What’s a Green Building Material? Sorting Through the Maze of Options
by Grady O’Rear
Imagine that you are manufacturing a building product such as a framing or roofing material, a lighting fixture, an adhesive or an appliance. In today’s competitive market place wouldn’t you want to have your product recognized as green? Since in so many cases the answer is a resounding yes, it’s no wonder that numerous manufacturers are doing their best to present their merchandise as environmentally friendly.
Given this predicament, how can a builder tell what construction materials are really green versus what are just “greenwashed?”
There are two ways you can answer this question:
Look for green product ratings, and
Develop your company’s green screening criteria
When using the first approach, you’ll find quite a few green product certifications available. Some of these are third-party, independent ratings that have a high bar. Examples are:
Green Seal – certifies construction, cleaning and food products
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – certifies wood and lumber products
Cradle to Cradle (C2C) – certifies building products
Governments have joined the chorus of green ratings. Probably the most widely known is the collaborative work of the US Department of Energy and the US Environmental Protection Agency:
There are also green product certifications that have been developed by manufacturing associations such as:
Ultimately builders need to develop their own screening criteria. Here are some tips:
Prefer dark green rating systems. For example, you can prefer product certifications that are third-party, independent and set a high bar like FSC certification for wood and lumber.
Use locally produced products. This reduces energy requirements for transportation and supports local economic activity. You could define local as within a 500 mile radius.
Check independent user-friendly ratings such as those found in Consumer Reports.
Prioritize durability. Products with longer warranty periods translate to less natural resource extraction.
You’ll be one step ahead by learning more about green product rating systems and developing your company’s standards for green materials. Make a new year’s resolution now.
NHCA has asked Green Advantage to provide a monthly column in its newsletter. Grady O’Rear is President/CEO of Green Advantage; he can be reached at