Specifying Responsibly – A guide to responsibly sourced building materials

by ForestOne 25/11/2022

Building, Construction, Design

This is a sponsored article from Sustainable Choice verified member ForestOne.

The construction of residential and commercial buildings, and other infrastructure have a significant impact on people and the environment. The built environment requires the use of land, materials and energy, which in turn leads to greenhouse gas emissions and the production of other wastes. In fact, emissions from the building sector hit their highest-ever level in 2019. Beyond that, there is also the human impact, especially the people involved throughout the construction process are sometimes vulnerable to exploitation or are exposed to unnecessary risks to their health and safety. Buildings themselves may be harmful to human health through poor design or the use of toxic building materials. It is our obligation to make a responsible choice and contribute to the sustainability of our ecosystem.

Assessing the health and environmental impacts of materials is a challenge faced by all. It is a process that is further complicated by varying claims from product manufacturers, and the lack of definitive, industry-accepted processes for specifying responsibly. At a minimum, responsible specification requires research, critical evaluation and common sense. Below are some guides to help you make a responsible choice.

Each product/material is subject to a wide range of factors that affect its sustainability, environmental performance & social impact, including:

  1. Performance – meeting the project’s requirements for performance (e.g., durability, structural integrity, thermal performance, acoustic performance, etc.).
  2. Environmental product information – the manufacturer should be transparent about its environmental performance and provide the appropriate environmental product and health information on request.
  3. Code compliance – meeting the requirements of local building codes and standards (e.g., ensuring that the buildings are safe, healthy, energy efficient and suitable for local climate).
  4. Maintenance requirements – products/materials that are difficult or costly to maintain will more likely need to be repaired or replaced sooner than low-maintenance solutions.
  5. Warranties – the manufacturer should be confident in the longevity of its products and be prepared to provide support to ensure along product lifespan.

On top of that, searching and evaluating sustainable products can be quite tricky especially when you don’t know where to start. Some key attributes to sustainable building products and materials typically demonstrate a range of environmental and health attributes. Once you find the right sustainable building products and materials, you could use some tools and resources to assist your decision-making further. But here are several ways to help you specify sustainable products and materials:

Environmental Impact

End-of-life considerations

Operational considerations

Health and safety

Tools and resources to make a responsible choice

Several local and international industry and government organisations assure the environmental performance of building products and materials by providing product labelling schemes and standards to be met. Those schemes and standards provide businesses with approval and certification on their environmental performance. Examples of those include:

  1. Environmental Labels and Declarations (ISO 14025:2006);
  2. Sustainability of Construction Works – Environmental Product Declarations (EN 15804);
  3. Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA); and
  4. Global GreenTag’s GreenRate

Other third-party certification schemes that apply green criteria to specific material types (i.e., wood sourced responsibly from sustainable forests) are typically certified by third-party organisations, such as:

  1. Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification – PEFC (PEFC/21-31-24);
  2. Forest Stewardship Council – FSC® (FSC-C012688); and
  3. Chain of Custody of Wood and Wood-based products (ISO 38200:2018)

Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)

EPD is an independent third-party verified and registered document that communicates transparent comparable data and relevant environmental information about the lifecycle environmental impact of a product. Every EPD is based on a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which is an assessment of the product’s environmental impact throughout its various life stages, from material and component sourcing through to final disposal or recycling. LCA is conducted based on a standard set of methods and requirements depending on the product category, enabling the EPD to be used as a platform to compare similar products.

Green building rating schemes

Gaining in acceptance worldwide, green building rating schemes establish overall environmental performance criteria for entire buildings. Such schemes provide rating tools voluntarily to assess and recognise buildings that meet certain green requirements or standards. By formalising design and performance criteria, these rating schemes provide a common language and benchmark for sustainable design. Some of the most internationally recognised schemes include:

  1. GreenStar – administered by the Green Building Council in Australia;
  2. The WELL Building Standard – run by the International WELL Building Institute; and
  3. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) – developed by the non-profit US Green Building Council

Most green building rating schemes will award credits or points for the use of sustainable products and materials that go towards certification. Such schemes will recognise the use of reused materials, recycled-content materials, local or regional materials, renewable materials, certified wood, and low-emitting materials. Points are also awarded for responsible sourcing and supply chain, as well as minimising health risks associated with the manufacture and use of building products.

by ForestOne

This a sponsored post published on behalf of ForestOne.