This, the fifth and final article in our series on green (sustainable) buildings examines the importance of using green and sustainable materials; to focus on re-cycling and prefer re-use where possible. It continues by looking at ways to promote occupant health and safety, which is an important consideration for green buildings. This final installment concludes by addressing the importance building operations and maintenance to ensure that they function as intended over time.

In case you missed the first articles in our “Green (Sustainable) Building”, the first article in the series can be found at: The Green (or Sustainable) Building: Part I – What Is the Green Building DNA?

A Green Building is Built With Sustainable Green Materials and Promote Re-use and Efficiency

In general, if it is possible the materials used to construct, finish and furnish a green building are sourced from renewable, rather than nonrenewable resources and are non-toxic materials that promote a healthy inner building environment. For example a green building will try to use wood from sustainable forests, rather than wood that is cut from old growth forests; or for example it will use flooring materials that do not outgas formaldehydes like many synthetic types of foam do. There are several characteristics that qualify a material as being “green”. Following is a list of some of the characteristics that are common to green materials:

Recycled Content – Products with identifiable recycled content, including postindustrial content with a preference for postconsumer content.

Natural, plentiful or renewable – Materials harvested from sustainably managed sources (e.g., certified wood) and that are preferably certified by an independent third party.

Use a Resource efficient manufacturing process – Products manufactured with resource-efficient processes including reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste (recycled, recyclable and or source reduced product packaging), and reducing greenhouse gases.

Prefer materials that are locally available – By using building materials, components, and engineered systems that can be found locally or regionally a green building can save energy and that would be used to transport distant materials to the project site. In addition this promotes buildings that promote a regional aesthetic rooted in the local available building materials and emphasize the unique character of the region.

Salvaged, refurbished, or remanufactured – This includes saving a material from disposal by renovating, repairing, restoring, or generally improving the appearance, performance, quality, functionality, or value of a product.

Reusable or recyclable – Select materials that can be easily dismantled and reused or recycled at the end of their useful life. Green building’s account for the impact of materials employed including how these materials will be re-used or disposed of.

Recycled or recyclable product packaging – Products enclosed in recycled content or recyclable packaging.

Durability – Prefer materials that are longer lasting or are comparable to conventional products with long life expectancies.

If possible re-use construction waste and demolition materials – Reuse and recycling of construction and demolition materials on site helps make a green building more resource efficient and lowers its environmental impact. For example, using inert demolition materials as a base course for a parking lot keeps materials out of landfills and costs less.

Occupant Health and Safety

Recent studies reveal that buildings with good overall environmental quality can reduce the rate of respiratory disease, allergy, asthma, sick building symptoms, and enhance worker performance.

Building health is promoted by choosing construction materials and interior finish products with zero or low emissions to improve indoor air quality. Many building materials as well as cleaning/maintenance products emit various toxic gases, such as volatile organic compounds (VOC) and formaldehyde.

Provide adequate ventilation and a high-efficiency, in-duct filtration system. Heating and cooling systems that ensure adequate ventilation and proper filtration can have a dramatic and positive impact on indoor air quality.

Prevent indoor microbial contamination such as growth of mold by selecting materials that are resistant, providing effective drainage, installing adequate ventilation in bathrooms and kitchen areas, allowing proper drainage of air-conditioning coils, and designing other building systems to control humidity.

Building Operation and Maintenance

Green buildings will not succeed in achieving their objectives unless they function as intended over time. In other words there is an on-going maintenance and operations aspect of green buildings that must not be ignored for a project to enjoy long term success. Building commissioning includes testing and adjusting the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems to ensure that all equipment meets design criteria. It also includes instructing the staff on the operation and maintenance of equipment.

Over time, building performance can be assured through measurement, adjustment, and upgrading. Proper maintenance and operations ensures that a building continues to perform as designed and commissioned.


This series of articles has tried to give a fairly in depth overview of what is meant by green or sustainable building and what are the many aspects and parts that work together to make a building green. We touched on the importance of siting, orientation surrounding landscaping, energy and water efficiency, on the design aesthetics of green buildings and finally on the importance of materials, the promotion of a healthy safe building for its occupants nd on the need for a plan for green building operations and maintenance.

Hopefully this has helped provide an insightful overview of this fascinating and important subject. I am sure there are things I have overlooked or missed as I put this together — this kind of endeavor is never complete and is something like a snap shot taken of a moving target. The whole space is rapidly evolving and changing all the time. If anyone has suggestions for improvements or additions to this series that would help it to become more accurate and encompassing please send me your comments.

It is my belief that way of the green building will change our world for the better helping us change our cities from vast jungles of concrete, glass and steel into more vital and connected urban centers that graft on a green living skin and vastly reduce their impact on the world. Green buildings will help our cities become much more energy and water efficient and will promote and urbanity that returns the person to its rightful place at the center.

Green buildings are beautiful and cool.

© 2009, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.