The concept of sustainable building incorporates
and integrates a variety of strategies during the design, construction
and operation of building projects. The use of green building materials
and products represents one important strategy in the design of a building.
Green building materials offer specific benefits to the
building owner and building occupants:
Reduced maintenance/replacement costs over the life of the
Improved occupant health and productivity.
Lower costs associated with changing space configurations.
Greater design flexibility.
Building and construction activities worldwide consume 3 billion tons
of raw materials each year or 40 percent of total global use. (Roodman
and Lenssen, 1995) Using green building materials and products promotes
conservation of dwindling nonrenewable resources internationally. In addition,
integrating green building materials into building projects can help reduce
the environmental impacts associated with the extraction, transport, processing,
fabrication, installation, reuse, recycling, and disposal of these building
industry source materials.
Green building material/product selection criteria
Overall material/product selection criteria:
Indoor air quality
Resource Efficiency can be accomplished by utilizing materials that meet
the following criteria:
Recycled Content: Products with identifiable recycled content,
including postindustrial content with a preference for postconsumer content.
Natural, plentiful or renewable: Materials harvested from sustainably
managed sources and preferably have an independent certification (e.g.,
certified wood) and are certified by an independent third party.
Resource efficient manufacturing process: Products manufactured with resource-efficient
processes including reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste (recycled,
recyclable and or source reduced product packaging), and reducing greenhouse
Locally available: Building materials, components, and systems found locally
or regionally saving energy and resources in transportation to the project
Salvaged, refurbished, or remanufactured: Includes saving a material from
disposal and renovating, repairing, restoring, or generally improving
the appearance, performance, quality, functionality, or value of a product.
Reusable or recyclable: Select materials that can be easily dismantled
and reused or recycled at the end of their useful life.
Recycled or recyclable product packaging: Products enclosed in recycled
content or recyclable packaging.
Durable: Materials that are longer lasting or are comparable to conventional
products with long life expectancies.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is enhanced by utilizing materials that meet
the following criteria:
Low or non-toxic: Materials that emit few or no carcinogens,
reproductive toxicants, or irritants as demonstrated by the manufacturer
through appropriate testing.
Minimal chemical emissions: Products that have minimal emissions of Volatile
Organic Compounds (VOCs). Products that also maximize resource and energy
efficiency while reducing chemical emissions.
Low-VOC assembly: Materials installed with minimal VOC-producing compounds,
or no-VOC mechanical attachment methods and minimal hazards.
Moisture resistant: Products and systems that resist moisture or inhibit
the growth of biological contaminants in buildings.
Healthfully maintained: Materials, components, and systems that require
only simple, non-toxic, or low-VOC methods of cleaning.
Systems or equipment: Products that promote healthy IAQ by identifying
indoor air pollutants or enhancing the air quality.
Energy Efficiency can be maximized by utilizing materials and systems
that meet the following criteria:
Materials, components, and systems that help reduce energy
consumption in buildings and facilities. (See Green Building Basics for
Water Conservation can be obtained by utilizing materials and systems
that meet the following criteria:
Products and systems that help reduce water consumption
in buildings and conserve water in landscaped areas. (See Green Building
Basics for more information.)
Affordability can be considered when building product life-cycle costs
are comparable to conventional materials or as a whole, are within a project-defined
percentage of the overall budget. (See Environmental and Economic Assessment
Tools for links to resources.)
Three basic steps of product selection
Product selection can begin after the establishment of project-specific
environmental goals. The environmental assessment process for building
products involves three basic steps. (Froeschle, 1999)
1. Research. This step involves gathering all technical information to
be evaluated, including manufacturers' information such as Material Safety
Data Sheets (MSDS), Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) test data, product warranties,
source material characteristics, recycled content data, environmental
statements, and durability information. In addition, this step may involve
researching other environmental issues, building codes, government regulations,
building industry articles, model green building product specifications,
and other sources of product data. Research helps identify the full range
of the project’s building material options.
2. Evaluation. This step involves confirmation of the technical
information, as well as filling in information gaps. For example, the
evaluator may request product certifications from manufacturers to help
sort out possible exaggerated environmental product claims. Evaluation
and assessment is relatively simple when comparing similar types of building
materials using the environmental criteria. For example, a recycled content
assessment between various manufacturers of medium density fiberboard
is a relatively straightforward "apples to apples" comparison.
However, the evaluation process is more complex when comparing different
products with the same function. Then it may become necessary to process
both descriptive and quantitative forms of data.
A life cycle assessment (LCA) is an evaluation of the relative
"greenness" of building materials and products. LCA addresses
the impacts of a product through all of its life stages. Although rather
simple in principle, this approach has been difficult and expensive in
actual practice (although that appears to be changing).
One tool that uses the LCA methodology is BEES (Building
for Environmental and Economic Sustainability) software. It allows users
to balance the environmental and economic performance of building products.
The software was developed by the National Institute of Standards and
Technology's Building and Fire Research Laboratory and can be downloaded
free on their Web site.
3. Selection. This step often involves the use of an evaluation
matrix for scoring the project-specific environmental criteria. The total
score of each product evaluation will indicate the product with the highest
environmental attributes. Individual criteria included in the rating system
can be weighted to accommodate project-specific goals and objectives