Choosing Environmentally Friendly Building Products
Photo by Michael J. Lee Photography/Designer: Jessica Williamson, AKBD
This kitchen won the 2011 NKBA Design Award: Sustainable-Best of Kitchen
What makes a building product an environmentally sound choice? Outside of energy and water conservation, where it's relatively easy to quantify the environmental impact, you have multiple factors to consider. When it comes to choosing your materials for kitchen cabinets, counters and flooring, look for the following criteria:
Recycled content, whether post-consumer, post-industrial or agricultural waste
Ability to be recycled, reused or reconditioned when you're through with it
Durability: products with a long lifecycle need to be replaced less frequently
FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification, identifying wood as harvested from a sustainable, well-managed forest
Rapidly renewable: Made from plants that grow to maturity quickly: cork, bamboo, cotton, etc.
Found in nature (stone, wood, etc.) and requiring minimum processing, which can create harmful chemicals and toxins
No pollutants: wood products without formaldehyde; low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, caulks, adhesives and sealants; flooring without PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
Noise absorbing or reducing properties
Locality: Transporting materials a long distance takes energy and pollutes the environment
How green you want to go is up to you. Re-using salvage items might be the most green option of all, but other approaches almost always have a trade-off to consider: for example, granite is a natural material, but importing it from overseas uses a large amount of energy, and quarries can damage the environment.
Read on to research specific cabinet, counter and flooring options.