Let us walk into a modern office or a swanky mall or fine dine restaurant. Let us look around observing every item and material in sight. Possibly, more than a third imagine this as a revelation — human beings have been on a fast track mode discovering and inventing new materials like never before since the birth of civilization.
Was society of the past any less than ours because these marvellous materials were not available to our forefathers? Strangely, the answer is no. They also led a life full of joy and grief, gains and loss or hopes and frustrations just like we do today.
How many of these materials are for our needs and how many for greed, comfort or luxury? Are these justifiable by sustainable standards? Are we a party to depleting earth’s resources when we buy an item?
Such discussions did not appear important until recently, as we were oblivious to the reality of the limited resources we are living on. The word “green”, coined less than two decades ago to suggest an alternate developmental model in contrast to our dangerous ‘red’ approach, has now come to stay to symbolise any human effort in saving the environment. Green also connotes the visible ecological cycle, living as against dying, and continues the efforts of nature conservationists which started much before it was adopted by the construction industry.
The green building movement, as it is popularly called, was initially termed eco-friendly architecture with varied design parameters like light, air, space, maintenance, local style and affordability. Low-cost buildings, a term being used for decades, also hints at sustainability, though today it is better referred to as cost effective building. As such, the word green could be a new term, but the intentions have been around for a while now. The idea of Green Material continues similar affiliations to the intent of energy efficiency and sustainability.
Incidentally, the energy consumed in a building by the construction materials may not cross 20 per cent of the total energy the building would have consumed. Likewise, the share of material cost is only a part of the total project cost. However, construction materials cause depletion of non-renewable resources, create non-recyclable wastes, consume energy for manufacturing.
Today, many new materials are being popularised by marketing and advertising to achieve greater market share. We get only minimal data about what good or harm they do to nature. Hence, we are facing the immediate imperative to study and understand materials towards the right choice, if we have to keep the sustainability movement going on.