Sustainable and Green Building – the Whole Story

Green Sustainable Building Materials
Bricks Have Been Used in Building for Many Centuries. They Are Green and Sustainable because They Have a Very Long Life Cycle

Sustainable and Green are terms that are being tossed around more and more frequently, especially in the world of construction and home design. If you have a product to sell, labeling it “green” is the first consideration in your marketing plan. But just what do these terms really mean?

Wikipedia defines Green Building as “the practice of increasing the efficiency with which buildings use resources.” green under this definition. In our world of advertising and the “next greatest innovation,” we might immediately think of some new techno-gizmo that controls energy consumption or floor tiles made from recycled beer cans.

I would suggest that you look at the larger picture of “green” and “sustainable.”  Just because a product is made from recycled material does not mean it is doing good deeds for the environment. You need to look at the energy consumed in production and transportation of the product along with its ability to be recycled and its material content.

The current craze for ethanol in gasoline is a case in point. Did you know that ethanol consumes more energy to produce than it provides? Most of us are unaware of the true “energy cost” of ethanol. Because ethanol cannot be pumped through pipes like gasoline and oil due to its viscosity. It must be transported by trucks to distribution centers. The trucks, of course, consume fuel. Add to that the fact that making ethanol uses up a food source that millions of very poor people around the world desperately need, corn, and you will see the lunacy of using our food for fuel that does not even result in a net fuel savings. We jumped on ethanol because it was a fuel derived from an easily renewable plant before considering the big energy picture.

In homebuilding, sometimes the tried and true materials are actually more “green” and more “sustainable” than you might think, such as the traditional use of brick. Although brick consumes a large amount of energy to produce, it is made of readily available, abundant, non-toxic, clean materials – clay and shale. Bricks last a long, long time, so replacement is not necessary, meaning that no future energy or resources are a part of brick’s “life cycle.” And even when bricks are discarded, they are inert in the earth, thus not contributing to ground water pollution.

My message is this. When choosing your building materials and products, consider the big energy and natural resources picture.

Bill Hirsch | Architect

Bill Hirsch

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