Material World – This is the fifth installment of OBM International’s series, “Building Green”. This month’s article discusses specific environmentally-friendly materials.It is possible to specify environmentally friendly alternatives to almost all types of conventional building products.  As general awareness of environmental issues is improving, the market for these products is increasing exponentially, driving down costs, and improving availability.  Use of green building products can result in a comfortable, safe, efficient, durable and beautiful home.

In order to evaluate the environmental performance of a building product, the following criteria should be considered:

Recycled or Salvaged content
Recycled content is an important feature of many green products.  “Pre-consumer” recycled content refers to the inclusion in the product of industrial byproducts, as distinguished from “post-consumer” recycled content, which is made up of material which has previously been in consumer use.  Examples of pre-consumer recycled materials include fly ash used in concrete, and PVC scrap used in making shingles. From an environmental standpoint, post-consumer recycling is preferable, as post-consumer materials such as paper, rubber and plastic are more likely to have been diverted from landfills or incinerators. Whenever we can reuse a product instead of producing a new one from raw materials we save resources and energy.  There is also now a large market for salvaged materials such as bricks and lumber, which can be imaginatively incorporated into new buildings.

Conservation of Natural Resources
Certain products or systems can be considered green because of the resource efficiencies they make possible, such as pier foundation solutions which minimize concrete use.  Other products have exceptional durability or low maintenance requirements, such as fibre-cement siding or recycled plastic lumber used in outdoor decking.  We can now ensure that wood products come from well-managed and sustainable forests by specifying those which have been through a chain- of-custody process certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).  There is also a new generation of building products made from rapidly renewable materials – wood or crops which have a short harvest rotation of 10 years or less – such as linoleum, geotextile fabrics from coir or jute, flooring made with bamboo, cork and coconut palm, and textiles such as organic cotton, wool and sisal.


Avoidance of toxic or other emissions
Some building products can be considered green because they have low manufacturing impacts, are alternatives to those using conventional chemicals, or because they result in a reduction in polluting emission from building maintenance.  Some examples include natural wood or mineral products which are minimally processed, with low energy use and no risk of chemical emissions; alternatives to ozone-depleting substances (certain types of foam insulation and air conditioning equipment); alternatives to hazardous products, such as fluorescent lamps with low mercury levels; products that reduce or eliminate pesticide treatments, such as borate-treated wood; products that reduce storm water pollution, such as porous paving and vegetated roofing systems; products that reduce impacts from construction or demolition activities, and products that reduce pollution or waste from operations, such as alternative waste water disposal systems.

Conservation of Energy and Water
The ongoing environmental impact from energy and water used in operating a building often far outweigh the impacts associated with its construction.  Building components such as insulated concrete forms and high performance windows can significantly reduce cooling loads; high efficiency water pumps, refrigerators and compact fluorescent lamps can dramatically reduce energy consumption, and renewable energy equipment such as solar water heaters and photovoltaic systems are helping us to move beyond fossil fuel dependence.  For plumbing equipment, there is now a wide range of products which offer significant improvements in water conservation, such as toilets which use at least 20% less water then the standard 1.6 gallons per flush.
When architects choose materials for a home, they consider a number of factors, including the final look, cost and environmental impact.  In the past, the aforementioned factors were difficult to reconcile, yet, more and more materials are becoming readily available. With careful selection, your home will not only be beautiful, but it will be healthier, more comfortable and a lot less expensive to maintain.

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).