Sustainable Building Sourcebook
Chapter: Materials
 

Introduction

Austin Energy Green Building™ has identified a set of considerations that should be taken into account when choosing building materials. Since many different definitions exist concerning what constitutes an environmentally friendly or green material, we use the following set of terms as factors in determining environmentally preferred materials and products.

BY-PRODUCT
Unused or waste material from one manufacturing or energy-producing process that can be used in another manufacturing or energy-producing process

Agricultural by-product: Unused or waste material from farming operations, several of which can be used in building products such as strawboard panels, soybean laminates, etc.

Industrial by-product: Unused or waste material from power plants or manufacturing operations, several of which can be used in building products, e.g. flyash concrete, synthetic gypsum, etc.

DIVERSION
Avoidance of landfill disposal of a material or product through reuse or recycling

EMBODIED ENERGY
All of the energy required in the raw material extraction, manufacturing, distribution, and transport of a material product up to its point of use

GLOBAL WARMING POTENTIAL (GWP)
Possible climate warming effect caused by the manufacture and/or use of a material or product compared to that of carbon dioxide (CO2), which has a GWP of 1.0

INDOOR AIR QUALITY (IAQ)
Condition of air inside buildings with respect to harmful concentrations of contaminants, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulates

LIFE CYCLE
All stages of production, including raw material extraction, manufacturing, distribution, use, maintenance, reuse or recycling, disposal, and all transportation

MATERIAL SAFETY DATA SHEET (MSDS)
Information required from manufacturers listing hazardous material content of products, human exposure limits, and handling precautions

OFF-GASSING
Releasing of gases or vapors into the air

OZONE DEPLETING POTENTIAL (ODP)
Relative measure of the potency of chemicals in depleting stratospheric ozone, depending primarily on chlorine and bromide content, and lifetime of the chemical compared to CFC-11, which is designated 1.0 ODP

RAPIDLY RENEWABLE
Materials that are replenished relatively quickly, usually in less than 10 years, such as bamboo, sisal, flax, and other plant fibers

RECYCLABLE
Having the potential for being recycled by possessing such traits as highly recoverable, easily separated from other materials, not contaminated by toxic coatings, etc.

RECYCLED CONTENT
Portion of a material or product that is made from recovered material

Post-consumer recycled content: The recovered material has served its intended consumer use, has been collected and separated from other materials, and has been reused in the manufacturing of another material or product rather than been disposed

Post-industrial recycled content: The recovered material is from the manufacturing process or facility

REUSED OR SALVAGED MATERIALS
Materials or products from building deconstruction or demolition that are reused 'as-is' with little or no processing or modification

SOLID WASTE
Material or product, typically long lasting and not biodegradable, disposed of in landfills or incinerators

SOURCE SEPARATION
Separation of waste materials by material type at the point of use to facilitate recycling

THIRD-PARTY CERTIFIED
Materials or products that are monitored by independent organizations for compliance with recognized environmental standards

VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOCs)
Chemicals that contain carbon molecules and vaporize from material surfaces into indoor air at normal room temperatures; they often react with other chemical vapors and gases to cause eye and respiratory irritation

Quite often, it is extremely difficult to accurately assess the environmental performance of a building material or product over its entire life cycle. In many cases, we rely on third-party certification organizations to accomplish this task. For example, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies wood products that come from sources that follow a set of FSC sustainable forest management practices. Other recognized third-party certification organizations include Green Seal, Green Cross, and Energy Star.

Topics discussed in this chapter: