News Brief

Environmental Resource Guide

Joseph Demkin, editor. The American Institute of Architects. Published annually by John Wiley & Sons, 1996. Three-ring-bound. $150 + $2.50 for handling. Call 800/225-5945 to order.

The new

Environmental Resource Guide (ERG) uses an effective combination of text and graphics to convey the environmental implications of building materials choices. The

Guide, which was previously published quarterly by AIA, is divided principally into three sections: Application Reports, Material Reports, and Project Reports.

The Application Reports examine specific areas of construction, outlining and comparing the impacts of different options. There are currently five reports: light framing, insulation, claddings, wall finishes, and resilient flooring. Each report begins with a bullet-point summary of principal issues and recommendations, which clearly distills the most salient information. The main text is well organized, with text highlights summarized in the margin for quick scanning. Illustrations of construction details bring a graphic dimension to the information, as do the various tables. Each section includes a matrix comparing the environmental performance of the various systems; this matrix is graphically very potent, readily communicating the attributes of each option. I found the Application Reports to be extremely effective in helping to make intelligent specification choices; they narrow in on the pertinent information and communicate it with great clarity.

Figure 7: Material Flow for Joint Compound

Material flowcharts illustrate the Application Reports in the new ERG

The Material Reports provide an in-depth look at the entire life cycle of each material addressed.

There are twenty of these reports, ranging from stone veneer and concrete masonry to plastic laminates and acoustical ceiling systems. While some might find the quantity of information daunting, these reports lend a fascinating insight into the complex network of processes that bring familiar construction materials into being. They also cover maintenance issues and recycling potential. Each report begins with a short section highlighting the major issues. A clearly outlined text follows, describing the entire life cycle in detail. This life-cycle information is also communicated graphically through flowcharts. Additionally, tables outline the impacts of each activity associated with the production process. These reports are useful for those interested in the nitty-gritty details, but the ample information is not sorted out or prioritized to provide helpful conclusions for an architect specifying materials.

The Project Reports cover case studies of four exemplary projects, from an ecology center to a home. They round out the material-focused sections of the guide by presenting whole projects and the thinking behind them.

This guide does not fall into the trap of being myopic, but rather remains very conscious of the larger context. Each material is not only analyzed as a distinct item; its effects on other systems are considered as well. For example, in the Application Report on claddings, the point is made that heavier claddings can require more structure. The Application Report on insulation notes that the energy performance of the building generally outweighs the embodied energy of the insulation. This sense of connection and proportion is critical, and clearly conveyed. There is also attention given to the social and economic repercussions of materials choices.


ERG is clearly organized, and the combination of various modes of communication is effective. The tables and flowcharts are generally well laid out and communicate the information clearly. The use of summaries permits ready access to the most pertinent information. The inclusion of key references at the end of sections is helpful for further inquiry. One of the challenges of this publication is to balance clarity with repetitive information. In tables, many entries of “see above” serve to condense the graphic, but require finding the “above” entry. There is extensive cross-referencing between material reports, but frequently the reference is to an entire section rather than a specific page number, which makes it difficult to locate the appropriate


The main disappointment is that there are not more Application Reports. This section of the

ERG provides the most useful guidance, yet there are only five reports. Future updates should contain more of these. In the meantime, the

ERG nonetheless provides a wealth of useful information for environmentally sound materials specification.


EBN editors Alex Wilson and Nadav Malin contributed to this edition of the

ERG. Architect Mary Kraus of Amherst, Massachusetts wrote this review.

Published March 1, 1996

(1996, March 1). Environmental Resource Guide. Retrieved from

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