How plastics contribute to green building rating system credits Sustainable, or ‘green,’ building design may be a hard concept to quantitatively define, but its general meaning is well-understood amongst professionals in the built environment. In basic terms, sustainable building design calls for reducing a building’s negative impact on the environment (and its occupants) through project design, construction practices, and long-term facility operations.

There are numerous ways to look at sustainability. They range from all-encompassing notions incorporating all measures of environmentally friendly construction, to more narrow strategies focusing on specific elements, such as the percentage of recycled content in building materials or the energy efficiency of HVAC systems.

The advantages of being familiar with sustainable design go beyond simply reducing natural resource consumption. Environmentally rated buildings can be used as a marketing tool for tenants due to the increased economic valuation and public goodwill. Additionally, energy-efficient green buildings can be a boon to communities, as they offer a minimized strain on local infrastructures.

To measure a building’s environmental impact, numerous rating systems have emerged. For non-residential construction, the major framework has been established by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® (LEED®) certification program, introduced by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in the spring of 2000.1 Since then, more than 1500 projects (representing all 50 states, Canada, and other countries) have registered to achieve LEED certification. Although many of these projects are for the nonprofit and institutional sectors (especially offices and higher education buildings), interest in sustainable design seems to be growing. The USGBC has awarded more than 130 LEED certifications (expected to reach nearly 1200 by the end of 2007), while the number of workshop participants and LEED-accredited professionals (LEED AP) doubled in 2004.2

However, two new partnering programs may challenge LEED’s dominance. The National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB’s) Model Green Home Building Guidelines, and the non-residential Green Globes program, offered by the Green Building Initiative (GBI), are beginning to make their marks.3

For those pursuing sustainable design, these green building certification programs (and others) can have a significant impact on not only project design, but also on the selection of its building products. As such, it is important to understand the potential of various products as suitable green building materials. From thermal insulation to piping systems and from roofing membranes to wall finishes, myriad plastic products can greatly factor into this sustainable-design framework.


1 For more information on the LEED certification program, visit
2 See “Understanding the Green Market—A snapshot of the LEED landscape,” by Jerry Yudelson, PE, MBA, in the January 2005 issue of The Construction Specifier.
3 For more information on the NAHB program and Green Globes, visit and, respectively.