets are incremental, but a milestone for the challenge itself is going to be completing the PCRs. There are five industries working toward their own PCRs. I think that’s the missing ingredient. Once those are out, people can start to push toward EPDs.

The field of carbon footprinting is still very nascent and there are a lot of kinks that will get worked out as the volume of carbon footprints increases. The biggest challenge is going to be not getting too mired down in the details. An LCA and a PCR can become very complex with rabbit holes about what you want to include. For us, the goal is to start somewhere. I think that spending a lot of time figuring out how detailed to be can run the risk of putting off a really strong start.

Is there a set goal as to how many people you want signed on to any of the challenges?

We’ve never really approached our challenges in that way. Our goal is to raise awareness about the really big issues and get people talking and moving in a direction. As long as that’s happening, we focus on supporting it and making it better, but not necessarily on targeting a particular number.

For more information on Architecture 2030’s challenges for buildings, planning, and products, visit