Green Building Materials

bamboo - green building materials

Though there’s some debate over what are considered “green building materials,” there are a number of construction materials that have become established among green builders over the years.

To determine whether a material is “green” or not, builders look at more than what the material is; they consider how it’s grown and produced, as well as how it behaves and what tends to happen to it over its life cycle(s). This might involve a life cycle assessment (LCA) or it might involve a less formal evaluation process.

It’s often difficult to compare the relative environmental friendliness of a material (for instance, is an unsustainably-harvested wooden chair “greener” than a salvaged plastic one?). The Construction Specifications Institute assesses green building materials according to the following criteria, which may help you evaluate materials in your own green building projects.

Resource Efficiency


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.

Energy Efficiency


Any systems, materials and components that reduce energy consumption, such as:

Water Conservation


Materials and systems that conserve water, such as:

  • rainwater harvesting
  • low-flow toilets
  • grey-water systems

By considering materials in a holistic way, builders can make choices that better reflect their priorities and the goals of their projects. These criteria also put materials in context, giving us a longer view of them that lets us build projects that will be green not just in the moment, but for the long term.

Next Section: Natural Building Methods 

Image credit:  zoo_monkey

More from Kiva Bottero
How to Price a Green Home
Price is the all-important factor in most home buyers’ minds. Overprice and...
Read More
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *