What Makes a Product or Material Green?

cork tree bark

cork tree bark

When thinking of what makes a product or material green, there are so many aspects to take into consideration. In terms of construction, sustainable building is a concept that integrates and incorporates various strategies through each step of the designs, construction, and later, operation of building projects. The utilization of green products and building materials is an incredibly important strategy in the design of a green building.

Using Materials Efficiently

It’s important not to be wasteful, and the best way of reducing the environmental impact of the use of a material is to be careful how you use it, using as little as possible by design. An example of this could be the efficient use of space in terms of a smaller building, or buildings that have been reused over and over again.

Efficient use of materials also encompasses designs that can be continually adapted, and that can “grow” with the user.

It’s also imperative to consider product selections while figuring out how to use materials efficiently. Many products can serve their purpose using less material than is generally standard. Green products may also be made of particularly durable materials that don’t require regular replacing.

The efficient use of materials includes ones that can either be repurposed in other ways when they come to the end of their first life, or can alternatively be reintroduced into biological cycles.

Reducing the Use of Materials

There are some products that can enable us to use other ones more efficiently, and are therefore considered to be green. Ones that use less material than their conventional counterparts can also be seen as eco-friendly too.

Salvaging Materials

Through reusing materials and products, it’s possible to conserve our energy and planetary resources. It’s often challenging to make sure that materials that have been salvaged can perform robustly, so salvaged materials are therefore often used in a decorative capacity.

Reclaiming wood is just one example of salvaging materials in order to be more green and sustainable. It’s important when using reclaimed wood, that it’s ethically sourced, and that hazards such as lead paint are kept in mind.

If you’re worried about the appropriate sourcing of substances, such as reclaimed wood, check out the company policy and protocols for more information.

Responsible Sourcing

In terms of eco-friendliness, it’s important to only use materials that are responsibly sourced. As things stand right now, the generally accepted definition of responsibly sourced materials are ones that utilize recycled content efficiently, or ones that are sustainable, and renewable.

The extraction of raw materials takes a real toll on the environment through the medium of land-use issues, energy use, ecological impacts, and more, so it’s important to always only try to buy from companies with responsible business practices.

Reuse, Recycle, Compost

Green products are ones that are designed to be either reusable, recyclable, or compostable, or all three.

Using Post-Consumer Recycled Content

Using materials recovered from the consumer waste-stream will of course result in far less waste, energy use, and pollution than using brand new materials. This method of using materials, is of course, far more environmentally sound than using the virgin type.

Using Agricultural Waste

Believe it or not, it’s perfectly possible to use agricultural waste in the creation of green products, and can save these materials from being wasted, which can only be a good thing.

Water and Energy Conservation

There are many buildings that can effectively contribute to water and energy conservation through the way they’ve been built. It’s true that today’s constructions are far more efficient than their counterparts of say ten years ago. In terms of operational energy, designers and builders are working towards a day when there will be zero impact upon the earth.

Examples of the efficient use of water include sustainable buildings that use greywater recycling systems for low flow showers, low flush toilets, and for irrigation of outdoor spaces.

Examples of energy efficiency include making the most of natural light by employing solar panels in the design, as well as installing skylights and photovoltaic energy systems. Also when considering the placement of an eco-friendly building, it’s important to place the building on the land at the right angle to maximize its usage of natural light.

Having No Negative Environmental Effects

Another feature that makes a product or material green is one that has no negative environmental effects, such as pollution.

Non Toxic

For something to be considered as environmentally friendly, it’s important that it is nontoxic to people, animals, and the planet as a whole. This also encompasses the fact that there should be no off-gassing of any dangerous chemicals, and should have low VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

Available Locally

Buying locally is beneficial for the environment as choosing local ensures that the product has not traveled thousands of air miles (which contributes to greenhouse gases), among other things. It’s also always a positive to give back to your local community, and to support it whenever possible.

Eco-Friendly Materials

Thinking of green construction and decoration in particular, there are many materials that are considered to be very useful –

  • Cork. This is harvested from tree bark, rather than taken from trees that are already cut down. The bark itself takes approximately three years to regrow, so is certainly renewable. Another plus with cork is that its anti-microbial, as well as being hypoallergenic.
  • Bamboo. The plant takes only three years to reach maturity, as opposed to around 50-100 years like the oak and maple trees used in hardwood flooring. This makes it an environmentally positive and sustainable choice in terms of flooring.

Bamboo fiber is another wonderful material derived from the bamboo plant, and can be made into clothing, towels, bags, curtains, and more. The textile is made from the pulp of the bamboo grass, and comes unbleached and pure in its organic form.

  • Recycled glass. Rather than landfills filling up with glass scraps, recycled glass can be used to create new countertops, drinking glasses, and everything in between.
  • Recycled paper. We all know the importance of recycling paper, and saving trees, and endangered forests. This is why you should only ever buy recycled if you can help it all.
  • Reclaimed rubber. Rather than leaving tires sitting in landfill for years on end, many companies are recycling these instead. Shredded tires can be turned into new rubber sidewalks that work with trees and vegetation, as the rubber raises up and bends around them.  There is controversy, however, about the use of reclaimed rubber in the flooring of children’s playgrounds and artificial turf.
  • Reclaimed wood. This is wood that’s salvaged from demolished buildings, and is then reused.
  • Linoleum. Made from substances such as fax, jute, and linseed oil, eco-friendly linoleum flooring doesn’t release VOCs into the air, like it’s vinyl counterparts. Marmoleum is a type that falls into this category.
  • Soybean fabric. This is a lovely, soft material that is similar in feel to silk or cashmere. It’s therefore often used in luxury items. What’s wonderful about the fabric is that it’s made from biodegradable, and renewable resources – the leftover pulp from soy milk and tofu production.

Other green materials include –

  • Latex
  • Cotton insulation
  • Homasote fiberboard
  • Hemp-based products
  • Cork flooring
  • Low VOC paint
  • No VOC paint
  • Natural paint
  • Non-toxic stain
  • Recycled gypsum board
  • Solar panels
  • Recycled carpeting
  • FSC wood planks
  • Recycled materials

Toxic Materials to Avoid

There are various substances that should always be avoided in terms of green manufacturing, these include –

  • Cadmium
  • Formaldehyde
  • Asbestos
  • CFCs
  • Chlorosulfonated polyethylene and chlorinated polyethylene
  • Chloroprene (Neoprene)
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Halogenated flame retardants
  • HCFCs
  • Phthalates
  • Petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers
  • PVC
  • Wood treatments containing pentachlorophenol, arsenic, or creosote

All of the items above should be avoided at all costs as they are in no way green, and can be very harmful to people, pets, and the wider environment.

Green Checklist

In terms of what makes a product or material green, resource efficiency can be attained by using materials that are –

  • Renewable, natural or plentiful. Materials that are harvested from sustainable sources and are preferably certified by an independent third party.
  • Products that have identifiably recycled content.
  • Resource efficient manufacturing process. Products that are made using resource-efficient processes, such as reducing greenhouse gases, minimizing waste, and reducing energy consumption.
  • Locally available. Using materials that are available locally, thus saving energy, and reducing transport costs.
  • Refurbished or salvaged. Using material from old products to create new ones.
  • Recyclable or reusable. Using materials that can be easily recycled or reused at the end of their useful life.
  • Materials that are robust, with long life expectancies.
  • Recyclable and recycled product packaging. Products that come in recyclable or recycled packaging

Today’s world is so much greener than that of the past, and the eco-friendly movement is making vast strides forward in terms of replacing waste and toxins with organic, and sustainable materials, such as cork, recycled paper, latex, and bamboo.

Enough is enough when it comes to adding even more to our overflowing landfills and giant islands of plastic. Consumers are well educated individuals, and are actively demanding reusable and renewable resources.

This can only be a good thing, and in terms of being green, the world of manufacturing is beginning to move in just the right direction.

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