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Aligning material selection with global climate targets

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By Phanos Hadjikyriakou

· 4 min read

Climate change and climate solutions are all over the news. You’ve probably heard the story a million times already: The world is emitting so much that our future is starting to look grim.

At 2050 Materials we are not doomsayers. We of course understand that the world needs solutions, but our approach is simple: stay positive, and build tech to transition to the low-carbon economy.

Why is it so important to stay below 1.5 degrees?

1.5 degrees is the global climate change goal world leaders agreed to strive for. By limiting the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, by 2100, the hope is to avoid severe climate disruptions that could exacerbate hunger, conflict and drought worldwide. So, pretty important stuff to avoid.

Figure 1: The header of the UNEP GAP report 2021

What does that mean for construction?

The construction sector overall is responsible for 40% of the world’s emissions. That means investors, owners, architects, contractors, and other stakeholders have a huge opportunity to contribute to a world that looks better for all of us.

Figure 2: Image showcasing the wood design of a ceiling

Specifically, at 2050 Materials we are here to help the construction sector design using more sustainable building materials. To do that, we simplify data around construction products (check it out here) but we also create tools and metrics that allow practitioners to communicate the impact of each decision they make.

Below, you can learn more about how we calculate the “Warming Potential” metric, a metric that aims to show what climate scenario your chosen design is contributing to.

Figure 3: The Climate Result of 2050 Material’s Embodied Carbon tools, indicating that the chosen design contributes to a world that heats up by 2.4 degrees by 2100.

How can one building cause so much warming?

You are right, it can’t. In the same way that a single person skipping a transatlantic flight cannot reverse climate change, a sustainable building is not the solution to all our problems.

It is however, one piece of the puzzle. At 2050 Materials, we think that every change to a more sustainable system is important.

The Warming Potential was developed exactly to show what would happen if every building was designed in a specific way. It is a metric that tries to communicate impact and contribution on a high level, and a conversation started on how we can do better.

The data behind the Warming

To calculate the Warming Potential of a building, one needs to benchmark the emissions on a normalized unit and then compare those to building emissions that correspond to each climate scenario. To do that, we perform the following steps:

  1. Compute the embodied carbon footprint of the building based on the A1-A3 GWP of the materials selected, taking into account their quantities.
  1. Divide the emissions by the Gross Internal Area (GIA) to get the footprint per meter squared.
  1. Compare those emissions per m2 to a benchmark set by LETI for net-zero (which we consider to be aligned with 1.5 degrees of warming). This is dependent on the type of building.
  1. Extrapolate the 2 degree and 3 degree warming benchmarks by using the required global emissions reductions from 1.5 degrees to each scenario accordingly. To do this, we utilize data from the UNEP GAP 2021 report (Table ES.1).
  1. Calculate the Warming Potential for the material configuration selected.


As in all models, we make certain assumptions which allow us to compute the warming potential. The most important assumptions to keep in mind when using the data in these tools are:

  1. In order to calculate Warming Potential contribution, we assume that business-as-usual proceeds in the economy, and all buildings are build with the same carbon intensity as the configuration selected.
  1. We only take into account life-cycle stages A1–A3 (Manufacturing of raw materials) for now. Other life-cycle stages (transport, end of life, etc.) can have a significant impact on the embodied carbon of a building.
  1. We assume the net-zero target by LETI is in line with a 1.5 degrees scenario of warming.
  1. We use the relative reduction requirements indicated for global emissions, and apply them to adjust the LETI targets to 2 and 3 degrees of warming.

Feedback & Improvements

At 2050 Materials, we take feedback from our users very seriously. We know this model isn’t perfect, but we think that it can be, with your contribution and feedback.

Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem. This article is also published on2050 Materials.

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About the author

Phanos Hadjikyriakou is the Co-Founder & CEO of 2050 Materials where they focus on raising awareness and helping companies build more sustainably by using more environmentally friendly materials and practices. He is also an ETH Zurich environmental engineer graduate and versed graphic designer.

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