A quick guide to: purchasing alternative materials with lower embodied emissions

How can businesses identify low-carbon alternatives and what else needs to be taken into account when switching to greener products? Here are some examples to consider.

However, it’s important to remember that only a combination of actions will help businesses reduce emissions, so as well as exploring options for low-carbon materials, businesses can look at becoming part of the circular economy and reducing their energy use. For example, an electric vehicle is better for the environment if it’s manufactured using sustainable materials, and powered by clean, renewable energy.

Research into low-carbon products is ongoing and the below may not be relevant for every business. It’s best to seek further information and support from sustainability experts before adopting new products. 

Here, we outline a few examples of purchased materials that may be better for the environment. 

Biomass paints

Biomass paints, made using biowaste in place of petroleum products, are gaining in popularity commercially. The manufacturing process can be completed on existing production facilities, and since the biowaste can be sourced locally, carbon emissions from transportation are greatly reduced. BMW Group is already using biomass paints on its cars, while BASF, the manufacturer of the paint, claims its process reduces CO2 emissions from paint production by around 40%. 

Beeswax food wrap

The manufacture of plastic wraps like cling film has a high environmental cost – and the end products are seldom recyclable. As a result, sustainable alternatives like beeswax wrap are being explored. Beeswax wrap is made from organic cotton coated with beeswax, organic jojoba oil and tree resin. It is an effective natural food wrap with antibacterial properties and can be used to wrap fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, baked goods and other food products – although it’s not recommended for raw meat or fish. Beeswax wrap is washable, reusable and compostable, and the durability of cotton means it won’t tear.

‘Green’ concrete

Concrete is the most widely used construction material in the world, but it accounts for an estimated 8% of global CO2 emissions, according to a 2018 report by think tank Chatham House. But new developments mean sustainable concrete can be manufactured by replacing the cement content with other substances like fly ash, silica fume, recycled glass and even paper – and also by using recycled water. Demand for green concrete in the construction industry is increasing, as customers insist on raw materials that improve their environmental credentials.


Biofuels are produced using biomass from plants, instead of fossil energy sources, and are growing in popularity as a sustainable alternative to petrochemicals. The production of biofuels facilitates CO2 capture from the atmosphere during the plant growing cycle, as well as reducing CO2 emissions when the fuels are burned. Biofuels can be used to power machinery and generators as well as vehicles like lorries, farm equipment, buses and aircraft. In a 2021 policy statement, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy backed the use of biofuels as part of the government’s Net Zero Strategy.

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