What makes a material environmentally friendly and what makes it green? Choosing materials for a building requires careful consideration of products and materials that have a reduced impact not just on the environment but also on the health of the occupants. Origin, manufacturing process and the life cycle of a product are just some of the properties that play a decisive role in the selection of materials.
Think about where a product is coming from. What is the process of getting it manufactured. Where and how will the product be delivered to your home?
This does not mean that you can only use products and materials from local manufacturers. But if you are getting a material from overseas, think about the why. Why are you getting it from there? Is it cheaper, performing better? Will the cost saving help you potentially spend more money on other sustainable features?
I often import windows from Germany for projects. And although there is the added factor of the transport and the transport cost, in most cases the German windows end up having a better performance than most Australian windows for a lower cost. For me personally, the benefits of importing the windows, taking into consideration the lifespan of the windows, the energy savings together with the savings on the purchase price, outweigh the carbon footprint of the longer transport.
Ultimately, I think it is a bit of a personal choice, what is more important for you. Staying local, or reaching out for better performing products. Putting in a concrete floor because of it’s great thermal performance, or sticking with a timber floor for it’s lower embodied energy and to reduce the carbon footprint.
Another even more important factor is our health!
Previously I have talked about the importance of making your home air-tight in order to get the home more energy efficient. However, the problem is, if the house is air-tight all the toxins and off gassing from materials and finishes also stays inside the house. Which can lead to allergies and other serious health problems. Therefore, the more energy efficient and air-tight your house gets, the more important it is to pay attention to the materials you are using inside.
When it comes to health sadly in Australia the laws are not as strict as in most European countries, and many off-the shelf products, like paint, constructions materials and furniture have much higher levels of toxins than levels allowed overseas. Especially when looking at formaldehyde levels. Standard MDF(fibreboards) or kitchen carcasses can have quite high levels of formaldehyde. So make sure you have the discussion with your cabinetry maker/builder and look into using E0 boards.
Here a few good resources.
Green Painters (http://www.greenpainters.org.au/)
Your Home (http://www.yourhome.gov.au/materials)