Green Building Materials and the New Built Environment

Posted by Rumin Mann
November 26th, 2010

From the trees in your backyard to “Eco Options”TM at the Home Depot:  Green building material alternatives are being offered for all parts of the built environment.

While many materials are more readily available for large commercial projects, other, more common items such as zero VOC paints, are becoming a commonplace item on the retail level.

What makes a green building material “green” can cover many facets; Steel is not a renewable resource, but truly recycles, doesn’t down-cycle, and there is ample supply from demolition and manufacturing waste.

Bamboo takes only 3 to 7 years to harvest and very little energy to grow, but a lot of manufacturing and shipping creates a lot of embodied energy.

When assessing the “greenness” of an environmentally friendly building product I generally look at the following criteria:

1) Where does it come from – Is it a readily renewable resource? Is it locally manufactured? How are the raw materials and final products transported?

2) How is it made – What are the ingredients in the manufacturing process? Is there fair trade involved? Does it have a large amount of recycled content? How much energy does it take to produce?

3) How does it affect the environment after it is used – Does the material off gas? What is its care and life span? Is it recyclable at the end of its initial use?

Very few materials can meet all of these criteria and this is not an exhaustive list, but these are essential issues to be weighed initially and balanced out for the best options for each product – one product may work for a certain project but not be feasible for another.

Consumer demand for greener products is on the rise as the general public becomes more informed. This is a beginning. We have a long way to go and along the road there will challenges. Green washing, resistance to change, and comparatively high initial cost are just a few of these hurdles.

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