Feature Article

The Great Eight: High-Impact Material Choices for Green Building

We’re at a tipping point in insulation, flooring, textiles, and other product categories. Here’s what to spec and what to avoid.

Locally sourced cedar and stone cladding give the new R.W. Kern Center a distinctive presence on the rural campus of Hampshire College in Massachusetts. The project, designed by Bruner/Cott & Associates, is seeking Living Building Challenge certification.

Photo: Paula Melton
We all want to eat right, but we also need to watch our budgets. Most of us want to buy healthful, responsibly produced food but can’t always find or afford the most sustainable option.

Enter the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. These lists from Environmental Working Group (EWG) identify 12 types of produce with the greatest pesticide burdens and reveal which 15 fruits and veggies tend to be more sustainably farmed as a standard practice. They help shoppers understand when the better choice really matters—when it makes sense to shell out for organic.

Can we apply a similar filter to design and construction? That’s our goal in this article—to determine when the better choice matters most for building materials.

Don’t get us wrong. Every year, we celebrate innovative trendsetters with our Top 10 Green Building Product awards. And we set a high bar for sustainability most of the time with our BuildingGreen Approved product guidance and reviews. But for this article, we’ll focus on a select number of product categories where:

  • Choosing green versus conventional truly makes a major difference for human health, the environment, or both
  • Price premiums and other issues aren’t insurmountable
  • Green options go beyond one or two niche products, so you can defend your spec

We’ve focused on eight high-impact product categories, which (with a nod to EWG) we’ve dubbed The Great Eight:

Use each guide below to review your standard practice on projects, to help owners and other project team members prioritize product choices, and to bring your own selections and specifications up a notch or two.

Published June 6, 2016 Permalink