On June 5, the United Nations Environment Programme will celebrate World Environment Day. Now in its 40th year, World Environment Day is a global initiative “for positive environmental action.” Worldwide, construction has enormous potential to affect the environment in positive and negative ways. Forests are harvested for wood, fossil fuels are burned for transportation and the earth is gutted for metals, all to create and move new building materials.

One of the best ways to reduce environmental impact in the construction industry is to use sustainable materials, whether it’s giving new life to windows reclaimed from an abandoned building or installing carpet made from recycled plastics.

Artist and designer Pablo Solomon recalls,

“In my younger days I rescued building materials and architectural features from dumps and demolition sites out of necessity. I now rescue and use the same materials out of conviction.”

The great news is that using sustainable materials doesn’t just benefit the environment. You’ll find that green products offer great aesthetic value and are frequently extremely affordable. All you need to know is how to find them and when to use them.

Locating Products

For DIY projects, you can find sustainable materials at almost all home improvement and supply stores, whether it’s bamboo flooring for your new kitchen or fixtures made from recycled metals and plastics. If you’re planning on working with a professional, choose someone who has experience with sustainable materials and green building practices.

For repurposed or salvaged supplies, a simple internet search should provide you with a list of local businesses that specialize in breaking down old buildings and houses for their individual parts. You can also search for salvage retailers that have an online presence and offer shipping services, like The Old House Parts Company, Historic Houseparts, and Second Use. Estate and garage sales are also still a great place to find used materials. Use the community listings on Craigslist to get details on upcoming yard sales in your neighborhood. Get creative and you’ll be amazed at what you can find.

Considerations Before You Buy

Because environmentally friendly building is such a hot trend, many manufacturers will use buzzwords like ‘sustainable’ and ‘green’ to lure customers towards a purchase. Make sure that the products you choose are backed by a legitimate company who are known to comply with tested sustainable practices. For example, if you are shopping for wood-based products, look for materials that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Architect Kraig Kalashian reports,

“We also specify wood sourced from FSC certified sources which means that they harvest responsibly and often replenish what they cut. Be careful to consider products that claim they are made from reclaimed or recycled materials as they often require more energy to make since you have to first get the material back to its natural state before you can make something with it.

Considerations for Use

Simply using sustainable building materials isn’t the end all solution to environmentally friendly construction and home improvement. Homeowners and professionals need to be aware of how they are interacting with those materials and what it takes to get them installed. If you use reclaimed wood for your new kitchen floor, that’s great. But, if you had the lumber shipped from the other side of the country, the net benefit is greatly reduced.

Green expert Tanya Stock notes,

“It cannot be overlooked that shipping and manufacturing products hundreds of miles is not environmentally friendly no matter how “green” it is. At times you have to make choices and make sacrifices on what you need and want and that is what I do – find the right shade of green for each client.

Choose locally produced sustainable materials and use them as inspiration to implement eco-friendly practices throughout your household.

“We sometimes lose environmental gains with our clients when they use green products but add more, adding multiple refrigerators in the kitchen, a second shower head, or heated towel bars in the bathroom.”

says designer Nancy Dalton.

Inspiration and Incentives

If you’re unfamiliar with sustainable building products, there are lots of ways to get involved. Participate in global initiatives like World Environment Day, coming up on June 5. Or, check out local events like The ReUse People’s sustainable materials contests, going on all over the country.

If you need a financial boost toward your next sustainable building project, check out theEPA’s website for a list of federal, state, and local green building funding opportunities.

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