Materials & Resources

Through the stages of building construction and demolition, there are many choices when it comes to green building materials sourcing.

A truly sustainable building will use locally sourced materials, virgin materials that have less impact on the environment, recycled content, and will reduce and recycle waste. When working on a green building project, it is important to be cognizant of Certified Wood, Rapidly Renewable Materials, Recycling before and after the building is occupied, as well as Reused and Recycled Materials.

Storage and Collection of Recyclables

On the fundamental level of material and resource management, recycling for building occupants is a very easy and important first step. The average person produces 4 pounds of trash every day. In fact, in 2009 Americans produced enough trash to circle the Earth 24 times. Over 75% of waste is recyclable but we only recycle about 30% of it. Taking the step to encourage recycling in a green building can reduce the impact of waste.

LEED certified buildings are required to reduce waste in landfills by recycling metal, glass, paper, plastic, and cardboard. In order to facilitate recycling it is important to include signage to discourage contamination, designate a recycling area that is the appropriate size and easily accessible, provide security for high value materials, and include protection from the elements when designing a recycling area.

Building Reuse

Even more important than constructing a green building from scratch, reusing elements of a previously constructed building can help conserve resources, reduce waste, preserve cultural resources, and reduce environmental impacts of new buildings. By reusing exterior elements like existing walls, floors, and roofs or interior structural elements, green buildings can help divert the 170 million tons of waste materials that go to the landfill due to construction, renovation, and demolition of buildings.
Every year, approximately 170,000 new commercial buildings are constructed, and nearly 44,000 commercial buildings demolished. Approximately 7.188 million new housing units were built between 2005 and 2009. Reusing buildings rather than starting from scratch can reduce these numbers.

Construction Waste Management

As previously stated, every year, 44,000 commercial buildings are demolition. By diverting construction debris from disposal in landfills and incineration facilities through redirecting recyclable recovered resources back to the manufacturing process and reusable materials to appropriate sites, the entire life cycle of buildings can be more sustainable. Construction waste can be recycled and used in other projects, donated to non-profit organizations or charities like Habitat for Humanity, or reused on site. All three options insure that construction waste materials have a second life.

Materials Reuse

Similar to building reuse, materials reuse, i.e. using salvaged, refurbished, or reused materials, helps to reduce demand for virgin materials and reduce waste. “Materials” exclude furniture and furnishings. It is common to confuse reused and recycled materials. Recycled material is waste that has been turned into a new product. Reused, or salvaged, material is “waste” that is saved and used again in its original form.

Examples of materials reuse include Vintage Brick Salvage and Viridian Reclaimed Wood. Vintage Brick Salvage, an Illinois based company, reclaims bricks from demolition contractors, then resells them as one of their three brick products; thin brick, common brick, or paving brick. Viridian Reclaimed Wood, based in Oregon, salvages wood waste from shipping ports, old docks, abandoned buildings, and wine cats. Viridian Reclaimed Wood resells these products as precision milled flooring, furniture, paneling, and decking. All the wood is FSC-certified and reclaimed and manufactured in America.

Recycled Content

Some building materials include a number of ingredients where certain components can come from recyclables. Examples of materials with recycled content include cement, rebar, and paint. Building materials can have two types of recycled content: post-consumer recycled content and pre-consumer recycled content.
Post-consumer recycled content is waste material generated by households or commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities in their roles as end-users of the product. The waste material can no longer be used for its intended purpose, and is also known as consumer waste. Some examples include newspaper, construction, and demolition debris, plastic bottles, soup cans, steel, etc.

Pre-consumer recycled content is material diverted from the waste stream during the manufacturing process. This is manufacturer waste, never owned by a consumer. Some examples include shavings, sawdust, walnut shells, fly ash, over-issue publications, textile clippings, and obsolete inventories.

Regional Materials

A component of sustainability includes the distance traveled from extraction to manufacturing to the project site. Transporting materials requires energy and contributes greenhouse gas emissions. The further the distance traveled, the more energy used and greenhouse gas emitted. In order to minimize these environmental bads, the Regional Materials credit in the LEED rating system should use materials extracted, harvested, or recovered, and also manufactured within 500 miles of the project site. The goal of using regional materials is to support use of indigenous resources, help the local economy, and reduce transportation impacts. Using regional materials meets the triple bottom line of sustainability: people, planet, and profit.

Rapidly Renewable Materials

Ecosystems are fragile, and extracting certain raw materials can have an impact on the biodiversity of the area. Due to the deforestation of long-cycle renewable materials, swaths the size of Panama are lost each year, destroying the habitat for 70% of Earth’s land animals and plants. Also, fewer forests mean larger amounts of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere because forests act as a carbon sink, soaking up carbon dioxide. Although renewable materials have the ability to grow back, the time it takes to reestablish ecosystems can jeopardize other species and in the meantime increase greenhouse gas emissions.

For these reasons, it is important to use rapidly renewable materials, materials that mature in a 10-year or shorter life cycle. Some examples of raw materials that mature within a 10-year life cycle include bamboo, wool, cotton insulation, agrifiber, linoleum, wheatboard, strawboard, and cork.

Certified Wood

Wood is a large component of many building projects, but is a long-cycle renewable material. In order to avoid clear cutting and deforestation, it is important to use wood that is sourced from environmentally responsible forest management. The LEED rating system rewards the use of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) wood. FSC uses 10 principles in order to meet our current needs for forest products without compromising the health of the world’s forests for future generations. These principles include: compliance with laws, tenure and use rights and responsibilities, indigenous peoples’ rights, community relations and worker’s rights, benefits from the forest, environmental impact, management plan, monitoring and assessment, maintenance of high conservation value, and plantations. The use of these principles ensures wood is grown and harvested in a sustainably responsible way.

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