How can you determine which ones are the most environmentally friendly? Nowadays, sustainable options on the market work as well or better than the more carbon-intensive ones. Here are the best green materials and the more harmful ones.
Sustainability is a term people use often, so it’s helpful to know what it means. A sustainable building material uses natural and renewable resources. You can reuse it multiple times without damaging the environment. Its extraction doesn’t produce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions or require much energy for production.
Many companies use the term sustainability in marketing, so the definition can become convoluted and meaningless. Some businesses claim to have sustainable practices but only use buzzwords in advertising campaigns — or their efforts in one area don’t tell the whole story. For example, a company could have a tree-planting initiative while contributing heavy waste to landfills. You may know this tactic as greenwashing.
Environmental consciousness is critical in construction because of the industry’s impact on the planet. Data from the International Energy Agency shows the sector is responsible for 39% of CO2 emissions and 36% of energy use.
Finding greenwashing in the building sector requires research beyond the advertisements. Some companies may use terms like “eco-friendly” to refer to their products but don’t have data to back them up. Research the business’s website to find concrete proof of sustainable practices.
For example, when searching for homes and buildings, look for Energy Star or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification to ensure the structure is conducive to the planet’s health.
Sustainable materials have become highly desired by businesses and consumers. They create green buildings that lower energy bills and increase property value. These three building materials demonstrate sustainability through their durability, low energy requirement and reduced environmental impact.
Bamboo has become a popular building material because of its durability. It looks like a thin tree in the woods, but builders note bamboo for its hardiness. It has high compressive strength, meaning it resists breaking when an outside force attempts to compress it.
Bamboo is sustainable because it lasts long, with low maintenance and a rare need for replacement. Also, it grows quickly in the woods. Bamboo only needs 35 to 40 days to reach its full height. It’s a solid alternative to standard wood, which may require years to grow.
Renewable energy has evolved from a trend into a necessity for many homebuyers. Solar power, in particular, has become a highly desired source. The federal government has made panels more affordable by offering a 30% rebate on the systems through 2033.
Solar technology has expanded to panels and other technologies you can use for your home. For example, now you can get solar shingles for your roof. They function like panels by harnessing the sun’s energy and converting it into power for your home, helping you rely less on the electricity grid. Plus, they’re durable due to fire resistance.
Terra cotta is an unconventional sustainable building material. You’ll typically see it in pottery, such as ceramic pots. However, it has become a building material as its construction benefits are solid. Terra cotta is often used for tiles because it’s inexpensive and efficient. Energy-efficient tiles can reduce your power consumption by 20%-30% on average.
Terra cotta is sustainable because it requires little energy consumption. It’s typically fired from red and brown clay. It’s also durable and flexible, giving you numerous options for use in your home.
Sustainable building materials are becoming more prominent, but some products you see daily are the most harmful to the environment. These three materials are particularly energy-intensive or have high emissions.
Concrete is among the most common building materials in the world. You see it on structures and sidewalks everywhere you go. Unfortunately, it requires high energy consumption and leads to emissions.
Concrete is responsible for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Put it in perspective by looking at countries. If you turned concrete into a nation, its emissions would be third in size, only behind the U.S. and China. Concrete requires water in production and fossil fuels when heating. Plus, heating limestone in the mixture releases CO2. It has less sustainability, but there are alternatives like recycled concrete and self-healing to lessen the environmental impact.
On the surface, wood is a renewable resource. It comes from trees, which can be replanted to compensate for their use. However, the amount of companies that have used wood makes it unsustainable and destructive for the environment.
As industrialization rises, so does deforestation. This practice entails clearing forests to make room for buildings, cattle farms and other profit opportunities. Deforestation harms places like the Amazon because it destroys habitats for numerous animals and causes CO2 emissions. Tree loss leads to nearly 5 gigatons of CO2 output annually. Wood is less sustainable through this practice, but you can help by purchasing recycled and sustainably sourced lumber.
Steel is another common building material, but its environmental impact is high. First, consider the emissions. In 2020, 1.86 million tons of steel production produced about 2.6 billion tons of CO2 emissions. You need a coke oven to make steel, which can release carcinogens like naphthalene. The energy usage is high, so it’s not the ideal sustainable material. However, you can reduce the environmental impact by opting for recycled steel.
Finding Sustainability in Building
The building sector has quickly gravitated toward sustainability in the past few years. However, it’s difficult to tell what is helpful to the planet and what’s harmful. Sustainability in building means the materials are naturally sourced, renewable and require low energy. Use this guide for differentiating sustainable and unsustainable products.