How do I know when a building product is really green?
'Green' makes an eye-catching label for all sorts of products.
It’s a bandwagon every marketing company in the U.S. would like to climb on.
Confronted with this advertising claim, what we should be asking is, “OK, what makes it green?”
Here are a few issues to consider:
Is it manufactured or harvested locally? Less energy is needed to get local products to the end user. Buying locally also helps local economies.
Is it healthy? Find out whether the product off-gasses volatile organic compounds, formaldehydeChemical found in many building products; most binders used for manufactured wood products are formaldehyde compounds. Reclassified by the United Nations International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2004 as a “known human carcinogen." or other chemical irritants.
Is it durable? Spending more money for a product that lasts much longer than the norm represents a net savings.
Is it made from recycled materials, and can it be recycled? An increasing number of products contain at least some recycled material, which means fewer virgin raw materials were needed to manufacture them. Products that can be recycled at the end of their service life means less strain on landfills.
Will it save energy? Anything we can do to lower energy demands is positive. This is painfully obvious when it comes to fossil fuels, but don’t forget that a lot of electrical energy is derived from natural gas or coal.
Making the right decisions about green products isn’t always as easy as it looks. In addition to the questions listed above, you might consider a variety of other issues, such as how much “embodied energy” the product contains. That’s a measure of the amount of energy it took to manufacture and ship a product. The problem is there aren’t any absolute standards for measuring these things. Buyers simply have to weigh a variety of concerns and do they best they can.
Buying guides can be very helpful. One of them is Green Building Products: The GreenSpec Guide to Residential Building Materials. It lists everything from heat pumps to roof shingles.
To learn more, see the GreenSpec Product Guide