Though there’s some debate over what are considered “green building materials,” it’s hard to debate the sustainability of certain construction materials and practices. The Construction Specifications Institute assesses green building materials according to the following criteria:
Recycled content – Building materials that are made with recycled content (i.e. papercrete, enviroboard, wood-plastic composite).
Recyclable or reusable – Different than the above—materials that are not necessarily made of recycled content, but can be recycled or reused (i.e. metals, wood, plastic, glass).
Durable – Materials that last longer don’t need to be replaced as often (i.e. stone, copper roofing, hardwood flooring, and any high-quality furniture and cabinetry that lasts a long time).
Renewable, natural or plentiful - The preference is towards materials that grow rapidly and are sustainably harvested (i.e. bamboo, cork, straw and FSC-certified wood).
Locally available – Products obtained locally or regionally reduce transportation demands and thus emit less greenhouse gases (i.e. earth used for rammed earth and compressed earth blocks).
Salvaged, deconstructed, remanufactured or refurbished – Grabbing something before it goes to the dump doesn’t just mean one less product that’s added to the waste stream, but one less product that needs to be manufactured (i.e. furniture and fixtures such as cabinets, doors, windows and floors).
Resource efficient manufacturing process – Green building tends towards manufacturers that have efficient manufacturing processes that use less energy, output less greenhouse gases and produce less waste than conventional manufacturers.
Indoor air quality (IAQ)
Low or non-toxic – Materials that emit little or no carcinogens, irritants or reproductive toxicants.
Low-VOC / Minimal chemical emissions – Materials that emit minimal or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as low- or zero-VOC paint.
Moisture resistant – By resisting moisture, materials inhibit biological growth such as mould and last longer.
Healthfully maintained – Materials that can be cleaned using non-toxic or low-VOC cleaning products.
Health-promoting technology – Devices that assess the indoor air quality (IAQ) and enhance air quality, such as IAQ monitoring instruments.
Any systems, materials and components that reduce energy consumption, such as:
- solar photovoltaics
- solar hot water heating
- wind turbines
- micro hydro
Materials and systems that conserve water, such as:
- rainwater harvesting
- low-flow toilets
- grey-water systems
- photo courtesy foilman (CC BY-SA)