By J. Costanzo & M. Poston

In the last few decades we have witnessed an environmental revolution.  Production in manufacturing processes had created a situation where pollution and waste were the norm.  A major contributing factor to these problems is the building and construction materials industry.  To counter the issues that arose, responsible practices have started to be implemented, including analysis of product life cycles.  New materials are being created from sustainable or recyclable resources, residual waste from processes has been minimized, and recycling programs have begun.  However this is not a complete solution, as the process is dynamic.  Now more than ever it is important for the consumer to be well-informed and make the best decision possible concerning their materials and the resulting environmental impacts.  With the materials market as broad a spectrum as it has become, it is possible to design an efficient, smart, eco-friendly space to enjoy for years to come!

Some Effects of Irresponsible Product Manufacturing and Use

1. In 1993, in the United States, an average 150 sq.ft. remodel of a kitchen produced 9,600 pounds of waste

2. In 2003, in the United States, there was an estimated amount 37.8 million tons of construction and demolition waste produced from kitchen and other home remolding and renovation projects:

15% construction = 10 million tons

57% renovation = 38 million tons

28% demolition = 19 million tons (EPA 2003)

3. Between 1978-1988, 230,000 square miles of forests were harvested. That’s equivalent to 16.5% of the whole amazon rainforest!!

Photo Courtesy of Peak Oil Hausfrau

In the past few decades the population of the world has increased exponentially and the overall demand for a high standard of living has risen.  As a result, the demand for natural resources has grown to unsustainable levels.   Resource harvesting has taken many forms, one of which has been deforestation.  The depletion of forest resources can be directly associated with the high demand for wood in various production and manufacturing processes, such as millwork for cabinetry, wood flooring, and exotic veneers to name a few.(Miller, 2006)

  • As recently indicated in a report by The World Health Organization the levels of formaldehyde present in indoor air has risen and is dangerous on a universal level. This substance is widely used in the production of wooden products and plastics despite knowledge of its harm. Efforts have been made to control the levels of this substance in recently produced goods. As the study stated, “if the release of formaldehyde in wooden materials is lower than 0.15 milligrams per unit”, the material is considered green (Hu, 2011).
  • Indoor air quality is directly affected by sources that release gases or particles into the air in homes. These include building materials and furnishings, cabinetry and furniture made of pressed wood, cleaning products, heating and cooling systems, carpet, insulation, paints and adhesives.For materials that are green but also promote safe indoor air quality, check out, 2010)

The Life Cycle

The Life Cycle is a measurement of environmental factors associated with a product.   These environmental impacts include a material’s components and their amounts, the method of use, and the aesthetic characteristics.  This process of evaluation is referred to as a Life Cycle Analysis and may be broken down into four general stages:

  • Raw Materials: Impact of resource sourcing and extraction (mining, harvesting, etc.)
    • May also include the incorporation of post-consumer recycled content (It is important to consider the Embodied Energy of a process: the energy used to create a product.)  In certain instances it is more cost-effective and energy effective to use a new material rather than a recycled material.
    • Forestry practices are included in this stage.  Efforts in recent years have addressed the negative impacts of forestry, creating a worldwide standards-setting initiative, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This is a network comprised of environmentalists, as well as wood suppliers and distributors who support sustainable forestry practices.
  • Manufacturing/Production: Considers the chemicals, materials, processes and energy used to produce and transport a material, as well as the emissions and output of production and transportation.
    • Some materials, safe and environmentally friendly once installed, require toxic and hazardous production processes.  Certain chemicals used in production are carcinogenic at this stage, but become stabilized prior to installation.
    • Metal, glass, and cement require high levels of energy to manufacture.  This results in high levels fuel use and emissions.
    • Industrial-by-Products are another aspect of the manufacturing stage.  These can sometimes be resubmitted into the Life Cycle process, and integrated into new products, or are treated as waste and contribute to landfills and the local environment of the factory/manufacturing facility.
    • Transportation – The method of transportation used to move a material/product from site to site as well as the distance traveled contributes to the Life Cycle Analysis.  This may include raw resources as well as finished products/goods.  Certain methods of transportation have less impact than others.  Ships are twice as efficient as trains, which are eight times more efficient than trucks.

Shopping and sourcing locally helps reduce the amount of fuel used in transportation and also supports local economies!

  • Installation/Tenure in a Building: Materials contribute to the quality of the indoors, impacting factors such as: air, light, water consumption, the building’s durability and overall user comfort.
    • Indoor air quality (IAQ) is impacted by construction and finishing materials.  Materials that are applied wet often contain volatile organic compounds (VOC).  Off-gassing is another major component of poor indoor air quality.  Certain materials, stable when installed, may break down over the course of their use, producing toxic or hazardous fumes.
    • The durability of a material contributes to the overall durability and longevity of the space in which it is installed.
    • Trends in style and design are contributing factors to the tenure of a material in a space.  Style-specific materials are likely to be replaced more rapidly, resulting in more waste.
  • End of Life:  The way a material is handled once it’s tenure in a building is over.  This category covers a broad spectrum from the recycling and reintegration of materials back into the Life Cycle to the discarding of materials into landfills.

    Photo Courtesy of Interface Global
  • Recycling processes for materials vary and are not available for every material.  Materials which require minimal processing or that are biodegradable are best.  Some products may be broken down into their component parts and be recycled.  Some companies have begun Cradle-to-Cradle programs.  These companies accept their used and discarded products back to be recycled and handled in a responsible manner.(Malin, 1999)

What’s Happening Now in Kitchen Materials

As society has become more aware of environmental issues and the importance of implementing technological advances into the production of building and construction materials, new and innovative products and materials have been introduced into the global market in efforts to help sustain this forward-thinking and eco-minded movement.  This is integral to the design and construction of kitchens, which are dynamic spaces filled with a broad spectrum of materials.


Paperstone “The Countertop with a Conscience”

  • 100% post-consumer recycled paper and fused together by heat
  • Durable for residential or commercial applications
  • Rigid and dense material – able for partition or furniture design applications
  • Heat resistant


  • Made of concrete and recycled glass
  • Gold level or Cradle-to-Cradle certification
  • Life cycle material

    Photo Courtesy of Ice Stone


Capri Cork– Harvested using sustainable practices from the bark of a Cork Oak.

  • Rubber collections, cork blends and recycled rubber, and  recycled rubber with cork content.
  • All products contribute to LEED credits and Capri is a member of the USGBC

Consumers – do your research – don’t buy just because companies SAY their materials are green.  Be aware!


  • FSC Certified Wood with Urea-Formaldehyde-free glues
    • Reclaimed, recycled wood – instead of cabinet demolition and filling up the land fill, purchase used cabinets! Checkout your local Habitat Humanity resale store

Wall covering:

  • No VOC Paint – produced nationally (instead of internationally)

Look into the Future

Materials are going to continue to advance.  The market for materials has already seen a boom in eco-smart practices and design and as technology advances materials will grow increasingly techno-smart.  New aspects of materials may include, but are not limited to, integrated touch pads, refrigerators plugged into house networks (to alert you when low on groceries,) self-cleaning floors and countertops, voice activated cabinetry and heat sensing wall covering.  The possibilities are endless!!

Check out this innovative countertop that integrates smart technologies!

“Working kitchens” of the future could also produce their own energy based on their appliances, with the potential for major energy savings.  A refrigerator running consistently throughout the day could potentially create enough energy to heat the water needed for a dishwasher cycle.

Photo Courtesy of Trend Hunter

These technologies and innovations are striving to make the home, specifically the kitchen, a streamlined work environment that will be at the peak of efficiency, with ease of maintenance and use.

Considering the efforts that have already been made concerning the state of building materials, great advancements have already been made and are projected to continue on an upward rise.  Emphasis has been placed on streamlining the amount of resources used, as well as minimizing the residual effects of manufacturing and production.  Efforts have also been made to design materials that contribute to a clean indoor environment as well as a smart decision on the earth.

Photo Courtesy of Trend Hunter

For example, check out this new kitchen element designed by Kitchen Nano Gardencheck – a sink that waters your garden for you!

This way, you can be sustainable and get your “greens” effortlessly! It comes smaller than a refrigerator so it’s possible for city dwellers who are not able to have an outdoor garden.  Brilliant!

With all things considered, and the state of the materials today, it has become the consumers duty to become informed and make the best decisions possible regarding their needs as well as sustainability issues.  With regard to a products life cycle, each stage is measured across a broad spectrum, taking into consideration the positive and negative effects of practices and processes.  While the results of a particular stage may be positive, it is important to consider all aspects of a products Life Cycle.  Always remember – it is still the consumer’s responsibility to way the positive and negative characteristic of each products lifecycle impact on the environment.

For help designing a healthy and smart space that takes full advantage of the broad range of products available, seek out a local design professional.


CapriCork. (2011). About Capri. Retrieved by

Hu, Y. (2011). The Formaldehyde Pollution Indoors. Retrieved from

IceStone. (2011). Sustainability. Retrieved by

Malin, N. (1999). What it Means to be Green. Architectural Record. 08.99. Retrieved from

Miller, Z. (2006). Depletion of Forest Resources. Retrieved from

Paneltech Products Inc. (2011). PaperStone At-a-Glance. Retrieved by

ProCarton. (2011). Life Cycle Inventory Data. Retrieved by

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2003). Estimating 2003 Building-Related Construction and Demolition Materials Amounts [Data File]. Retrieved from

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2010). An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality. Retrieved from

United Stated Environmental Protection Agency. (2010). Green Building, Kitchen. Retrieved from