Exploring the Embodied Carbon of Office Partitions: Insights from the Max Fordham Study

by Ella Batkin and Karoline Stinessen
// Research

In the evolving landscape of office design, the importance of sustainable building practices cannot be overstated. A recent study conducted by Max Fordham, commissioned by Workplace Futures Group, provides a thorough assessment of the embodied carbon involved in various internal wall build-ups, focusing specifically on office partitions.

The Study Overview

The study dives into different wall constructions based on their acoustic performance—low, medium, and high—evaluating them not only for their sound insulation qualities but also for their carbon footprint throughout their lifecycle. This analysis was guided by the RICS Whole Life Carbon Assessment for the Built Environment, giving particular attention to life-cycle stages A1-A5 (upfront carbon), which cover the manufacture, transportation, and installation of products.

During a roundtable discussion on the report, Tim White, COO of Workplace Futures Group, said, “We commissioned this report to understand better the carbon footprint involved in our construction projects, particularly partitioning. Gaining this insight allows us to make more informed, sustainable choices. As a B Corp, sustainability is integral to our operations, and we are continuously exploring ways to reduce our environmental impact.”

Acoustic Performance and Carbon Emissions

The configurations examined range from common solutions like British gypsum with metal stud, to more innovative options like Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and boards made of biogenic materials like Fermacell. Each material’s acoustic performance was mapped against its carbon impact, providing a holistic view of its environmental footprint.

Transportation and Carbon Sensitivity

A significant portion of the study was dedicated to understanding the impact of transportation on overall carbon emissions. It highlighted how the distance from manufacturing sites to installation sites can drastically affect the embodied carbon of the materials. For example, materials manufactured outside the UK generally have higher transportation-related carbon emissions due to the long distances involved.

Henry Pelly, Principal Sustainable Consultant at Max Fordham, noted, “We discovered that transportation significantly increases the carbon footprint of building materials. For instance, 40% of the carbon emissions from clay boards, commonly produced in Central Europe, are due to transport because they are unavailable locally. This contrasts with locally produced systems in the UK, where transport accounts for just 5% of carbon emissions.”

Innovations in Material Science

The study also explored the implications of using biogenic materials, which are capable of sequestering carbon during their lifecycle. An interesting scenario considered was the potential future impact of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies, which could alter the carbon footprint of these materials at the end of their lifecycle.

Our team is constantly exploring innovative alternatives to traditional partitions and plasterboards, such as Adaptivity’s breadboard, which utilises by-products from the animal waste industry. This product promises a 90% reduction in carbon emissions compared to gypsum boards, representing a significant advancement upon market release,” said Matt Robinson, Head of Sustainability at Ambit.

Implications for Office Design

For office design and build companies, these findings underscore the importance of choosing partition materials not only based on aesthetic and acoustic needs but also on their environmental impact. The study provides a framework for making informed decisions that align with sustainability goals, particularly under the UK Green Building Council’s (UKGBC) Net Zero Carbon Construction framework.

Iain McIlwee, CEO of the Finishes and Interiors Sector, commented, “Today’s discussion revealed a significant shift in the fit-out sector towards sustainability. It highlighted the essential role of data in driving informed decisions. I commend the Workplace Futures Group for investing the time in understanding the impact of it and ensuring we can use this research as a sector with empathy to drive change in the fit-out process.


The Max Fordham study is a pivotal resource for architects, builders, designers, and corporate decision-makers. It arms them with the necessary data to make environmentally responsible choices in office construction, ultimately contributing to the broader goals of sustainability and carbon reduction in building designs.

Written by Ella Batkin and Karoline Stinessen.