Market Intelligence

Green & Sustainable Construction

Identifying Green Products

Materials in use for sustainable design run the gamut from cotton insulation, to recycled asphalt paving, to photovoltaic arrays. Many offer a green component that is at best incremental, offering performance or some other characteristic that is only slightly better than the conventional alternatives. Use of these products by a small percentage of designers and contractors results in a positive effect that is barely measurable; common usage can make the effect global and lasting.

In our experience, green products fall into six categories, and many products have benefits in multiple categories. Note that these categories are somewhat subjective, and a product that falls into three categories is not necessarily any more green than one that falls into only one category.

  • Green process
  • Improved sustainability
  • Recycled content
  • Recyclable
  • Low toxicity
  • Biodegradable

Green process: Products that are manufactured with consideration for exposure of workers to chemicals, source of materials, energy-efficient production methods, use of recycled materials in packaging, reclaiming manufacturing waster, and prudent use of energy.

Improved Sustainability: Products that are renewable and make good use of available resources – for example, use of wood from well-managed forests for building framing.

Recycled Content: Products that are fabricated with post-consumer materials or post-industrial byproducts – for example, plastic wood fabricated using recycled plastic bottles, and structural steel fabricated with post-industrial (waste scrap) and post-consumer (salvaged steel) content.

Recyclable: Products that can be reused or reprocessed and re-fabricated. Examples range from recyclable soda cans and bottles, to materials salvaged from deconstructed buildings such as asphalt paving, masonry, metal framing, insulation, reclaimed framing lumber or wood flooring, and even carpet.

Low Toxicity: Products that are less toxic than comparable products used for the same purpose. Toxic fumes from site-mixed products, coatings, adhesives, and sealants containing such chemicals as formaldehyde and styrenes are a recognized health threat, especially in remodeling projects where the building may be occupied while the work is being performed.

Biodegradable: Products that return to the earth naturally under exposure to the elements.


(This article is excerpted from RSMeans’ Green Building: Project Planning & Cost Estimating, 2nd Edition.)


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This article is an excerpt from the book Green Building: Project Planning & Estimating which can be purchased through the RSMeans Bookstore.

This new 3rd edition has been completely updated with the latest in green building technologies, design concepts, standards, and costs. Includes Means' Green Building CostWorks CD at no additional cost.

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