Designing a building is no easy task. Even “simple” projects present challenges as architects balance competing priorities like energy, carbon, cost, quality, and time. 

Navigating these trade-offs can be daunting. We’re expected to produce high-quality designs, meet project goals, and align with changing industry standards, carefully considering every variable that could impact the final result. With this in mind, architects cite three clear areas that can improve their material and product selection journey:

  • Strong partnerships with manufacturers, founded on product guidance and technical depth, build trust in the product selection journey
  • Websites and product sales representative interactions should focus on rapid and accurate engagement to save time for all parties
  • Data should be easily available to understand the breadth of influence that a product might have on project outcomes

Fortunately, with tech-forward solutions and a transparent, collaborative approach, the industry is changing for the better.


Project material choice for every project is influenced by location, climate, and cost. Even with these considerations, narrowing product options, project specification requirements, and supplier variability can still result in a large “short-list” of manufacturers and materials. Understanding how material selection will influence the ultimate performance, cost, and carbon associated with a project is essential.

For many architects, carbon has emerged as one of the most critical considerations in building material selection—a survey by cove.tool found that 56% of architects rated embodied carbon as a very important factor when selecting a building product. 

Choosing only one building attribute out of the myriad decisions confronting a designer without careful consideration of other factors is not a best practice. While it may seem convenient to opt for materials with the lowest carbon impact, or Global Warming Potential (GWP) to save time during material selection, this approach oversimplifies the complex environmental considerations. The lowest GWP materials may not always provide the most sustainable solution when considering the broader environmental impact. Consequently, architects must strive for a balanced approach that accounts for the multifaceted aspects of sustainability rather than focusing solely on one parameter like GWP. 

Ultimately, architects should aim to achieve a harmonious and sustainable whole in their design choices. We take the time to comb through product technical documents and building product databases because we want to understand the part-to-whole relationships that materials play in building performance, project costs and ecological impacts. 

However, navigating a project’s trade-offs is a trade-off in and of itself. 


More thorough building product selection results in better projects, but operationally, there is a lack of time and easily accessible data, leading to frustration with building project manufacturers’ websites. 

An AIA study found that over 40% of architects are unsatisfied with manufacturer websites and internet research. These resources are often difficult to navigate and frequently do not include all the information product selectors are looking for. When cove.tool conducted an informal survey at an industry event, 100% of engineer attendees said it was somewhat or very difficult to determine if building products selected would meet sustainability and performance criteria for their projects.

Fortunately, the tides are turning. Comprehensive, externally validated data about building products, including energy usage, carbon impact and operational costs, enables AEC professionals to make product selections with confidence. By allowing their data to integrate with BIM software, architects can simulate how different products would impact a build, thereby fostering increased collaboration in the building design process.


Providing architects with the data and access they need can contribute to increased revenue and sales productivity for building product manufacturers. Everyone benefits when product information and data are useful, timely, and accurate. Ultimately, architects who spend less time scrolling through online manufacturer resources can spend more time on what we do best: designing a better built environment.

About the Author:

Ed Akins, II, AIA, is the Enablement Director for cove.tool and a registered Architect. Over more than two decades he has worked with local communities, architecture firms, and higher education to encourage more responsive and environmentally sensitive design practices. His commitment to a more sustainable future has resulted in multiple awards and honors from the professional community and academia. Ed supports operations and outreach at cove.tool by applying his diverse experiences to the workplace as a strong leader and supporter of our impactful work and strategic initiatives. For more, visit

Modern Contractor Solutions, October 2023
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