Sustainable Building Materials
Assessing Environmental Impacts
One important aspect of considering the sustainability of a building material is to have a closer look at its environmental impacts.
The most direct environmental impact is the extraction of raw or naturally occurring materials where extraction could cause damage to land, water, air and wildlife habitat. Extraction is typically in remote areas and protected native parks as in Australia. Select materials from third party certified sources that have strong sustainability standards e.g. Forest Stewardship Council or Australian Forestry Standard. By selecting well managed renewable resources it will avoid the depletion of our non-renewable resources.
End of life
Can the material be recycled? If not, where does it go and will it be harmful to the environment – e.g. leach toxins into the soil and water streams. Materials that have a long life and can be recycled, re-purposed or upcycled are better for the environment.
Embodied energy is the amount of energy used to create and transport the material as well as its necessary fixings. Ensure manufacturers are transparent in their processes and check their website for their sustainability commitments. Transport as we know has negative environmental impacts, be it our oceans, air and land. By sourcing local products these impacts can be minimized and save you money!
Biodiversity can be adversely impacted by extraction and production of building materials. Mining, tree felling and manufacture near these areas impact on wildlife habitat and health. Old growth forests are not where you want to source your timber unless the tree has naturally been felled.
Human Health & toxicity
Considerations of whether the product is likely to emit carcinogens or persistent organic pollutants which harms us, wildlife and the environment. Steer clear of these in your home altogether!
This information is not generally included in the aisle where you are buying your materials. So where can you source it? Until this information is requested and manufacturers are asked to be more transparent, it will need to be individually sourced and verified. Ecospecifier an independent green materials certification website who rate different products and materials with reference to the environmental impacts above. It is however only voluntary, and until more people start asking the questions of their manufacturers this type of information will not be easy to come by for all materials.
Next time we will look a bit deeper into embodied energy, what is it and the complex process of how it is measured.
Have a great weekend!
Till next time,