With “green” being a word thrown around quite a bit these days, it’s hard to know what makes a building green. A building is not green simply because it uses solar power, conserves water or is energy efficient. It’s also about the materials used, the method of production, and the specific benefits to the building owner/occupant that make a building green.
When it comes to planning resources, there are many factors to consider in determining if the materials used are eco friendly, and the criteria varies depending on the project. Materials can range from high-end, man-made products to those that are salvaged from buildings that have been renovated or demolished.
Building materials typically considered to be ‘green’ include lumber from forests that have been certified to a third-party forest standard, rapidly renewable plant materials like bamboo and straw, dimension stone and recycled stone.
Some other examples of products that meet environmental criteria are those that are moisture resistant, water conserving, healthfully maintained, low or non-toxic, reusable, renewable, and/or recyclable. For example the Sprout Space classroom uses materials that include FSC-certified wood, bio-based insulation and recycled content flooring. In addition, the low-emitting materials used to build Sprout Space provide the highest indoor air quality standards. The conscious selection of healthful materials, ample day lighting, and increased ventilation have a real effect on teachers and students, especially in relation to asthma and respiratory issues.
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) also suggests using recycled industrial goods, such as coal combustion products, foundry sand, and demolition debris in construction projects. The industrial waste products or resultant of recycling have similar properties to that of the virgin material. A popular example of incorporating waste into a construction project is the use of fly ash in concrete where it has been shown to enhance the strength and durability of concrete products.
Ideally building materials should be extracted and manufactured local to the project site to minimize their embedded energy. Where possible, using building elements manufactured off-site and delivered to the project, will maximize benefits of off-site manufacture including minimizing waste, maximizing recycling, high quality elements, better material safety management and less disruption to the areas surrounding the project.
Prioritizing the use of green materials in construction will have a far-reaching impact. When planning construction projects, consideration must be given to the life-cycle cost of the products and materials.
- Where are the materials coming from?
- What will it take to get them there?
- What is their impact to the energy use, occupant comfort and surroundings once incorporated in the building?
- Where will they end up after their useful life?
All of these issues when carefully considered will ultimately result in use of materials that offer positive environmental, social and economic impacts.
“Industrial Materials Recycling: Managing Resources for Tomorrow.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, Jan. 2007. Web. 07 June 2013.