San Francisco Environment Department

Ensuring safe, accountable, and circular solutions for building products

Building materials management consists of evaluating and re-forming activities throughout a product’s lifecycle to improve outcomes for green building, zero waste, toxics reduction, environmental justice, and climate action. Given San Francisco’s progressive goal to be a net-zero carbon city by 2040, it is essential to identify and implement solutions that holistically address the environmental and social impacts of building products. 

Significance of Building Materials

  • Climate Change: Defined as the sum impact of all the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to materials throughout their lifecycle, embodied carbon includes material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and end-of-life considerations. It is anticipated that embodied carbon will be responsible for more than 70% of the carbon emissions associated with global new construction between now and 2030. 
  • Optimized Resources: More than half of the 3 million tons of solid waste generated annually in San Francisco comes from the construction sector. About a third of the city’s area landfills are composed of building materials, many of which could have been salvaged for reuse, remanufacturing, or recycling. 
  • Community Health: Demolishing buildings can generate dust that could contain asbestos and other toxic chemicals. Deconstruction is an alternative practice to demolition in which buildings are thoughtfully disassembled, reducing substantial health risks to surrounding communities and allowing building products a second life.
  • Environmental Justice: Throughout a product’s life cycle, there is a human cost borne most often by low-income, marginalized communities. For example, salvaging and extending the life of products for reuse can significantly slow the growth and demand for landfills, thereby reducing or preventing the negative impacts experienced by neighboring communities. Furthermore, reuse markets may provide greater access to high-quality items to local small businesses and nonprofit organizations by offering them at a more affordable price.
  • Regional Economy: With ongoing supply chain disruptions, high dependency on global markets for building materials poses economic instability. Northern California ports import $1.3 billion of building materials from Asia and Europe. Building materials reuse markets would provide regional economic and environmental resilience by giving greater control to regional stakeholders and diversifying sources of construction material.

Building Material Management Projects

As outlined in the 2021 San Francisco Climate Action Plan, several efforts for building materials management are underway in San Francisco. Here are some examples:


  • Towards Zero Waste Accelerator (C40 Cities)
    San Francisco led the process with C40 Cities to develop this commitment in 2018 and, together with more than two-dozen other cities, signed-on to reduce the amount of waste generated by 15% and reduce waste sent to landfill and incineration by 50% by 2030.
  • Clean Construction Accelerator (C40 Cities)
    In 2021, San Francisco became one of five signatory cities to take action to reduce embodied emissions through a range of actions including sourcing, tracking, and process themes. View updates on our progress.
  • Municipal Green Building Requirements
    The Municipal Green Building Requirements apply to any planning, design, construction, deconstruction, or demolition activity performed by a City Department or on a city-owned property. The proposed update includes the following prevention measures, with a goal for an effective date of January 2023:
    • Limits waste generated per square foot for tenant improvement projects
    • Leverages Whole Project Life-Cycle Assessment (Reuse of building product and components is also a recognized option for tenant improvement projects)
    • Uses Environmental Product Declarations to reduce the negative impacts of procurement 
    • Socializes strategies to reduce embodied carbon with the Embodied Carbon Reductions Strategies Checklist (a freely available resource by the Carbon Leadership Forum)


  • San Francisco Bay Area All for Reuse Alliance
    SF Environment, Alameda County’s StopWaste, the Business Council on Climate Change (BC3), and the All For Reuse Initiative together initiated a series of workshops throughout 2021 to create the San Francisco Bay Area All for Reuse Alliance for the region with a goal of bringing together a cohort of the region’s largest portfolio holders (building owners, renters, and developers).

    View the pledge, access the implementation plan worksheet to guide reuse for tenant improvement projects, and join the Alliance.

  • San Francisco Surplus Building Products Reduction and Redistribution Study (November 2021)

    A surplus building product is an item that has been purchased for construction but not installed (typically pristine and well-documented, and often new-in-box). SF Environment conducted this Study with contributions from the Bay Area Sustainable Construction Leaders to better understand situations that lead to surplus, including building product types, quantities, and frequency, as well as ways to minimize and repurpose these items. Download the Study.

  • Online Exchange for Building Products
    To build the critical infrastructure for a thriving secondary market for building products, SF Environment is developing an online exchange platform in collaboration with Rheaply, a climate technology company, and the participation of more than fifty cities throughout the country. Funding is provided by the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance Game Changer Fund grant. Anticipated launch: January 2023. 
  • Building Resources Innovation Center – Building Materials Reuse Analysis (March 2022) SF Environment is a member of the Bay Area Construction Innovation Cluster —a coalition of public, nonprofit, and academic partners led by StopWaste— that was selected as a Finalist in the 2022 USEDA Build Back Better Regional Challenge. San Francisco’s proposal is to create the Building Resources Innovation Center (BRIC), a physical space for the temporary storage and redistribution of salvaged/surplus commercial building products, novel circularity programs, and community services. Download the Report.
  • Deconstruction Ordinance San Francisco is working toward a citywide deconstruction policy based on a materials inventory and specific items to be rescued for reuse. The City is collaborating with other cities and counties in the region through the Bay Area Deconstruction Work Group and plans to convene a Technical Advisory Committee for San Francisco in FY2022/23.



To learn more or get involved with the Department’s building materials management projects, contact [email protected].

Various office buildings in Downtown San Francisco
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