From responsibly borrowing from earth’s bounty to repurposing waste – there are no shortage of ways to incorporate green materials into building projects. From tiny to massive projects, there’s no more important time to consider them. The construction industry has a significant carbon footprint. Building materials and construction generates 11% of the world’s C02 emissions, and created 600 million tons of waste in just one year.
Inspired? Here’s a round-up of just a few – from old standards enjoying a resurgence to cutting-edge recycled products.
Bamboo: It’s one of the fastest growing plants around, and doesn’t require replanting after harvest. Bamboo is not only sustainable – it’s strong too. It’s an ancient building material that’s attracting new attention, particularly as an eco-friendly flooring option. It’s also touted as a green option for concrete reinforcement.
Cork: Another sustainable, plant-based option. Cork doesn’t require pesticides or excessive watering – plus it can be harvested without killing the tree. Combine those features with the fact that it’s nearly water impermeable and a great insulator, cork is a popular green choice for floor tiles, underlay, insulation sheets – and even interior and exterior wall finishes.
Cellulose insulation: Sometimes what’s old is new again, and cellulose is a great example: it’s one of the oldest types of insulation, but use fell out of favor with the rise of less environmentally-friendly fiberglass. Made with up to 85% recycled content, cellulose insulation has a great R-value yet takes less energy to make than any other insulation type.
Mycelium: As unlikely a building material as fungi roots are, they’re touted as an on-the-horizon green building material. When planted in molds, a fungus’s mycelium will bind the material near it like glue, creating strong, sustainable bricks, panels and other building material. These products are touted to be fire-proof, with great thermal possibilities.
Plasphalt: When recycled plastics are combined with traditional asphalt, it becomes plasphalt, a more environmentally-friendly version of the highway and parking lot staple. Plasphalt’s flexibility may make it more resistant to weather than traditional asphalt.
Recycled glass: Glass is a classic recycled material, but it’s being incorporated in buildings in spectacular ways: floors, tiles, counters, you name it! Check out the Morrow Royal Pavilion in Las Vegas, made of more than a half million beer bottles – all collected from hotels on the Strip. That glass was crushed and mixed with fly ash generated from power plants to create a bricks and decorative elements.
Composite lumber: If you’re wondering where your recycled plastic bags and bottles go, there’s a chance they may have been incorporated into composite lumber, durable and available in many of the shapes and sizes of traditional lumber.
Sheep’s wool insulation: Wool’s structure traps air and keeps moisture at bay, making it a perfect insulation material. Wool insulation’s R-value surpasses many other commonly-used insulation materials, making it a good – if a bit niche – green choice.
Slate: Slate tiles are weather-proof, durable – and look great, to boot. When you consider they require minimal processing, especially compared to process-heavy traditional roofing products, their attractiveness is clear.
Steel: You may not think of steel as green, but the fact is, steel is the world’s most recycled material – and can be recycled indefinitely. We don’t have to sing steel’s structural praises – but knowing it’s a green choice? That makes it a clear choice.
Wood: Wood’s a classic building product, and when it’s recycled, what’s there to lose? Whether you choose reclaimed lumber, or processed recycled wood products, you can build with the satisfaction that your project isn’t contributing to further deforestation.
Keep an eye out for our follow up that will look at building products and technologies that reduce a building’s operational carbon footprint.