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The Committee on the Environment (COTE®) is an AIA Knowledge Community working for architects, allied professionals, and the public to achieve climate action and climate justice through design. We believe that design excellence is the foundation of a healthy, sustainable, and equitable future. Our work promotes design strategies that empower all AIA members to realize the best social and environmental outcomes with the clients and the communities they serve.

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PARTNER CONTENT Stone wool insulation: a two-prong tactic for meeting decarbonization goals

By Alison Karfeld posted 08-24-2023 05:49 PM


Buildings are a regular target for decarbonization efforts, particularly amid intensifying urbanization.  New high-performance building construction and deep-energy retrofits have the potential to significantly lower energy demand. Yet, to alter the trajectory of global warming going forward, it is essential that project plans address both operational carbon and the embodied carbon of each building. One way design professionals can support decarbonization efforts is by working with manufacturers to specify materials that are built on a model of promoting and prioritizing global sustainability. There are two prongs to this approach. 

Prong #1—when sustainability is the business strategy, not just a stand-alone policy 

The building materials industry has come a long way when it comes to embodied carbon, and sustainability more generally, but the reality is that more needs to be done. Currently, buildings account for approximately 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions—28% from operations and 11% from embodied carbon. Yet, with the building industry poised to add 230 billion square meters of new construction worldwide by 2060 (equivalent to building one New York City each month for 40 years), it’s estimated that embodied carbon could account for roughly half of total new construction emissions between now and 2050.   

Manufacturers must also do their part to move toward decarbonization such as aligning themselves with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), committing to measurable Science-based target initiatives (SBTIs), innovating materials and processes to offer more CO2-neutral materials with a longer lifecycle, and embracing circularity. For example, ROCKWOOL is supporting 10 out of 17 UN SDGs (including SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production and SDG 3 Good Health and Well-being), and setting clear, auditable SBTi goals (including reducing absolute Scope 1 and 2 emissions by one-third in the next 12 years), as identified in our 2021 Sustainability Report. In line with our commitments, ROCKWOOL invests in strategies that reduce our factories’ direct emissions, such as ROCKWOOL Group’s award-winning flex-fuel technology at our facilities in Ranson, West Virginia, and Marshall County, Mississippi.  

Simultaneously, it is critical for manufacturers to track the embodied carbon of their building products and publish third-party verified environmental product declarations (EPDs). EPDs communicate information about the lifecycle environmental impact of products during all phases of construction. There are different types of EPDs available in the market, including industry-average, product-specific (such as that available from ROCKWOOL), and facility-specific EPDs. Further, EPDs that are third-party-validated provide assurance that standard rules and guidelines were followed for the life cycle assessment and development of the final EPD. Focusing on product transparency, ROCKWOOL has a product-specific, third party validated in accordance with ISO 14025 EPD that has been available in the market since 2019. Even at the design stage it is important to refer to product-specific data to capture the most accurate life cycle performance for the project.  

Prong #2—the products themselves contribute to operational carbon emissions reduction 

Reducing operational carbon is a critical component of the total decarbonization effort. Although important to note that reducing upfront embodied carbon is critical to meet the current carbon emissions targets, over the lifetime of a building, the operational carbon will typically be higher than the total embodied carbon. Adequately insulating buildings can play a significant role by increasing energy efficiency, reducing energy demand and thereby lowering GhG emissions. Therefore, insulation is a primary building material that can directly reduce the operational carbon of buildings over their lifetime. The August 2022 Insulation Industry Opportunity Study by ICF International found that applying simple insulation measures to existing single-family homes, commercial buildings, and industrial facilities would be equivalent to increasing current wind production by 135% or offsetting emissions from 40% of all natural gas-fired generation in the United States. It also found that retrofit activity in residential homes alone could prevent roughly 10 billion tons of carbon emissions over a 50-year period (the minimum useful life of building insulation). On a manufacturer level, ROCKWOOL reports that the building insulation it sold in 2021 will save 100 times the energy consumed and carbon emitted during its production over a lifetime of 50 years. 

In addition, the thermal properties and dimensional stability of stone wool products do not change over time. 

Manufacturing stone wool insulation  

Why stone wool?  

For architects and builders, specifying stone wool insulation materials offers many benefits and contributes to multiple project goals. These include protection from temperature extremes, fire, noise, and moisture, each of which can adversely affect the integrity of the building’s structure, its long-term durability, as well as the health and well-being of its occupants. In addition, it contributes to decarbonization by selecting materials that can help reduce both the operational and embodied carbon of buildings, combined with the ability to simultaneously satisfy various code requirements and maintain design freedom.    

When planning your next new building or retrofit project, consider stone wool insulation for its flexibility in myriad applications as well as its impact in addressing the challenges of climate change. Learn more about ROCKWOOL, which authentically demonstrates a deep investment in sustainability and circularity. 

AIA does not sponsor or endorse any enterprise, whether public or private, operated for profit. Further, no AIA officer, director, committee member, or employee, or any of its component organizations in his or her official capacity, is permitted to approve, sponsor, endorse, or do anything that may be deemed or construed to be an approval, sponsorship, or endorsement of any material of construction or any method or manner of handling, using, distributing, or dealing in any material or product.