Pursuing a Circular Economy

Understanding how materials, design, and planning can increase sustainability
Sponsored by Armstrong Ceiling and Wall Solutions
By Jessica Jarrard
1 AIA LU/Elective; 0.1 IACET CEU*; 1 GBCI CE Hour; 1 AIBD P-CE; AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines; AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.; MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.; This course can be self-reported to the NSAA; NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; OAA 1 Learning Hour; SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning

Learning Objectives:

  1. Explain the difference between a linear and circular economy.
  2. Recognize how the building industry can be part of a circular economy.
  3. Describe how the building industry drives reduce, reuse, and recycle processes.
  4. Discuss how materials, design, and planning allow buildings to reduce their carbon footprints.
  5. Identify programs, initiatives, and projects that promote sustainability.

This course is part of the Sustainability Academy

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EC3 Tool

The Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) is a free tool provided by the Carbon Leadership Forum. It is easy to use and allows for benchmarking, assessment, and reductions in embodied carbon, focused on the upfront supply-chain emissions of construction materials.

The Carbon Leadership Forum built the EC3 tool with input from nearly 50 industry partners, and utilizes building material quantities from construction estimates and/or BIM models and a robust database of digital, third-party-verified environmental product declarations (EPDs).

The EC3 tool can be used in both the design and procurement phases of a construction product and help review a project’s overall embodied carbon emissions. This allows the specifier to select and procure options that will produce the lowest amount of carbon.

The EC3 tool can also be used by owners, green building certification programs, and policymakers to help created EPD requirements based on supply-chain data and to set carbon limits and reductions at the construction material and product level.

This tool is having an impact on the industry by driving demand for low-carbon solutions and by incentivizing manufacturers and suppliers of construction materials to disclose information and provide transparency on which types of materials provide lower carbon emissions.

The main functions of the EC3 tool are to: find and compare materials, plan and compare buildings, declare products, and verify and audit.

The EC3 tool is hosted and managed by Building Transparency, a 501c3 organization that began in early 2020 to provide resources and education needed to ensure its adoption.

Building Transparency was established by leaders of the EC3 tool development team so that they could continue the management and development of the EC3 tool, as well as provide the resources and education necessary to ensure its adoption. Implementation of the EC3 tool is done by C-Change Labs, a software company dedicated to enabling climate change action.

Tools and Recycling Programs Implemented by Building Companies

In addition to tools created by government entities, associations, and collectives, individual companies have also created tools that can be used to help determine waste calculations and to specify projects to ensure long-term sustainability.

Materials and construction companies not only play a vital role in ensuring that recyclable or reusable materials are available, but they also have a responsibility to ensure that those materials can be safely and efficiently recycled, otherwise the building manager or contractor may not be as inclined to recycle or reuse.

In the design phase, a specifier or architect can consult with building companies ahead of time to learn about their recycling programs. When it is time to recycle, contact the manufacturer of the building to see what options are available and to understand the steps involved to recycle materials.

Each manufacturer may have requirements or stipulations to participate in its recycling program. It might also provide a list of steps to take to prepare the materials before they can be recycled. For example, a manufacturer may stipulate that materials containing asbestos or that have been installed below asbestos-containing materials cannot be recycled. It may also specify not to send any products that are wet, moldy, or weathered. Materials might not be allowed to come back on pallets with debris, garbage, or construction waste.

At the time of demolition, it is the responsibility of the building owner and the contractor to coordinate demolition work, especially work related to but not limited to building insulation, gypsum board, light fixtures, mechanical systems, electrical systems, and sprinklers.


A circular economy is based on the philosophy of extracting the maximum value from each resource available and then establishing a system that encourages the best use, reuse, and replenishment of natural resources possible. By specifying high-quality materials that are built to last and can be recycled at the end of their useful life and by shrinking waste, we can reduce greenhouse gases and get the most out of every material used in a building’s life cycle.

End Notes

1Breene, Keith. “Can the circular economy transform the world’s number one consumer of raw materials?” World Economic Forum. 4 May 2016. Web. 14 May 2020.

2R.W. Beck Inc. “U.S. Recycling Economic Information Study.” National Recycling Coalition. July 2001. Web. 14 May 2020.

3Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Recycling and Composting.”

Jessica Jarrard is an independent writer and editor focusing on health, science, and technology. She contributes to continuing education courses and publications through Confluence Communications. www.confluencec.com

Armstrong Ceiling and Wall Solutions Armstrong World Industries is a leader in the design and manufacture of innovative commercial ceiling and wall systems. At home, at work, in health-care facilities, classrooms, stores, and restaurants, Armstrong Ceiling & Wall Solutions offer interior options that help create healthy, sustainable spaces that protect people and cultivate well-being and comfort so they can be at their best.

Armstrong is committed to developing new and sustainable ceiling solutions, with design and performance possibilities that empower its customers to create beautiful, high-performance residential and commercial buildings. Armstrong continues to grow and prosper for the benefit of all its stakeholders. armstrongceilings.com/commercial


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in June 2020