Framework for Design Excellence: Design for Resources

Good design depends on informed material selection, balancing priorities to achieve durable, safe, and healthy projects with an equitable, sustainable supply  chain to minimize possible negative impacts to the planet.  

  • What factors or priorities will be considered in making material selection decisions?  
  • How are materials and products selected and designed to reduce embodied carbon and environmental impacts while enhancing building performance?  
  • How can material selection reduce hazards and support equitable labor practices in the supply chain?  
  • How does the project promote zero waste throughout its life cycle?  
  • How does the project celebrate local materials and craft?    
  • How long will the project last, and how does that affect your material?  

Focus topics:

  • material sourcing
  • embodied carbon
  • healthy materials
  • construction, deconstruction, and demolition waste
  • zero waste operations

If you can do only one (or a few) thing(s):

  • Material sourcing: Decide to focus on salvaged, or transparent materials (EPD, HPD, declare label, Living Product Challenge, etc.), and target the most used products within the project.
  • Embodied carbon:  Minimize embodied carbon related to high-impact materials such as wood, concrete, and steel, minimizing the extent of aluminum used, and not using XPS or sprayfoam insulation. For tenant improvement (TI) projects, focus on carpet, gypsum board, and FF&E, and consider product lifespan, reuse, and takeback.
  • Save material resources by optimizing building reuse, space efficiency, building longevity and adaptability, and structural systems, and the extent of site disturbance/paving/retaining.
  • Healthy materials: Choose one or a few chemicals of concern to eliminate in firm standard specifications or a project’s materials. Start with your firm’s most commonly used materials and provide good/better/best options.
  • Construction, deconstruction, and demolition waste: Where there is an existing building on-site, assess if full or partial building reuse is an option, and survey products and materials on-site for possible reuse.
  • Include measures in specifications to reduce construction waste, such as takeback for surplus materials, just-in-time ordering, allowing offcuts to be reused and other lean construction strategies.
  • Zero waste operations: Design central waste stations for trash, recycling, and food waste rather than individual bins which accumulate unsorted waste.
  • Develop a waste management plan in collaboration with building management which includes waste reduction design strategies and shows spatially how all waste will be segregated, moved, stored, and collected by waste haulers.

Additional information

This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published and distributed with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering professional services. If professional advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought.

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.

Image credits

2020 COTE Top Ten award recipient, Etsy Headquarters, provides an area for employees and local artisans to create.

Garrett Rowland


Dror Baldinger


R.W. Kern Center by Bruner/Cott & Associates is a 2017 COTE® Top Ten recipient.

COTE Tashjian 1

Richard Brine