BOXX Modular
Black Diamond Group

Are Green Products Really Green?

Identifying green products is an exercise in subjectivity. There are those who define green as 100% recycled and recyclable. Others define it as using less energy in manufacture, while others as improving the building users' health through reduction in toxic materials. Still others define green as employing more energy-efficient methodologies for heating, cooling, and lighting.

Green is all of the above and more. By our definition, green products are those that maintain or improve the human environment while diminishing the impact of their use on the natural environment-in other words, sustainable.

Green Criteria
Materials in use for sustainable design run the gamut from cotton insulation, to recycled asphalt paving, to photovoltaic arrays. Many of the products offer a green component that is at best incremental, offering performance or some other characteristic that is only slightly better than the conventional product. Use of these products by a small percentage of designers and contractors results in a positive effect that is barely measurable; common usage can make the effect global and lasting.

Green products fall into the following six categories, and many products have benefits in multiple categories. Note that these categories are somewhat subjective, and a product that falls into three categories is not necessarily any more green than a product that falls into only one category.
  • Green process
  • Improved sustainability
  • Recycled content
  • Recyclable
  • Low toxicity
  • Biodegradable
  • Green Process

The product is manufactured with consideration for exposure of workers to chemicals, source of materials, energy-efficient production methods, use of recycled materials in packaging, reclaiming manufacturing waste, and prudent use of energy. Since many of these approaches actually save the manufacturer money, these principles are incorporated as manufacturing facilities are upgraded. Even manufacturers of plastics can effectively claim their manufacturing as a green process.

Improved Sustainability
The product is renewable and makes good use of available resources. Use of wood from well-managed forests for building framing is an example of renewable and sustainable product selection.

Recycled Content
The product is fabricated with post-consumer materials or post-industrial by-products. Many products, ranging from steel, to finish materials, to carpet cushion, are manufactured with recycled content. Other post-consumer materials include items such as plastic wood products fabricated using recycled plastic bottles. Products such as structural steel are always fabricated with both post-industrial (waste scrap) and post-consumer (salvaged steel) content.

The product can be reused or reprocessed after use and refabricated. We are most familiar with recyclable soda cans and bottles, but the same can apply to asphalt paving, masonry, metal framing, insulation, toilet compartments, and even carpet.

Low Toxicity
The product is less toxic than comparable products used for the same purpose. For example, wood particle board manufactured with resins that do not contain formaldehyde offers a less toxic environment for chemically-sensitive individuals and even for artwork stored in museums.

The product returns to the earth naturally under exposure to the elements. The abandoned barn in the field eventually collapses and disappears. The subway car is dumped into the ocean as a marine habitat, and over time, the steel corrodes. We expect our buildings to last a lifetime, but it is not necessary for products to last thousands of years.

Excerpted from Green Building: Project Planning & Cost Estimating, 2nd edition, published by RSMeans.

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