What Makes a Product Green?

Quite a bit of attention has been focused on the issue of green building materials. What makes a given product “green”? How do you evaluate the relative greenness of different products? How do you find green products? More important, perhaps, manufacturers are asking, “How can we make our products greener?”

There are several directories of green building products available, some national in focus, some regional. In compiling any directory of green building products, the authors have to figure out what qualifies a product for inclusion. That was an exercise the EBN editorial staff went through when we began developing the GreenSpec® directory, our own entry into the products directory field, in the late 1990s. This article is an attempt to lay out for public examination and discussion our standards for what makes a building product green.

Our standards and thresholds have evolved over time, and this article lays out for public examination and discussion our current standards for “what makes a product green.” These criteria will continue to change, and as they do, the products included in future editions of GreenSpec will also change. We welcome input in this process of determining just what is green.

The Challenges in Defining What is Green.

The Holy Grail of the green building movement would be a database in which the life-cycle environmental impacts of different materials were fully quantified and the impacts weighted so that a designer could easily see which material was better from an environmental standpoint. Though efforts are afoot along these lines we are not even close to realizing that goal. Very often, we are comparing apples to oranges. We are trying to weigh, for example, the resource-extraction impacts of one product with the manufacturing impacts of another, and the indoor-air-quality impacts of a third.

These issues were addressed in an earlier article on material selection (see EBN Vol. 6, No. 1), but in that article we were addressing the broader issue of material selection for a given project—not determining which materials should be considered green in general. This distinction is subtle but important. In building a house or office building, a great many materials and products will be used. Even in the greenest of projects it is likely that many products will be used that are not themselves green—but they are used in a manner that helps reduce the overall environmental impacts of the building. A particular window may not be green, but the way it is used maximizes collection of low winter sunlight and blocks the summer sun. So even a relatively conventional window can help make a house green. Creating a green building means matching the products and materials to the specific design and site to minimize the overall environmental impact.

This article examines products in isolation—not how to use a product to make a building green, rather what makes a certain product green. Green products, including virtually all of those found in GreenSpec, could be used in dumb ways that result in buildings that are far from environmentally responsible. In a well-thought-out building design, however, substituting green products for conventional products can make the difference between a good building and a great one.

Article from http://www.buildinggreen.com

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