Material Selection

Photo: Dan Brady. License: CC BY 2.0.

OVERVIEW

Materials really do matter to the health of occupants and the environment, but finding out what is in a product—and why—is not easy.

Products also have to perform as intended, so there are often tradeoffs between performance and the most sustainable materials.

Here you will find articles on:

  • the least hazardous, most environmentally sustainable materials used in products

  • environmental product declarations that can reveal the life-cycle impacts of materials

  • standards and third-party certifications that provide important VOC criteria and other health and performance metrics

  • chemicals of concern in building materials

You’ll also learn how what makes a product green can differ from product category to product category, and why multi-attribute vetting is critical no matter what product or material you’re selecting or specifying.

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  • Spec This, Not That: Avoiding Toxic Chemicals in Commercial Building Projects

    PDF Report

    Spec This, Not That details approaches used by architects, designers, contractors, and building owners to reduce chemical hazards in their building projects. It also includes at-your-fingertips insights for designers and spec writers on which hazards to watch out for in the major building product and material categories.

  • Let’s Talk: Mainstreaming Transparency Takes More than Letters

    Op-Ed

    To move the building industry toward greener products, there are two big things we need to do. 

  • Building Product Disclosure & Optimization (BPDO) Cheat Sheet

    Infographic

    The three Building Product Disclosure and Optimization (BPDO) credits in LEED v4 are pushing the industry into new territory. Suppliers have made significant progress on materials transparency and optimization since the release of version 4, but not enough to make all the points realistically achievable. With version 4.1, LEED has modified thresholds and simplified requirements so that all six points should be within reach for most projects.

  • The Questionable Science Behind VOC Emissions Testing

    Feature Short

    We need the protection that product VOC testing provides, but it’s far from the last word on human health in buildings.

  • VOCs in LEED v4 and Other Rating Systems

    Feature Short

    Most building certifications encourage low-emitting and low-VOC products, but they all do it differently. Here’s how it all fits together.

  • How to Get from VOC Certifications to Better Products

    Feature Short

    The FDA regulates flies in our soup, but no one regulates VOCs in our indoor air. Somehow that’s a designer’s job to figure out. 

  • Why “Zero VOC” Was Never Enough

    Feature Short

    We used to look for coatings, adhesives, and sealants that contained no VOCs. Great for smog prevention, but IAQ and installer health are also important.

  • Building Products Matter Even More Than We Thought

    Op-Ed

    Operational energy use is critical, but materials might be an even bigger part of the solution to climate change and other pressing environmental issues.

  • What These Forestry Labels Really Mean

    Infographic

    You’ve seen FSC and SFI labels on wood products. Most often, you’ve seen no label at all. Here’s a green guide to each one.

  • The 8 Shades of Greenwash: How Many Do You Recognize?

    Infographic

    Most building products these days have an environmental angle to their sales pitches. Many are legit, but as ever, you still have to watch for the telltale signs of greenwash—the practice of inventing or exaggerating the environmental benefits of a product.