Choosing Building Materials Wisely – Optimize your choices to create better. Read along here.

 

We often get asked, as curators of sustainable building materials, “What is the perfect material?”

The answer is complicated.  Mostly because there isn’t one.  No perfect man.  No perfect woman.  No perfect building material.  There are always trade offs!

Some materials get closer to perfection than others when it comes to ensuring the health of the planet, and others are laser focused on ensuring health for people.   But even in the maturing world of green building, there is simply not a perfect product.  

 

Where we started in the 2000s

Initially the industry handed out gold stars in the form of suspect labels and certifications that had some earthy logo and a checkmark, falsely lulling the new “green” customer into thinking they were making a healthy choice.  This was the early advent of the Greenwashing phenomenon that threatened to lose all consumer confidence in the entire green movement in the early 2000s.  

 

Where we were in the 2010s

The green building industry finally took out the dirty laundry with a little knowledge and education. The sustainable materials industry quickly separated the cream from the crap by vetting products a little more thoroughly, outing the certifications that were pay-to-play stickers and adding some clarity around its flagship term: transparency.   

Transparency – Definition: (roughly)  tell me what the heck is in this material.  This was not a punitive approach, but, rather kind of like parenting: “Tell me what you did.   I am not mad.  I just want to know the truth.”  


Disclosure was the other term that covered this era, when  people started pulling back the curtain a bit, and at least acknowledging that the Wizard was there.   Health Product Declarations (HPDs), which list ingredients while still allowing manufacturers to protect their secret sauce became the de facto standard for being perceived as transparent in building materials.

Then you can focus on corrective behavior, which we started to do in the mid-to-late 2010s, when we began talking about Optimization.
 

What to expect from the 2020s?

Get better.  In all respects, we will get better in the 2020s.  We set the bar pretty low to start, but when it comes to building materials, we have told you what is in it, we don’t get to brush our hands and walk away.  We now have to make it better, or Optimize it.  What ingredients or processes in our manufacturing of products can we improve or substitute to make them better for people and/or the planet.  This is the decade of taking a closer look at how, what and why we are making things and to come up with a plan to make them better.  For example, looking at industry byproducts that need a new home, like clothing and textiles, which are disposed of in abundance.  Better sorting technologies could help capture this massive supply chain problem and repurpose the fibers into new materials. Products like Durat Recycled Surfaces are a primary example of optimization. From composition, creation, life span, & take back programs. 

 

Create better. It is a building industry mantra and it is the plan for 2021 and beyond.