Philip White, IDSA, Assistant Professor | School of Design Innovation and School of Sustainability, Arizona State University
Global Warming is increasingly recognized as a severe threat to ecological health and human welfare over the coming century, and companies and development teams worldwide try to understand how best to reduce the Global Warming effects of materials and processes. The Global Warming potentials of common carbon-containing materials at their end-of-life phases are often inadequately understood by designers. For instance, the land-filling of paper in typical landfills can create almost as much Global Warming gas (pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per pound of paper) as the production of the paper itself. This results largely from decomposition of the paper into methane gas in the landfill that can escape to the atmosphere, and has a Global Warming potential 25 times greater per unit weight than carbon dioxide (CO2).
To approach this crucial topic, we review how international carbon reporting standards treat the carbon emissions from common materials. We model the Global Warming impacts of several common carboncontaining materials in production and end-of-life treatments. We also evaluate the applicability of the available carbon footprint standards for design teams who are trying to model and reduce end-of-life carbon impacts in products and services.