Material Use

Of all the aspects of Green building, material selection is probably the most difficult, both because there isn't good information on environmental impact, because manufactures don't always want to tell you what is in something, and because one material is rarely a direct substitute for another: they have different physical and aesthetic properties.

Before looking at specific materials, it is important to understand what factors to consider when choosing materials, in particular, what makes it green?  The adage Reduce, Reuse, Recycle applies to building as much as anywhere else.  More here...

Wood, and wood products are one of the most common building materials, and also one whose environmental impact is better known than others.  More here...

By weight and volume, concrete is often the most prevalent building material.  Its a very versatile, and useful material, but also uses a lot of energy.  More here...

Plastics and other Petroleum based products are also very common, both often have the greater environmental impact both in mining, manufacture and toxicity in the home.  In some cases, they are the ideal product, but in others there are other choices.  More here...

Building uses quite a lot of different products not in the previous categories, including iron & steel, stone, masonry, tile, drywall, and various insulation products.   More here...

Reclaimed (re-used), and materials with recycled content are almost always of lower environmental impact than virgin materials.  More here...

Final Thoughts

The environmental impact of material use is not just during initial construction, but what happens during its life, and at the end of its life.   Whether the building is constructed for easy remodel, and in particular easy deconstruction also affects long term environmental impact.


Building With Vision: Optimizing and finding Alternatives to Wood, Watershed Media, 2001

How buildings learn, Stewart Brand

Guide to Resource Efficient Building Elements, Tracy Mumma, 
Center for Resourceful Building Technology, 1997

See the material section on

"Forest Certification Growing Fast", Environmental Building News V12#4 (Apr 2003)

"Cement and Concrete: Environmental Considerations", Environmental Building News V2#2 (Mar/Apr 1993)

"The Fly Ash Revolution: Making Better Concrete with Less Cement", 
Environmental Building News V8#6 (June 1999)