What is Green?
Products made from Environmentally Attractive Materials The materials used to produce a building product and where those materials came from is a key determinant of green.
Salvaged products — Whenever we can reuse a product instead of producing a new one from raw materials—even if those raw materials are recycled—we save on resource use and energy. Many salvaged materials used in buildings (bricks, millwork, framing lumber, plumbing fixtures, and period hardware) are sold on a local or regional basis by salvage yards. Fewer salvaged materials are marketed widely, and it is generally only these that are profiled in a national directory can really shine when it comes to finding salvaged materials.

Products with post-consumer re-cycled content — Recycled content is an important feature of many green products. From an environmental standpoint, post-consumer is preferable to post-industrial recycled con- tent, because post-consumer re-cycled materials are more likely to be diverted from landfills. For most product categories, there is currently no set standard for the percentage of recycled content required to qualify for inclusion. In some cases, products with re-cycled content are included with ca-veats regarding where they should be used. Rubber flooring made from recycled automobile tires is a good example—the caveat is that these products should not be used in most fully enclosed indoor spaces due to offgassing concerns. In certain situations, from a life-cycle perspective, recycling has down-sides. For example, energy consumption or pollution may be a concern with some collection programs or recycling processes. Also, closed-loop recycling is generally preferable to downcycling, in which a lower-grade material is produced. As more complete life-cycle information on recycled materials and the process of recycling becomes available, we intend to scrutinize recycled products more carefully.

Products with post-industrial re-cycled content — Post-industrial re-cycling refers to the use of industrial by-products, as distinguished from material that has been in consumer use. Iron-ore slag used to make min-eral wool insulation, fly ash used to make concrete, and PVC scrap from pipe manufacture used to make shingles are examples of post-industrial recycled materials. Usually excluded from this category is the use of scrap within the manufacturing plant where it was generated. Material that would typically have gone back into the manufacturing process anyway. While post-consumer recycled content is a lot better than post-industrial recycled content, the latter can still qualify a product as green.

Rapidly renewable products - Rapidly renewable materials are distinguished from wood by the shorter harvest rotation—typically 10 years or less. They are biodegradable, often (but not always) low in VOC emissions, and generally produced from agricultural crops. Because sunlight is generally the primary energy input (via photosynthesis), these products may be less energy-intensive to produce, though transportation and processing energy use must be considered. Examples include linoleum, form-release agents made from plant oils, natural paints, geotextile fabrics from coir and jute, cork, and such textiles as organic cotton, wool, and sisal. In some cases, by virtue of its natural raw materials, it may have negatives that render it inappropriate for certain uses—such as high VOC levels that cause problems for people with chemical sensitivities.

Products made from agricultural waste material — A number of products are included because they are derived from agricultural waste products. Most of these are made from straw—the stems left after harvesting cereal grains. Citrus oil, a waste product from orange and lemon juice extraction, is also used in some green products, but such products usually include other agricultural oils as well and are lumped under rapidly renewable products.

Minimally processed products Products that are minimally processed can be green because of low energy use and low risk of chemical releases during manufacture. These can include wood products, agricultural or non-agricultural plant products, and mineral products such as natural stone and slate shingles.

Products That Are Green Because of What Isn’t There! Some building products are considered green because they allow material savings elsewhere or because they are alternatives to conventional products made from chemicals considered problematic. a few product components were singled out for avoidance in most cases: substances that deplete stratospheric ozone, CCA wood preservative, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polycarbonate. In a few cases, these substances may be included in a “green” product, but that product has to have significant environmental benefits (for example, high post-consumer recycled content). These material-saving products and substitutes for products made with environmentally hazardous components may not, in themselves, be particularly green (i.e., they may be petrochemical-based or relatively high in VOCs), but relative to the products being replaced or because they allow material savings elsewhere, they can be considered green. Most of the products satisfying this criterion are in categories that are dominated by the more harmful products., where vinyl (PVC) products account for the vast majority of the market.

Alternatives to products made from PVC and polycarbonate — Most PVC products are over 40% chlorine by weight, and hazardous chlorinated hydrocarbons, such as dioxins, can be produced during incineration or as by-products. Polycarbonate contains Bisphenol A, a recently targeted health hazard, and its manufacture involves various toxic intermediaries.

Alternatives to conventional pre-servative-treated wood — CCA-treated wood poses significant environmental risk during disposal Pentachlorophenol (penta) and creosote are considered carcinogens.

Products That Reduce Environmental Impacts During Construction, Renovation, or Demolition Some building products produce their environmental benefits by avoiding pollution or other environmental impacts during construction, renovation, or demolition. While a fairly small category in terms of the number of products satisfying the criterion, it is nonetheless important.

Products that reduce the impacts of new construction — Included here are various erosion-control products, foundation products that eliminate the need for excavation, and exterior stains that result in lower VOC emissions into the atmosphere.

Products that reduce the impacts of renovation — Access flooring components and leased carpeting minimize environmental impacts during reconfiguration of work spaces (renovation).

Products That Reduce Environmental Impacts of Building Operation The ongoing environmental impacts that result from operating a building often far outweigh the impacts associated with building it.

Products That Contribute to a Safe, Healthy Indoor Environment Buildings should be healthy to live or work in, and product selection is a significant determinant of indoor environment quality. Green building products that help to ensure a healthy indoor environment can be separated into categories such as: Products that don’t release significant pollutants into the building. Included here are zero- and low-VOC paints, caulks, and adhesives, as well as products with very low emissions, such as non-formaldehyde manufactured wood products.

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