Popular Sustainable Building Materials in Use Today


The sustainable building market is one of the fastest growing markets across the globe, with 64 percent of U.S. customers wanting green homes to lower their energy consumption and 71 percent of remodelers wanting to curb energy use through green renovations. High demand means that today's remodelers will find many great materials to choose from. Here are top sustainable building materials to consider. 

Straw Bales

While straw bales aren't exactly an innovative material, they are sustainable and they deliver strong insulation for a low price point. Straw bales are used inside the house framing to create walls. When they are properly sealed, they keep the home comfortable year round. 


HempCrete uses the inner fibers of the hemp plant, which have a woody structure, to create a material that functions like concrete. HempCrete is lightweight yet strong; hemp itself is a fast-growing, renewable plant. It takes less energy to transport a load of HempCrete than concrete, due to the lower weight -- which is roughly one-eighth what concrete weighs. 

Natural Linoleum

Linoleum is easy to clean, sustainable, and can last as long as 40 years when properly installed. Natural linoleum is made of natural and renewable products including pine resin, limestone, ground cork, wood flour, and linseed oil (from flax). Linoleum that is dyed with natural pigments and installed using a low-VOC adhesive is earth friendly as well as sustainable. 


This concrete alternative uses 97 percent recycled material. It's predominantly made from fly ash, which is a naturally occurring byproduct of burning coal. Since AshCrete can prevent cracking, permeability, and shrinking, it eliminates many of the common complaints about concrete. If coal is going to be burned anyway, it makes sense to repurpose waste material in a green manner. 

Wool Insulation

Created from the fur of shorn sheep, wool insulation offers many advantages. Not only is the wool itself highly renewable (sheep need to be sheared regularly), but wool is natural, breathable, elastic and non-combustible. The insulation won't settle over time, unlike other types of loose insulation. Since wool will not catch fire, this can increase home safety. Wool continues to insulate even when wet (one reason it's popular with hikers).


Bamboo has become a favorite replacement for old growth hardwoods, which are not sustainable. Bamboo grows quickly and displays incredible tensile strength. Bamboo can replace rebar in framing or provide a luxe alternative to hardwood floors. Using locally-grown bamboo can keep costs down in remote areas, making this an affordable pick for many families. 

Recycled Denim Insulation

Created from recycled jeans and scrap denim, recycled denim insulation -- also called natural cotton fiber insulation -- is highly sustainable. By using this over fiberglass batts, homeowners can improve home comfort, improve indoor air quality, and improve acoustics. Approximately 200 tons of denim waste are diverted from landfills to create this insulation. It takes less energy to create denim insulation over fiberglass, another plus. Recyclable denim insulation typically contains 85 percent recycled material; at the end of its lifetime, the denim is 100 percent recyclable. 

Repurposed and recycled materials

Any time homeowners can repurpose or recycle something, they're keeping material out of the landfill. When renovating a home, don't forget about repurposed and recycled materials. Homeowners may purchase everything from appliances or kitchen cabinets to natural stone for patios within their community or through online brokers. Buildings materials exchanges or ReStores, which are run by Habitat for Humanity, offer donated goods and materials that can add unique charm, keep the project within budget, and make creative use of pre-existing materials, all part of a sustainable remodel. 

These materials span the price spectrum, so homeowners across all budgets can look for sustainable building materials to suit their needs. 

Author: Gary Ashton

Green 101: The Three R's

We are at a critical juncture in shaping the future of this planet in terms of how we interact with its limited resources. Future generations will look back and either laud us for what we did, or chastise us for what we failed to do. Climate change is real. More importantly, we are increasingly more responsible for it. It’s not all gloom and doom though. There are things that we can still do to curb the debilitating effects of climate change. I fully recognize that we are limited in initiating a macro-level change in how we interact with our environment (that would have to come from the top of the pyramid), but there are little things that we can do to impact our local environments and hopefully inspire others in the community to do the same.

The Three R’s are often evoked in environmentalism. By doing our minimal best to follow these three principles, we can in some capacity impact our environment for the betterment of future generations.


You’ve probably heard the phrase “man is an insatiable animal” in your economics class. It’s true and often, that insatiable nature leads to waste. Most people have no clue how much food and other resources they waste every day (really, check your local landfills to fully grasp this!). The problem then is that when these resources break down, they turn into harmful gases which then contribute to climate change. By buying less food and having a strict regimen for your menu, you can make a big difference to the environment. Be resourceful. Don’t immediately throw food products away simple based on the expiration label. Most of those dates are guesstimates and most products are still viable long after that. Also, donate foods you plan not to eat, freeze your vegetables and fruits, and when you do go the supermarket, try walking or riding a bicycle if you can.


Reusing resources makes economic sense. It also has a lot of environmental benefits. Instead of throwing away your old materials, simply pass it on. Remember “one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure”. Do your best to reuse disposable cups and dishes after parties as opposed to throwing them away. Donate your clothes to charity or hand them down to your younger siblings and relatives (granted, they are sure to hate this idea). Again, be resourceful. Try finding new ways to use old products. And lastly, engage the community. You could try to collectively host a communal yard sale. Not only would this create a market for used products, you have the added benefit of bringing the community together for a justifiable cause.


Recycle, recycle, and recycle. Don’t throw everything you use in the trash. Most products can usually be remade into the same thing or a similar product. In fact, most companies would even appreciate this as it reduces the cost of production. Do your best to buy products made from recycled materials. That sends a message to manufacturers that there is a market for such goods. Try to engage the community in a recycling drive to stress the importance of recycling. Label trash cans and recycling bins to make people more aware. You’ll be surprised how big these little efforts make. Materials that can be recycled include aluminum cans, cardboard papers, electronic equipment, glass, magazines, metal, newspapers, etc. Try to find resources with a comprehensive list of recyclable materials; you’ll be surprised at how much materials are needlessly wasted.

Notice how all these three distinct principle share a common theme. They all include efforts by YOU. Choosing to be a more responsible and environmentally conscious citizen solely relies on you acting- on you changing your habits. Curbing climate change is a communal effort. Try to involve your friends and relatives. Build a community out of it and be a force for change in your community. In the meantime, please follow the Green Institute on Facebook and check back regularly to keep up to date on the ever evolving world of Greening

10 Ways to Go Green

  1. Switch off all electrical appliances when you are not utilizing them.
  2. Don’t waste water; every drop counts
  3. Switch to compact fluorescent white bulb, it consumes less energy
  4. Patronize organic and local foods
  5. Exercise: ride a bicycle, take a walk etc.
  6. Recycle your waste
  7. Keep your electronics out of the trash
  8. Plant flowers and trees
  9. Give it away, don’t throw it away
  10. Use rechargeable batteries
  11. BONUS ITEM: Share what you’ve learned