The Right Stuff – This is the fourth installment of OBM International’s series, “Building Green”. This month’s article introduces environmentally-friendly materials. Why choose green products? In designing and building a home an architect specifies all of its components, from the type of concrete used in the footings, to the lumber used in the roof, to the paints, finishes and appliances. In purchasing these materials the owner has an opportunity to actively select those that have a positive environmental impact. Over the past decade the choice of environmentally friendly building materials has grown considerably, and there is now a “green” option for virtually every element of a building.

Green building products are beneficial to the people who work with these materials (on the job site and in the manufacturing process), and to the homeowners who live with them. Awareness of the many harmful toxic chemicals contained in conventional building products is improving, and medical experts are increasingly pointing to buildings, and the products we put in them, as being the primary culprits that contribute to respiratory illnesses such as asthma. There are a myriad of chemicals we introduce into our homes whose health effects are questionable, such as plasticisers in vinyl, brominated flame-retardants, and fluoropolymers used in wiring. In specifying green products, we aim to cut out these potentially harmful materials – a green home should be safer and healthier to live in than a conventional one.

In addition to the immediate and long term health benefits, many green products are more energy-efficient or water-efficient than conventional products, and others are more durable and require less maintenance, thus leading to cost savings over the life of the building.

Another, more indirect, but no less important issue, is the fact that our purchasing decisions have a wide range of impacts on the environment locally, regionally and globally. The impacts may be far away from the building, but most homebuilders will be sympathetic to concerns about rainforest destruction, ozone depletion or toxic chemical pollution. Green products aim to address these problems and offer sustainable alternatives.

What makes a product green?
This is a subject of much debate, and there is often no clear-cut answer, as many different factors come into play. Much of the complexity in examining the environmental and health benefits of materials results from the fact that the impacts can occur at different points in the life cycle of a product, and those impacts can vary tremendously from product to product.

A life-cycle assessment will consider the environmental and health issues involved with all aspects of resource extraction, manufacture, use, and disposal. A green product is one whose life-cycle impacts are low. For example, a floor tile made from recycled glass is considered green because it’s made from a waste material that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill. And a compact fluorescent light bulb is green because it reduces energy consumption in the home. Often, more than one environmental attribute will apply, for example recycled plastic decking, which is made from a waste product, is more durable than standard wooden decking, and doesn’t release copper or arsenic into the environment (as does conventional pressure-treated wood).

The challenge in choosing products, is balancing all of these different and often unrelated considerations. A product may be made of recycled material, but may still release harmful toxins; another might be durable but manufactured with environmentally hazardous chemicals. We are often comparing “apples to oranges,” and need to use our best judgment to weigh up the positives and negatives.

When it comes to choosing green building products, both the direct and the indirect benefits are important. The relative priorities of these benefits vary significantly from person to person, and the architect will listen as closely as possible to help the owner to explore their options, and will aim to respond to their needs to give them an economic, environmentally sustainable and beautiful solution.

Next month…
In the next installment of the Building Green series, we will examine in more detail the wide choice of environmentally friendly building products on the market.

Steve Fox is a Senior Architect for OBM International’s BVI office. He is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accredited design professional and co-founder of the BVI Sustainable Living Network.


Steve Fox, British Virgin Islands office
T  284 494 2148 / F  284 494 3898 [email protected]

For seven decades, OBM International has been the premier full-service design-consulting firm in Bermuda and the Caribbean.  Today, with nine multinational offices, projects throughout the world and a diverse team of experts, OBM is a global leader in luxury hotel/resort design development, architecture, master/town planning and interior design, with landmark projects in the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe and the Arabian Peninsula.

OBM currently has design offices located in Antigua, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Madrid, Miami, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks & Caicos Islands, a strategic alliance in the Bahamas, and a business development office in Bath (UK).