How Gensler’s Product Sustainability Standards Are Making an Impact in the Industry

Last August, we launched the Gensler Product Sustainability (GPS) Standards as a step toward a more circular and less carbon-intensive industry. We created these standards because we believe this is one of our most substantial opportunities for accelerating industrywide impact — we have a clear imperative mandate to drive down our embodied carbon, to align the architecture and design industry in shared sustainability standards, and to be a collaborative partner in achieving mutual environmental goals. We are also deeply committed to partnering with our clients on their embedded values — as many of them have strong ESG and climate impact goals and the GPS Standards will help align those commitments to their corporate real estate portfolio.

We selected the holistic sustainability criteria on 12 product categories based on the carbon impact of the products’ materials and manufacturing processes, the volume we specify of that product category, and market readiness to demonstrate sustainability (through EPDs, third-party certification programs, and VOC emissions testing data, for instance).

People sitting at tables in a room.
Gensler Product Sustainability Standards
Gensler has established sustainability performance criteria for the top 12 most commonly used, high-impact product categories selected for our architecture and interior projects.

Making a strong market signal in the materials ecosystem

Five months after its launch, the impact is significant across the U.S., Canada, the EU, and the U.K. We have witnessed shifts up and down the complex web of supply chains that extends from Gensler — the manufacturers who design and build the products we specify, the sub-contractors and suppliers that they work with, and the manufacturing alliances that support them have all been making moves to adjust manufacturing and materials to meet our requirements. This extends to our clients who live with these products in their built environments and to the contractors who install the products and remove them again at the end of their life cycle and return them to the circular economy through manufacturer take back programs. There is a resounding enthusiasm for a clear market signal, and we are thrilled with the buy-in we have seen across the spectrum of businesses we partner with on the projects we design.

Within weeks of launching GPS, Gensler saw industries shift in response to our new standards. Manufacturers of some of the most well-regarded brands (particularly in highly competitive interior product markets like carpet tile and acoustic ceiling tile) that are specified by Gensler began redesigning and re-engineering their products. They focused on using alternative materials with lower carbon impacts, fine tuning their manufacturing processes to reduce energy consumption, investing in more EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations), and prioritizing the implementation of the ESG (Environmental Social Governance) reports to meet our criteria.

This is exactly the type of industry impact that we had hoped for, and a vital part of how we see our role in pushing the industry forward. Manufacturers have submitted thousands of products for GPS-compliance, and we have trained over 1,000 manufacturers and general contractors on the criteria. One furniture manufacturer reported auditing 100 subcontractors of their supply chain for GPS-compliance only to find that only two meet our standards. They are working with the other 98 now to become compliant. Another manufacturer asked us to add their product category, fire repellant, in GPS v2.

A few people in a room.
Muraflex’s NY showroom features Arco, a GPS compliant product. Photo: Garrett Rowland, courtesy of Muraflex.

Manufacturers have also told us that GPS provides the market support (and thereby incentive for financial investment) for more ambitious sustainability policies that they have long wanted to implement. These examples represent just a few of more than a dozen positive and impactful conversations we have had since the launch of the standards.

Amplifying the impact with our clients

At the other end of the design process, we’ve heard reports of prospective and existing clients lauding our new materials approach for its streamlined research, the guidance it provides them in making smart choices with finish and building materials, and how it dovetails and compliments other existing criteria. Our GPS work builds upon the legacy of many of our deep client relationships — clients across market sectors who are leading in the realm of sustainable placemaking: prioritizing materials in their projects across their portfolio of spaces that are healthier, lower carbon, and backed by industry-recognized stringent product certifications like EPDs, HPDs (Health Product Declarations), Declare, and Cradle to Cradle.

In addition to our clients with progressive sustainability frameworks, we also know that GPS helps push forward our clients who may not be trailblazers yet but seek to have an impact. Even those who may not have sustainability at the forefront will benefit from GPS, as it becomes the norm for all the projects we deliver. We know we can continue to deliver great designs at a reduced environmental impact — those two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

A room with a table and chairs.
Smart City by Mohawk Group is a market differentiator carpet tile and one of thousands of products vetted for GPS-compliance.

Progress & change happens with deep partnership

It is important to know that these criteria are evergreen, and new or updated criteria will be released at regular intervals. This also means that our team is poised to respond to the industry and streamline the process for our designers. Success is thanks in part to the collaborative spirit of the industry, so when we hear feedback from manufacturers we listen intently.

For manufacturers who have raised questions about specific criteria, we conducted more research and, in some cases, issued a clarification or revision. (GPS v1.1 was launched on April 22 with revised criteria.)

Fewer than anticipated manufacturers of glass demountable glass partitions could meet our requirements for 50% recycled aluminum content. One said the functional quality of their aluminum was impacted. Another reported that the aesthetic qualities were impacted because that level of recycled aluminum created a mottled look that was visible through the transparent anodized coating. Yet others had no trouble meeting the requirement at all.

This warranted further investigation to ensure that our criteria were achievable to a degree that it would move the industry forward, rather than ambitious to a degree that it prevented manufacturers from complying and limited our designers’ and clients’ options. To research this further, the GPS Core Team met with six companies that manufacture demountable glass partitions, including large, small, domestic, and international companies who could meet the threshold and those who could not yet meet it, as well as their anodizers and extruded aluminum suppliers, and the Aluminum Extruders Council. We wanted to discuss their concerns or lack thereof while meeting our criterion.

As we begin working on plans for v2, these experiences are shaping our path forward. As one of the industry’s most influential firms, we are excited that we can leverage our reach to accelerate progress for our clients and industry. We know we will go further and faster in this impactful work if we continue to remain collaborative and transparent in our approach.

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Sarah Templin
As a Sustainable Materials Specialist, Sarah supports initiatives around the Gensler Cities Climate Challenge while championing our firm's commitment to reducing environmental impact. Sarah is based in Washington, D.C. Contact her at .
Peter Harrison
Peter is a recognized emerging leader in the interior design industry. He brings a fresh passion, collaborative spirit, and gregarious enthusiasm to his role as a project designer, sustainability advocate, and mentor to interior design students. Peter is based in Portland, Oregon. Contact him at .