Just How Green is Green Building Anyway?

Reader Contribution by James White

These days, sometimes businesses toss around the word “green” to be hip or fit in, hoping that by relaying the color to you, you’ll somehow be swooned into believing their company and products are the most environmentally conscious ever assembled.

The truth of the matter is that while many people use the word “green” to describe their products, it’s worth doing a little bit of research to determine just how much merit that adjective has when applied to their particular projects.

So what exactly is green building? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, green building is the process which encapsulates creating structures in an environmentally friendly and efficient way. The process starts when the plans for the building come into being, and it doesn’t end until the building is deconstructed however many years in the future. Simply put, green building involves doing all that is within our power to cause as little damage to the environment as possible while producing buildings that perform at the highest levels.

In the building world, if you really want to understand how green a project is, you’ll need to become familiarized with LEED certification. Generally speaking, LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—is a set of standards that when passed prove that a building was constructed remarkably green-friendly. From homes to facilities to public buildings, LEED is a versatile standard in the sense that it can be applied to virtually all construction projects.

For example, a building might be declared LEED-certified if it:

• Was built with recycled materials
• Caused little-to-none environmental damage during construction
• Is considerably energy-conscious
• Minimizes greenhouse gas emissions
• Conserves water admirably
• Remains clean over time

Digging deeper, let’s take a look at some of the more specifics involved in green construction.

What are the Greenest Building Supplies?

Many people assume that using timber to build houses, office buildings and other structures must be environmentally friendly because you’re using wood that’s been harvested from the earth. Well, that might be true, but you can’t forget where the wood originated, how much energy was spent shipping it to your location and whether or not trees were felled in an eco-friendly way.

Some say concrete is one of the greenest building materials – even if it might be one of the uglier ones. Concrete is made of small stones – also from the earth – which are bound together by cement. As a result, this material will stand the test of time. But the costs of shipping heavy concrete can be quite prohibitive, too.

The Conclusion?

Well, there’s no such thing as “the greenest building material” because all materials have a negative impact on the environment in one way or another. As such, all projects lend themselves to different “green” materials, depending on the circumstances.

If you’re building next to a quarry, for example, you might want to use concrete because you’ve got a whole stockpile of stones right nearby. If you’re building next to a forest that’s regularly mined for timber in a sustainable way, maybe wood is the material that works best.

Because all projects are different, they have different requirements to become green buildings. The key to sustainability is to bring a green mindset to all construction projects. That way, you’re able to reduce your impact on the environment as much as possible, while building useful, eco-friendly structures.

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