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Five criteria that make a material green

by Renée LaChance

The material should be durable. Durable materials are resource and energy efficient because they do not have to be replaced or sent to landfills. Using this criteria a wood floor is more durable than a laminate floor because it can be refinished when it gets worn out. No new trees have to be cut down to replace it and there are sustainable and low VOC finishes that can be applied to it. A new wood floor may be deemed a green product by virtue of its durability. Especially if the wood is salvaged or FSC certified.

The material should contain zero or minimal Red List items as specificd by the Cascadia Green Building Council’s Living Building Challenge. Red List items include mercury, cadmium, formaldehyde, lead, polyurethane, neoprene, and other chemical alphabet items that are toxic to humans and the planet. Insulation with formaldehyde would be avoided as would finishes that contained polyurethane. Not building with these materials is a huge step toward sustainability.

Products should be produced within an appropriate radius to the site where the material will be used. The Living Building Challenge specifies a 1000 mile radius for lightweight materials, 500 miles for medium weight materials and 250 miles for heavy materials. For the Pacific Northwest it means stone, granite or concrete should come from the Pacific Northwest and nothing should come from the East Coast. Knowing where materials are created and making choices based on radius as well as other criteria will help to determine a product or material’s sustainability.

A material should be produced responsibly. The company creating the product should be energy and resource efficient. It should recycle, strive for zero landfill contributions, and provide civilized work spaces for it’s employees. It should practice a green model of conducting business.

A company that works to minimize its carbon footprint would work to create a truly sustainable product. It should be certified sustainable. Wood can be certified FSC, other products could be certified by third parties as well. To date, certification processes are still being created and agreed to in the industry. As certification becomes the norm rather than the anomaly it should be considered as a criteria to define green. 

We can help you pick green products based on your preferences.
Call us for a free consultation 503.320.1242 or email lachance@greenadaptations.com