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"Be the change
you wish to see
in the world..."
            -M. Gandhi


t a k i n g   g r e e n   t o   t h e   e x t r e m e

 

USING LIFE CYCLE ANALYSIS TO SELECT BUILDING MATERAILS

life cycle analysis
prioritizing
links to online resources
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Materials used in construction represent a significant portion of total consumed resources. If these products are toxic, they can effect the health of our indoor environment. If products are not sustainable or renewable, we deplete finite resources. Selecting natural, healthy and sustainable building materials is often about making an informed choice. Choosing "green" products can help improve a building's overall environmental impact.

Down to Earth will help identify healthy and sustainable building materials that are appropriate to a specific project. We evaluate projects to find each building material category for which there are environmentally sound alternatives. We then provide product listings for each category identified. Each product recommendation is based on performance requirements and evaluated through life cycle analysis.

LIFE CYCLE ANALYSIS

Materials are reviewed following life cycle analysis (LCA), which examines the total environmental impact of a product through each stage of its existence. Environmental impacts are assessed from raw materials acquisition, manufacturing processes, packaging, and shipping, through installation, indoor air quality, durability and performance, and end-of-use resource recovery. By evaluating products in this manner, we are able to choose healthy and sustainable building materials minimize detrimental impacts on the environment.

Note that life cycle analysis differs from embodied energy in that LCA is qualitative and embodied energy is quantitative. Embodied energy quantifies the total energy required to acquire raw materials, produce a product, and transport to point-of-use. This can be useful when comparing two different materials, however, the validity of the data is highly dependent on the method of evaluation.

RAW MATERIALS ACQUISITION
  • uses salvaged materials
  • maximizes recycled content
  • uses renewable resources
  • uses sustainably harvested woods
  • uses non-toxic constituents
  • avoids high embodied energy materials
  • minimizes environmental impacts of raw material acquisition (strip mining, dredging, etc.)
MANUFACTURING PROCESS
  • facility is local to raw material acquisition
  • closed-loop material use (no scrap generated)
  • minimizes energy used in production
  • uses renewable energy in production
  • minimizes water used in production
  • uses closed-loop water systems
PACKAGING
  • minimizes use of packaging
  • packaging is reusable
  • maximizes recycled content in packaging
  • packaging is recyclable

SHIPPING

  • minimizes shipping distances
  • utilizes energy efficient shipping methods
INSTALLATION
  • provides no risk to installers
  • zero-VOC installation materials
  • creates minimal installation waste
  • installation waste can be recycled
  • can be installed with conventional tools and methods
INDOOR AIR QUALITY & MAINTENANCE
  • emits no VOCs
  • emits no other toxic compounds
  • does not support microbial growth
  • maintained with non-toxic cleaning materials and methods
DURABILITY & PERFORMANCE
  • material is suitable for intended application
  • material is long-lasting
  • patterns and colors available are not "fads"
RESOURCE RECOVERY
  • installation technique allows material to be removed without damage
  • material is reusable
  • materials is biodegradable
  • material is recyclable
COMPANY PROFILE
  • does the company  have an overall environmental policy?
  • do they pursue third party environmental certification?
  • does the facility have a recycling program for all waste?
  • are company facilities constructed such that they are themselves examples of sustainable design?

IDEALLY THIS FORMS A CLOSED-LOOP RESOURCE MODEL
where recovery becomes the raw material resource for a new product

PRIORITIZING SELECTION CRITERIA 1. reduced: lower total burden
  • create smaller compact plans
  • use structural elements as finishes
  • optimize material use

2. reused: longer lifespan

  • incorporate salvaged materials
  • design for dismantle and reuse
  • create flexible designs (that donít need to be redesigned as often)

3. renewable: replenished by natural systems

  • specify agriculture-based products
  • specify certified sustainably harvested wood

4. recycled: waste becomes a resource

  • specify products with a minimum of 25% post-consumer or 40% post-industrial waste

5. healthy: non-toxic

  • avoid products with ozone depleting potential or global warming potential
  • avoid toxic chemicals or minerals (see list)
  • avoid products that support pathogens or bio-contaminants (such as mold/mildew, fungus, bacteria)
  • create details that protect materials from water damage
  • select materials that are easy to maintain

6. local: less transportation energy

  • give preference to locally manufactured materials

7. durable: longer lifespan

  • specify high quality, long-lasting products
  • specify materials that can be partially replaced as needed (such as carpet tiles)
  • create details that protect materials from premature damage

8. post-use: avoid disposal

  • select materials that can be salvaged, reused, recycled (with no down-grading)
  • select materials that are biodegradable

LINKS TO ONLINE CATALOGS OF GREEN BUILDING MATERIALS
The following list is intended solely to help others research products that meet their goals for healthy indoor air quality and sustainable construction. Down to Earth Design does not in anyway endorse websites, products, or vendors identified, and assumes no liability for their use.

 

Build Recycle.net
a free information exchange for companies and individuals to buy, sell, and trade used building materials
build.recycle.net

Building for Health Materials Center
a full online catalog of natural and healthy construction  materials and home appliances
www.buildingforhealth.com

Construction Resources (London, England)
Britain's first ecological builders' merchant provides products that promote natural building (including insulation, interior finishes, paints, etc.) as well as energy efficiency and renewable energy
www.ecoconstruct.com

Cool Roofing Materials Database
assists in selecting roofing materials that reflect, or otherwise reject, the sun's radiant energy (prepared by the Heat Island Project within Berkeley Laboratory's Environmental Energy Technologies Division)
eetd.lbl.gov/CoolRoofs/

Eco-House, Inc.  (New Brunswick, Canada)
natural chemistry products for healthier homes, farms and gardens, and a safer environment
www.eco-house.com

EcoMall
self-proclaimed "Earth's Largest Environmental Shopping Center"
www.ecomall.com

Eco Wise
green building materials and earth-friendly home-furnishings in Austin Texas
www.ecowise.com

Efficient Windows Collaborative
online information and interactive window selection tool  for deciding which types of windows provide appropriate energy efficiency  for your climate
www.efficientwindows.org

Energy Star Products
searchable and downloadable databases of Energy Star rated products
www.energystar.gov

Environmental Depot
green building materials distributor in New York City
www.environproducts.com

Environmental Home Center
green building materials distributor in Seattle
www.environmentalhomecenter.com

Environmental Home Store
green building materials distributor in Pennsylvania
www.environmentalhomestore.com

EPA Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines
recycled content product listings and product fact sheets, including recommended recycled content
www.epa.gov/cpg

Forest Certification Resource Center
searchable online database of sustainably harvested wood and wood products
www.certifiedwood.org

Forest World
a portal for several wood product related searchable databases, as well as classified ads for buying and selling wood-related products
www.forestworld.com

Green Pages Online (Co-Op America)
Publishes "National Green Pages", a listing of products and services that promote environmental and social responsibility
www.coopamerica.org

Green Building Pages
information and resources on sustainable design and green building products
www.greenbuildingpages.com

GreenProducts
distributor of bio-based building products
www.greenproducts.net

GreenSpec (Environmental Building News Product Directory)
environmentally preferable building product listings available online with a paid subscription
www.greenspec.com

Minnesota Building Materials Database
online database provides information and allows comparison of sustainable materials and systems
www.buildingmaterials.umn.edu

Natural Building Technologies (United Kingdom)
a range of natural products (including plasters, insulation, and paints)
www.natural-building.co.uk/

Nature Neutral
green building materials supplier in Charlottesville Virginia
www.natureneutral.com

NSF
searchable database of NSF certified water filtration products
www.nsf.org

Originate
natural building material showroom in Tucson Arizona
www.originateNBM.com

Real Goods & GAIAM
products dealing primarily with healthy home furnishings,  renewable energy systems, and natural building accessories
www.realgoods.com

Recycled Content Product Database (by California's Integrated Waste Management Board)
Searchable database of recycled-content products, including a used material exchange
www.ciwmb.ca.gov/RCP/

REDI Guide
one of the first searchable online databases of environmentally responsible building products
oikos.com

Sustainable Sources Guidebook
searchable database of life cycle analysis information for building material categories
www.greenbuilder.com/sourcebook/

RELATED ARTICLES

Sustainable Design
Overview

 

Down to Earth Design
Sigi Koko, principal
215.540.2694 PA
202.302.3055 DC
admin@buildnaturally.com

©2000 Sigi Koko & Down to Earth