Many of the harmful impacts to the environment come from the gathering of raw materials to make building products. After all, most of them—wood, metals, cement, bricks and blocks—originate in materials from the natural environment. Environmental damage also results from the land filling and improper disposal of construction and demolition waste materials. Further harm is caused through the production and delivery of energy and water to supply buildings.
Harmful human health impacts can result from poor air quality inside buildings, often the result of emissions from construction materials like glues, paints and other finishes. Poor maintenance and the use of certain cleaning materials can also cause air quality difficulties. Poorly designed and maintained lighting systems can result in glare and flicker that may cause vision problems. Most of people now spend more than 80% of their lives living, working and sleeping inside buildings, so people have more exposure to these problems than in the past.
The recognition that buildings can have such a serious impact on the natural environment and on our own health has led to the green building movement. Many of the movement’s new ideas have come from the building industry itself, as designers, builders and manufacturers have developed better ways of building.
Local government is also playing an important role, as communities around the country develop programs to encourage building green and promote sustainable development. As part of preparing local policies and programs, these communities have developed their own local definitions of green building. Many of the definitions include references to global, “big picture” environmental concerns; others focus on more specific local environmental issues such as energy and water use, and to the need for waste reduction. Many definitions also include references to minimizing possible negative health impacts on the occupants of buildings.
While the local priorities around the country may vary, all the programs have some basic themes in common. Underlying them all is a concern to minimize negative impacts on the environment and on human health that may result from the construction and operation of buildings.