The materials used to construct a building have a significant environmental impact, from extraction, processing, transportation, use, and disposal. Selection of more sustainable materials can reduce those impacts.
Using items that are made at least in part of recycled content reduces raw resource use and helps to encourage recycling by providing an end market for recycled materials. Some building materials such as steel and aluminum have recycled content as a normal practice. Other materials such as carpet, concrete, masonry, and insulation exist in forms with recycled content, but may need to be actively pursued or have a cost premium.
Utilizing local materials reduces the environmental impact of transportation, supports local economies, and gives building owners the opportunity to easily learn the environmental and labor practices of material producers.
Many conventional building materials require large inputs of resources – land, water, energy and time – to produce. Rapidly renewable materials (those with a harvest cycle of ten years or less) generally require fewer inputs and have a lower environmental impact. Some examples of rapidly renewable materials are bamboo for flooring, cotton batt insulation, wool carpeting, cork flooring, straw bales, and linoleum flooring.