What Makes A Product Green
Many different criteria go into defining green products. Specific to building products, some products qualify as green in several different categories. Other products do not qualify as green at all but they help in reducing carbon emissions of a building, such as windows. And sometimes a so-called green product requires a judgement as to whether it is, in fact, green. For commercial building projects, the judgement can be made by many entities. Municipal governments have their own criteria for judging whether a building and its components meet green standards, both for residential and commercial projects. LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) is the primary internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies intended to improve performance in metrics such as energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. The main organization leading the way in green building certification is the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). The GBCI was established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to provide a series of exams to allow individuals to become accredited for their knowledge of the LEED rating system. GBCI also provides third-party certification for projects pursuing LEED. Up until 2008, LEED applied mainly to commercial building projects. However in 2008, the USGBC established a LEED system for new residential buildings and produced guidelines for remodeling residential homes with green objectives. Currently there are 6 principles of environmental stewardship according to the USGBC:
– Advocacy for Safe Products and Services
– Protection of the Biosphere
– Sustainable Use of Natural Resources
– Waste reduction
– Wise Use of energy
– Reduction of risk
Application of these principles determines if a product is, in fact, green. Not only must we consider if the product is safe and uses natural resources and energy responsibly with minimal waste, but we must consider if transporting a green product half way around the globe can be considered green. An interesting product to examine for example is bamboo flooring. While bamboo is most definitely a green product, it may not be the greenest solution for flooring. The carbon foot print of bamboo becomes quite large if it must be transported from remote regions of the world. A better alternative might be wood flooring produced from local FSC certified sustainable forests. Relying on local, sustainable products should be our first choice for all consumables, not just building products. Not only do local sustainable products help our environment; they aid our local economy. Of course there is other criteria when making choices for our families, homes, and businesses. Aesthetics is certainly a major consideration as well. But as responsible world citizens, the environment should be at the top of our list of priorities.
So in conclusion, when making a purchasing decision, consider all aspects of what classifies a product as green. A product advertised or promoted, as green by an overzealous merchandiser may not be the greenest choice you have, or worse, may not be green at all.