There are vast differences in the environmental impacts associated with producing various building materials. Such impacts are virtually unknown to the consuming public. Today there are two dominant approaches to evaluating the environmental attributes of products. One approach is to evaluate a product based on a single attribute such as recycled content or chemical-free. The second approach is to evaluate the environmental attributes of the raw material used in the product such as organically grown vegetables and certified wood. Both of these approaches are widely used despite the fact that both omit critical information regarding environmental attributes while also covering relatively few products.
There are life-cycle-analysis (LCA) based programs now in place that would allow rapid development of rigorous, self-sustaining, scientifically based transparent information regarding environmental performance for a wide range of products. The use of LCA derived information in environmental programs such as LEED1 has the potential to significantly increase the objectivity, clarity, and capacity of such programs.
With respect to building materials it is clearly time to expand current requirements for certification of wood products in green building programs to include all products used in framing, decking, sheathing, and cladding. It is also time to give serious consideration to LCA-based product labeling of all construction materials.