Do we have material options?
Increasing numbers of social thinkers are writing today about how we are living in a materialistic world, suggesting consumption and depletion of resources. By gentle twist of words, we can also say that we are living in a material world, with maddening choice of materials. Selecting and shopping what we need is no more a simple task, but demands researching and rejecting among the options. The idea of selection would vary case by case, with eco-friendly construction having its own set of criteria. Over the decades, specific qualitative and quantitative standards have been evolved to judge and classify materials under the green category.
In principle, all the building materials come under 3 categories – natural, processed and manufactured. Mud, wood, stone, sand, slates, lime, bamboo, rattan, thatch and such others which we use mostly in their natural state with minimum re-sizing come under the natural category. Even today, these materials dominate the larger building stock of the world and are among the best choices towards a sustainable future. However, if they can meet the quantitative demand for materials in this ever expanding urbanization is a matter of debate. Also, while items like wood are renewable sources, few of them like stone are exhaustible. Much of contemporary architecture of today can not be achieved only by natural materials. Notwithstanding these counter positions, we may safely assume that using natural materials compliments our objectives of sustaining the Earth resources – an option with least energy consumption, minimum procurement wastage and negligible residual wastage.
The next category called processed materials suggests an altered state of the material, process itself ranging from the basic to the advanced. Village brick making with firewood alters the raw clay into burnt bricks permanently altering the characteristics of mud, hence can be called as processed material. So are products from iron ore, paints from vegetable dyes, pottery from clay and tying ropes from natural fibers. They consume some energy and produce some waste, but get customized for the intended use, hence become more efficient than being in the original state. Like the natural category, the processed items also lead to depletion of natural resources, hence judicious degree of processing and usage may balance their adverse effects.
The worst kind that leads to maximum resource consumption, waste generation and energy requirement are the third kind – manufactured materials. Excepting some raw materials used in the production process, much happens through chemicals and artificial means to bring a new material to the earth. The high ended industrial process not only demands skill, but also wide spread marketing to make the production financially profiting, a goal normally fulfilled by the market economy. The artificiality of the material ensures, the raw materials used never get to return to earth and regenerate. Popular items of today including steel, cement, glass, aluminum, plastics, construction chemicals, vitrified tiles, adhesives, insulation items and many more of them are flooding the building scene today.
No wonder, the green house gas emission from building industry has been on raise – a matter to be taken more deeply.