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What Makes a Product Green?

This is a very complicated question.  Many different factors come into play in  determining the “greenness” of products and materials; very often the distinctions are not black-and-white.  Much of the complexity in examining the environmental and health impacts of materials results from the fact that the impacts can occur at different points in the life cycle of a product.

A life-cycle assessment is the process of examining a product from “cradle to grave,” considering environmental and health issues involved with all aspects of resource extraction, manufacture, use, and disposal.  Some prefer to think of this cycle as “cradle to cradle,” recognizing the idea of taking a product at the end of its useful life and turning it into the raw material for something else, recycling or in some instances reclaiming.

A green product is one whose life-cycle impacts are low. Reclaimed solid flooring is green because it was salvaged from a structure thereby eliminating the need to cut down a tree or otherwise ending up in a landfill.  A compact fluorescent light bulb is green because it reduces energy consumption in the home or business. 

A challenge in choosing green products is balancing all of these different- and often unrelated- considerations.  Fortunately, there are efforts underway to quantify the environmental impacts of building materials using standardize measures.  You can count on Southend Building Products to have researched and evaluated all of our green products.

Here is a sample of some Product Selection Criteria-
The materials used to produce a building product, and where those materials come from, are important green criteria and probably the best know.  When many people think of green building products, they think of products made from recycled materials.

  • Salvaged Products- Whenever we can reuse a product instead of producing  a new one from raw materials-even if those raw materials are from recycled sources- we save resources and energy.
  • Products with post-consumer recycled content- Recycled content is an important feature of many green products. From an environmental standpoint, post-consumer is preferable to pre-consumer recycled content because post-consumer recycled materials are more likely to be diverted from landfills.
  • Products with pre-consumer recycled content- Pre-consumer (also called post-industrial) recycling refers to the use of industrial byproducts-as distinguished from material that has been in consumer use.
  • Products made from agricultural waste material- Most of these are made from straw-the stems left after harvesting cereal grains or citrus oil.
  • Products that conserve natural resources- Examples of these include products that use less material than the standard solution for a particular function; products that are especially durable or low maintenance; wood products that carry third-party certification demonstrating well-managed forestry; and products made from rapidly renewable resources.
  • Products with exceptional durability or low maintenance requirements- These products are environmentally attractive because they need to be replaced less frequently or their maintenance has very low impact.
  • Certified wood products- Third-party certification based on standards developed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the best way to ensure that wood products come from wee-managed forests.  Wood products must go through a chain-of-custody certification process to carry an FSC stamp.
  • Rapidly renewable products- Rapidly renewable materials are distinguished from wood by having a shorter harvest rotation-typically 10 years or less.  They are biodegradable, often low in VOC emissions, and usually produced from agricultural crops.
  • Products that avoid toxic or other Emissions- Some building products are considered green because they have low manufacturing impacts, are alternatives to conventional products made from chemicals considered problematic, or because they facilitate a reduction in polluting emissions from building maintenance.
  • Naturally or Minimally Processed Products- Can be green because of low energy use and low risk of chemical release during manufacture.
  • Products that reduce storm water pollution- Porous paving products result in less storm water runoff.
  • Products that reduce impacts from construction or demolition activities- Various erosion control products and exterior stains that result in lower VOC emissions into the atmosphere.
  • Products that Save Energy or Water- The ongoing environmental impacts that result from energy and water used in operating a building often far outweigh the impacts associated with its construction.
  • Building Components that reduce heating and cooling loads- Various insulation systems, windows and roofing are a few examples
  • Equipment that conserves water- Rain collection systems reduce the load on city or well water
  • Renewable energy and fuel cell equipment- Equipment and products that allow us to use renewable energy instead of fossil fuels and conventionally produced electricity are highly beneficial from an environmental standpoint. Examples include Solar Water Heaters and Photovoltaic systems
  • Products That Contribute To A Safe, Healthy Indoor Environment- Houses should be healthy to live in, and product selection is a significant determinant of indoor environmental quality.
  • Products that don’t release significant pollutants into the building- Included here are zero- and low-VOC stains, finishes, paints, and adhesives as well as products with very low emissions such as manufactured wood products.
  • Products that improve light quality- A growing body of evidence suggests that natural daylight is beneficial to health and productivity.  Such as tubular skylights.
  • Products that help control noise- Noise, from both indoor and outside sources, adds to stress and discomfort.
  • Products that enhance community well-being- Beyond the walls of a building, many products can contribute to safer neighborhoods, increasing walkability and making high density communities appealing.


1 Sourced from Building Green