The building and construction sector accounts for 40% of annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This statistic may be surprising to some, but education efforts in the AECO sector are providing clarity and understanding. 

Growing awareness of the carbon impact of the built environment sector is bringing a large push for low-carbon and net-zero buildings from both the private and public sectors. From Buy Clean policies being implemented at city, state and federal levels, industry associations introducing new net-zero certifications and standards and building owners setting carbon reduction goals for their projects, it’s never been more important that AECOs have the data they need to make informed decisions for their projects. 

Specifically, contractors need material disclosures and product data to help drive low-carbon material selection. By investing in transparency, manufacturers can better support contractors and project teams as they look to decarbonize their projects. 


While not new, building product and material transparency for AECOs has been a growing industry trend over recent years. The building industry is much more aware of the impact products and materials have on occupant and planet health, and material transparency helps to limit this. 

Transparency documents and product data as it relates to human health, environmental, and social equity impacts play a critical role in helping contractors meet project goals and industry standards or certifications for buildings. Given this new information, there is a significant opportunity for manufacturers to invest in transparency and disclose their products’ lifecycle impacts and material ingredients. Ultimately, it may drive project teams to specify their products over a competitor’s because they are publicly sharing this data. 

Many manufacturers are committed to product transparency and prioritizing material transparency by publishing or supporting the development of the following:

  • Product Category Rules (PCRs): The standard for creating lifecycle assessments and Environmental Product Declarations for specific product groups. Creation is led by a program operator and developed in collaboration with industry groups, manufacturers in the product category, and other stakeholders. 
  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): The process of assessing the environmental impacts of a product or material across the life cycle from cradle to grave.
  • Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs): Created in conformance with the PCR using the LCA results, it reports a product’s environmental impacts, then is independently verified and published by the program operator.

By making product transparency data publicly available to the AECO sector, manufacturers help contractors make informed material and product selections. 


As mentioned, there is a growing demand from building owners for low-carbon buildings, especially from large corporations, as they include their building portfolio in overall climate commitments. At the same time, we’re seeing architects and other members of the building industry set carbon reduction goals for their projects. 

Contractors play a critical role in making progress toward these low-carbon goals across a project’s lifecycle. One of the key opportunities they have to reduce carbon emissions on a project is product selection. 

Embodied carbon, or the carbon emissions released during the manufacture and use of building products and materials, is responsible for 11% of annual GHG emissions. By selecting products with a lower carbon footprint for their projects, contractors can make progress toward decarbonization goals. However, low-carbon material selection is only possible if contractors have access to product data via transparency documents. 

As net-zero buildings and carbon goals for projects become the norm, contractors have an opportunity to gain a competitive edge over their peers. Being an expert in material disclosure documents and awareness of the tools and resources available today to drive low-carbon and healthier material selection is a huge benefit for contractors as they look to win more business. 


While it’s clear that contractors will benefit from prioritizing low embodied carbon products and materials on their projects, it’s important to acknowledge that they have many other tasks and considerations on their plate, which can make this difficult to prioritize. This means it’s important for manufacturers to make product selection as streamlined as possible. 

Contractors need quick and easy access to product data and transparency documents—by making this data accessible and easy to understand, day-to-day tasks will be more efficient and help project teams meet goals. 

For this to happen, manufacturers must first invest in transparency via EPDs and material ingredient disclosures that are becoming the industry norm and a must-have for some projects. Beyond publishing these documents, it’s also becoming more important to upload them to various platforms and resource hubs that aim to make reviewing transparency documents even more streamlined. 

This includes the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3), a free, easy-to-use tool that allows benchmarking, assessment and reductions in embodied carbon via a robust database of EPDs. Manufacturers can upload their EPDs to the platform, which makes data found within the documents digestible and helps drive product selection. 


Carbon is a growing focus area for the AECO sector, and this will certainly continue with more and more awareness and policy efforts focused on decarbonizing built spaces. With this, it’s critical that contractors and manufacturers partner together and prioritize product selection that aligns with project goals. 


Luckily, transparency is becoming the norm for the industry. With this, more tools and resources are available and being expanded on to ease the process of selecting products that support human and environmental health goals. Now is the time for industry professionals to get smart on transparency and how they can play a role in prioritizing. 

PCRs for North American building materials:

Tools for measuring embodied carbon:

About the Author:

Terry Swack is the founder and CEO of Sustainable Minds, the only end-to-end provider of product transparency solutions. Building on her leadership in customer experience strategy and long career in at innovative technology startups, Swack founded Sustainable Minds in 2007 to operationalize environmental performance and material health into mainstream product development and manufacturing in an accessible, empowering, and credible way. She continues to focus on launching and investing in the products and solutions needed to support the development of high-performance, low-carbon, healthier building, and construction projects, including the Transparency Catalog™ with Project Builder & Library. For more, visit

Modern Contractor Solutions, December 2023
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