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. <http://sinsofgreenwashing.org/findings/greenwashing-report-2010/>.