What is a Green Remodel?

December 11, 2009

Green – it’s the hot new color that has nothing to do with decor and everything to do with product choice.  But, outside of being a buzz word, what does “green” really mean?  If you visit Wikipedia, after paragraphs on the color itself is a sentence directing you to the “Green Movement” or ” Environmentally Friendly”.

Environmentally friendly (also eco-friendly, nature friendly, and green) are synonyms used to refer to goods and services considered to inflict minimal or no harm on the environment.[1] To make consumers aware, environmentally friendly goods and services often are marked with eco-labels. But because there is no single international standard for this concept, the International Organization for Standardization considers such labels too vague to be meaningful.[2]

Green is a loose term thrown around by companies to instill consumer confidence while having to prove nothing to anyone.  The end effect is commonly called Green Washing; ie. the term is meaningless because there is no substance behind it.

But there are still ways that you can be ecologically conscious when remodeling your home.  Beyond the “Green” label, look for these qualifications:

  1. Is the product manufactured domestically?  This question is ecologically based for two reasons.  First, less traveling time from the manufacturer to your home equals less emissions.  Second, the US EPA regulations are more strict than those of developing countries – less pollution emitted, however you will see a higher price tag because compliance with these regulations is expensive.
  2. Is the material in the product recyclable?  This is a no brainer.  On a global level, Americans, in general, consume goods faster than any other nation.  When you are finished with a product, if you cannot resell/donate it for another person to use, you should repurpose the materials in that product for another task.
  3. Is the natural material in the product a renewable resource?  Wood is the best example of this.  Choose product that can comes from companies that practice sustainable foresting activities.  You don’t have to buy cork or bamboo floors to do your part.  These materials are typically forested in China, think of the emissions from transportation alone.  Buying locally harvested wood can actually be a more effective choice.  Stay away from anything marketed as “exotic.”
  4. Are the solvents/adhesives in the product low-VOC?  VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds.  VOCs are what outgas from a product after manufacturing.  It’s the smell of new paint, new carpeting, new furniture… and it is an irritant, and may cause short term and/or long term illness.  Some people have no reactions to these outgasings, other people are more sensitive – regardless, they are not healthy for anyone.

These are guidelines you can apply to any purchase you are thinking of making, it doesn’t just apply to improving your home.  Don’t get snowballed by marketing when the label says “Green” – ask why.  Just because the salesperson tells you it’s natural and that’s why it’s “Green” – take a moment to think.

As an example, one of the biggest misconceptions in this industry is that natural stone countertops are “Green” because they are natural.  Think about the amount of diesel spent in cutting stone out of the ground, shipping it across the world, fabricating it into a top and then throwing the cuttings away.  The end-user then repetitively uses a chemical sealant to keep the stone from staining.  However – if you want a stone counter, and you are committed to living with that counter for the next 30 years or more, then the choice becomes more ecologically sound.

Want other ideas on how to make your remodel more friendly to the environment and to yourself?  Post a comment and I’ll get back to you.  Remember, the money you spend is your vote on what the world manufactures.

Written for Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. by designer Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

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