Although it seems straight forward, the term “sustainability,” when applied to buildings and the materials and products they are made of is fairly broad in meaning.
Sustainability of building materials and products is intended to indicate the degree of “greenness.” When you think about the “greenness” of a product, ask yourself these questions:
How eco-friendly is the material?
What is the carbon footprint of its manufacture and use?
What is the life cycle expectation of the components and structure?
Building materials can be eco-friendly by using any of the following:
• Recycled Content - This is important because materials which have reached the end of their life cycle (or are by products of the manufacture of other materials) are re-utilized instead of being discarded, thus saving the energy and material cost to produce them while additionally avoiding landfills.
• Made from Renewable Resources - Materials that grow quickly, such as fast-growing fiber plants, and timber species, are renewable and easily replaced at a low cost with respect to energy or carbon discharge.
• Resource Efficient Manufacturing Techniques - Materials or products that can be manufactured at reduced energy costs are very eco-friendly. When considering the life-cycle energy use of a product, this is an important aspect.
• Locally Available and Abundant - The materials used when manufacturing an eco-friendly product should be locally available and abundant. This saves transport fuel, emissions and other energy costs inherent in moving the material to the point of manufacture. Being abundant reduces the energy cost of obtaining the material.
• Salvaged, Refurbished or Remanufactured Materials - This is a very important aspect of a green product, consisting essentially of reusing a material that would otherwise be discarded and become part of the waste stream.
• Durable - Once a material or product is made, how long it will last is an important consideration. If it takes more energy to make something, but it lasts for a very long time, then it can be more eco-friendly than a product that is easy and cheap to make but lasts but a short time.
• Compostable or Biodegradable - Finally, once the useful life of a product is over, how easily can it be broken down into eco-friendly components. Being compostable or otherwise biodegradable means it will not be a long term resident of the waste stream and can be utilized as fertilizer or clean landfill.
While certainly not a complete list of the factors important in producing eco-friendly products, the above certainly give an idea of what is trying to be accomplished. By paying attention to these details, the sustainability, hence, the eco-friendliness of the construction industry will be increased and can be maintained indefinitely.