When comparing “sustainability” among building products, it is not only difficult to distinguish a consistent measure for evaluation, but also to determine whether it is truly sustainable or if it is simply marketed as such. Several of the class project proposals included some form of photovoltaic panels, copper, zinc, or aluminum cladding. Between manufacturer’s websites and greenwashing organizations that claim these products are “green”, “environmentally friendly”, and “sustainable”, I found it difficult to find credible sources to compare and evaluate these materials. Although many sources promoted the long life spans, recyclability, and cost/energy-saving properties, most of the negative effects were left unsaid. The open-pit mining, manufacturing, and transportation required for many materials results in waste emissions, fossil fuel consumption, acid rain, solid waste, and a loss in biodiversity/habitats.[i] Even photovoltaic products have certain negative environmental consequences. The products can contain cadmium, gallium, and telluride (mined byproducts), are often transported long distances, and emit carbon and other pollutants during manufacturing.[ii] They also need to be replaced during a typical building’s lifetime since most photovoltaics last about 25-30 years, which creates waste that is often not recycled.

According to Terra Choice Environmental advertising consultancy, there were a staggering 73% more “green” products marketed in 2010 than in 2009.[iii] From these products, only 5% were deemed truly sustainable; the others were making false claims, assumptions, or failed to provide proof. Although these products may be more sustainable than some conventional products and it could be argued that they encourage the public to think about sustainability in general, I think there should be more awareness about greenwashing. It would encourage people to find out where their products are coming from, how the materials were acquired and manufactured, and what sort of impacts they have on the environment and human health.

[i] Norgate, T.E., S. Jahanshahi, and W.J. Rankin. “Assessing the Environmental Impact of Metal Production Processes.” N.p., June 2006. Science Direct. Web. 19 Sept. 2012.

[ii] Fthenakis, V.M., and H.C. Kim. “Photovoltaics: Life Cycle Analyses.” N.p., Feb. 2010. Science Direct. Web. 18 Sept. 2012.

[iii] “Greenwashing Report 2010.” Terra Choice. N.p., n.d. Google Scholar. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. <;.


One comment

  1. It is really interesting that you wrote about this topic in your blog post. My group chose the material copper for our research project, and Blaine had mentioned the fact that extra research is necessary in order to find the true facts about a specific material. Our group chose copper for more reasons that its supposable “sustainable” factors, but I do agree with you that many places on the internet advertise their products as sustainable. When we as researches read something on the internet we tend to just assume that since something is written on the internet it must be the only truth, but my other thought on this topic is could the manufacturers being doing something more on this issue?

    When doing research such as what type of material should be used on a building, consumers often times are misled because of the information content found on the internet. Is this the consumers fault for not digging deeper or is this the product providers fault for not providing the whole picture? An article Carla Keppler pushed my thoughts into the direction that finding overall truthful facts on the internet can be difficult, and often times falls on the shoulders of the manufactures. Of course I understand trying to sell a product, but when that means potentially “hiding” information from the consumers is in my mind down right shady. According to this article “ 73 % of people researching sustainable or green products want companies to put the products environmental story directly on the package.” That would be the overall simplest solution to this issue, but in our world will manufactures ever do that? What I want to know is what kind of solution can be made in order for consumers to get the full story without pulling two arms and two legs??

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