News Brief

Environmental by Design--Volume 1: Interiors

Environmental by Design - Volume I: Interiors

by Kim Leclair and David Rousseau. 1992, Hartley & Marks, Inc., 79 Tyee Dr., Point Roberts, WA 98281. $19.95 U.S.; $24.95 Canada.

With the publication of

Environmental by Design, the field of environmentally sustainable design and construction took a significant step forward. For the first time, we have a reasonably comprehensive guide to building materials used in the interiors of buildings (Volume II will address structural and exterior systems). The introduction seems right-on-target in describing the different impacts of building material choices. Along with addressing what one would expect—global environmental issues and health issues—the introduction goes further with discussion of more obscure, but also important, social and ethical issues.

In each of the eight chapters of the book there is an excellent 5- to 18-page overview of the environmental issues relating to the product category, followed by detailed product reports. The products that are included must meet at least several environmental criteria. A graphic side-bar that accompanies each of the one-page product reports provides a quick summary of the product’s environmental strengths. There are 14 graphic symbols grouped into five categories (see list below). If a product satisfies the criteria for a symbol, that icon is highlighted; otherwise it is dimmed. The criteria used for these product reports are admittedly somewhat subjective, but this is the most thorough broad-based rating system we’ve seen.

As might be expected with a book that has such a broad and quickly changing field, there are inaccuracies. The authors state, for example, that there are no recycled materials in fiberglass insulation, while in fact all the major manufacturers now incorporate at least 10% (see EBN

Vol. 2, No. 1, p. 4). And when product information was compiled for the book, no North American drywall manufacturers were using flue-gas gypsum in their products (flue-gas gypsum is a by-product of coal-fired power plants that can be substituted for virgin gypsum in drywall); today at least two U.S. manufacturers are using it in their drywall production (see EBN

Vol. 2, No. 3, p. 6). Of course, there are also many other products left out of the book that rightly belong here, as the authors readily admit. In fact, there is a form in the back of the book for product manufacturers to send in requesting product reviews for possible inclusion in future editions or Professional Edition supplements (see below).

Environmental by Design seems particularly strong in the areas of finishes, wall coverings, and what they refer to as installation materials (adhesives, caulks, grouts, etc.). Information on sustainable wood sources (for interior trim and furniture) was less specific than we would have hoped. One message that becomes clear in reading through the product reports is that North America is behind Europe in producing environmental building material—particularly in the area of finishes. Some 40% of the products reviewed are imported (and thus have significant transportation costs associated with them). American industry should take note.

A professional edition of

Environmental by Design is available on an annual subscription basis ($40/year U.S.; $50/year Canadian). This version includes all the information in the consumer book, but in a loose-leaf format and with detailed material summaries for each product category, covering raw materials, manufacturing processes, installation information, maintenance requirements, and other issues. The loose-leaf format will permit regular updating of the product listings. If you send back the consumer edition when you order the professional subscription, you will be credited $12 U.S. ($15 Can.).

Volume II of

Environmental by Design, covering exterior materials (framing, roofing, sheathing, siding, etc.) by David Rousseau and EBN Advisory Board member Steve Loken, is expected out in about twelve months.

Published September 1, 1993

(1993, September 1). Environmental by Design--Volume 1: Interiors. Retrieved from

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