Don’t Get Greenwashed – 6 Things you should know About Green Building Materials

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Time to introduce you to a dirty word that sounds clean, “greenwashing.” Going green is a pretty common term nowadays. But when everyone claims to be green, how do you know your next building project is going to be eco-friendly? Why with these six tips, that’s how! Avoid what’s known as “greenwashing” and prevent getting ripped off when buying green building materials for your next home improvement project.

Greenpeace describes Greenwashing as, “. . . the cynical use of environmental themes to whitewash corporate misbehavior. The term was coined around 1990 when some of America’s worst polluters (including DuPont, Chevron, Bechtel, the American Nuclear Society, and the Society of Plastics Industry) tried to pass themselves off as eco-friendly at a trade fair taking place in Washington, DC.”

Sustainably Harvested

This is one of my favorites and I’ve fallen for it a few times myself. Don’t the two words “sustainably harvested” just roll off the tongue? Sure, they might just harvest the materials in a sustainable fashion. Heck, they might even have the approval of a few third party resources to verify their claim. But what if the wood comes all the way from across the globe? If it takes tons of fuel, plenty of carbon emissions and lots of resources to get that sustainably harvested wood to your home; then how green is it really?

Recycled Content

Just because the label says it’s “100 percent recycled” doesn’t mean that it truly is. How do they get away with that? It’s simple, if a product uses waste material that it would normally recycle anyways, they can often get away with calling it 100 percent recycled. But there’s a catch: if it says post-consumer recycled, that means that it’s already been used by the consumer, shipped to a recycling company, recycled, then reused by the manufacturer. If it’s pre-consumer recycled, more than likely it’s the same stuff that fell on the factory floor that they’d just use anyways.

Low VOC Emissions

VOC’s or volatile organic compounds are released in a process known as off gassing. They can be released into your home for years, long after the materials have been applied. Low or no VOC paints, insulation and flooring can all claim to be easy on the lungs with low VOC’s. But what happens if that low VOC is so volatile that it’s going to make you sick no matter how much is released into the air? Always be sure to check the label for what will be released before you buy the product thinking it’s safe for you and your family to breathe. Being aware of the difference between “No VOC” and “Low VOC” is an important distinction to be aware of as well.

Certified Green Products

Image - Wilcox Cartoon
Image – Wilcox Cartoon
Just because it’s been certified green by a second party, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s truly as green as they might want you to believe. Some second party affiliations are just a way for manufacturers to advertise their products. Whether it’s carpet, tile, wood or steel, be sure that you check the certifying entity with some good old fashioned online research. This way, you can be sure that you’re getting a truly green product and not just another advertisement.

Environmental Life-Cycle Analysis

Also known as cradle to grave assessments, an environmental life-cycle analysis is very important for determining whether or not a product is truly good for the environment or if it’s just good for business. Tools like the Pharos Project are used every day to help verify how building materials and other products truly effect the environment from the time they are created until the time they are thrown away. Although this product costs money (except for the 30 day free trial), if you’re very serious about evaluating “green-ness”, it can really help you to determine how green a building material really is.

Image - Greenpeace
Image – Stop / Greenpeace

Before you go out and start buying materials, it’s a good idea to visit the Greenpeace website and take a look at all of the investigations that Greenpeace has performed over the years. You can find out what corporations have been investigated, which ones have stopped the green washing and which companies still continue to make trouble with the Greenpeace hippies. Have any good or bad examples of green building materials claims? Chime in via the comments section below.

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About Eric

Since Eric built his first skateboard ramp in his parents driveway; he’s breathed, slept and eaten DIY construction. As a second generation master carpenter who runs two Florida-based construction firms, Eric’s had the chance to work on everything from Mcmansions to your local mall to the cat lady’s bathroom. So when it comes to dealing with construction s@#t; he’s the man—literally. There isn’t a tool or construction material that Eric hasn’t used and abused, and if there is; it’s rocking in a dark corner nervously waiting for him to show up for work.

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Get Greenwashed – 6 Things you should know About Green Building Materials”

  1. I’ve always wondered just how honest some of the “green” claims really are. You raised some good points to think consider. And I learned a new word!


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