The Six Attributes that Define a Green Material

When visiting a local home improvement center, one will notice many manufactures ‘green’ claims for paint, carpet, tile, cabinets, or countertops.

Defining a green material maybe the most confusing endeavor related to green building. Many times, one might say a product is green because it earns LEED points. Sometimes this claim is exaggerated by wrongly stating a material can contribute to a high number of LEED points, as in the case of this link. This link is over stating the LEED value for their product of reused carpet, which results in a case of green washing. The claim that their flooring product contributes to 13 LEED points is as valid as stating a microphone will earn a Grammy Award.

Claims of 13 LEED points for reused carpet, only adds to consumer confusion as related to assessing a material’s green value. A Google search of ‘LEED carpet’ will result in many violators making similar false claims.

The LEED for Homes rating system, states the maximum number of points dedicated to flooring is one; with the exception being, if the entire home is hard surface then an additional point is awarded. Otherwise, LEED-H assigns only one point per material including paint, trim, countertops, cabinets, or flooring.

The LEED rating system assigns one half point to a material based on conforming to the categories of emissions, being environmentally preferred, and/or local production. In simple terms, LEED encourages the use of materials that have less chemical content, contain greater recycled or reclaimed material, or are manufactured within 500 miles of the project location.

This blog is not intended to be a lesson or critique of the LEED rating system. Rather, this blog is about bringing awareness to the fact that three key material attributes are missing from the above when assessing a material’s green value.

Although improved emission standards, recycled and reclaimed content, and local production are important, maybe more important when assessing a material’s green value are, durability, cost, and aesthetic appeal.

No matter how green a material is based on the LEED parameters, the majority of consumers will make selection based on budget and aesthetic appeal.

There will always be a select few who have an endless budget or are willing to sacrifice aesthetic appeal for recycled or reclaimed content. But, for the majority of
us, cost and aesthetics will always win out when purchasing materials.

In the past years, many paint manufacturers have done a great job of making their interior products attractive, durable, contain fewer harmful chemicals, and
affordable. In light of innovation by these companies to produce products that have less environmental impact and have no additional costs, there is no excuse to use
traditional paint that can sometimes be more toxic.

For a material to gain acceptance as green or better for the environment, it must be affordable, durable, and aesthetically pleasing. If a material is not affordable to the majority, then its ‘green’ value should be questioned. This places the burden on the manufacturer to make their green materials according to the above definition, with an emphasis on affordability.

If a material is within budget and is aesthetically pleasing, then the consumer should be aware to weigh factors such as durability, chemical content, recycled and
reclaimed content, and local production. If all things are equal, one should always give preference to a locally produced green material as a means to supporting their local economy.

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