Engineering Tech Tips United States Department of Agriculture
Forest Service

Technology &
Development Program
April 1999



Sustainable Building
What Are Green Building Products and Where Do I Find Them?

Anna Jones-Crabtree, Bighorn National Forest - Steve Oravetz, Program Leader

This Tech Tip, the second of a series, explores the growing field of "green" building products and the databases and listings that will help you find them. This series of sustainable building Tech Tips will form a sustainable building resource guide for the Forest Service. The guide will provide a ready reference to sustainable products and practices, and other information for facility managers, designers, and contractors.

Beyond Recycling to Sustainable Building Products

Sustainability means meeting the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In this series’ first Tech Tip, the emphasis was on recycling building materials after they had been used. Recycling reduces the impacts of raw material extraction, an issue central to the Forest Service mission. This Tech Tip emphasizes the initial use of recycled and environmentally friendlier, less toxic products. Using these types of products helps to change resource consumption from a linear process (use to waste) to a cyclical process (use to recycle to reuse). It also reduces the environmental impacts of the manufacture and use of many building products.

What exactly are "greener" building products? Generally, "green" building products meet at least one of the three main goals of sustainable building:

(Adapted from Greening Federal Facilities: An Energy, Environmental, and Economic Resource Guide for Federal Facility Managers, U.S. Department of Energy, Federal Energy Management Program 1997)

It might appear difficult to "go green" because green products can be difficult to find. However, green products are more readily available now, and there is a growing movement to use greener building materials. A number of Federal policies require purchasing and using environmentally friendlier products and materials. These policies include:

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive sponsored a symposium to discuss how Federal purchasing could become environmentally friendlier. The Federal Acquisition Regulations are being revised to reflect the requirements of policies for environmentally friendlier purchasing.

Where Do I Find Greener Building Products?

As a Forest Service Designer, Engineer, or Facilities Manager, you may want to use more sustainable products while meeting the requirements of green policies. But where do you find these greener products? What exactly does "green" mean?

There are many databases and guides that can help you locate "greener" building products and materials.

There is no one right answer to the greenness of certain products. Some products are clearly greener then their conventional counterparts because they are nontoxic, contain recycled materials, are extremely durable, conserve energy and resources, are manufactured in an environmentally friendlier way, or can be taken apart and reused. Products that embody one or several of these characteristics are listed in these guides.

There are no standards for labeling environmentally benign or more sustainable products. However, Green Seal ( has certified a limited number of products. Scientific Certification Systems ( also certifies products. These groups might offer insight into product comparisons. There is no one right answer to being green. Guides and lists do not include all the environmentally friendly products available. They do serve as a starting point for learning about products and comparing them. Like any other selection of a building product, selecting a green product requires good judgment. Only you know the circumstances in which the product will be used.

Table 1 describes several product databases and listings. Each reference includes a short description of the database, or listing, and some general comments about each entry.

Table 1—Product databases and listings. The American Institute of Architects is abbreviated with the acronym, AIA.
Title Order Information Organization of Document Comments/Notes
GreenSpec (1996) Kalin Associates
By CSI number, available hardcopy and on disk. Each product is described by environmental considerations. Three-ring binder. Includes sample specifications for each product. Concentrates on products available in the New Jersey area, but the specification language is helpful elsewhere. Recognizes product characteristics such as toxicity and recyclability.
Environmental Building News Product Catalog Environmental Building News
Listing by type of product and CSI format (lighting, plumbing, flooring, etc.). Three-ring Binder Environmental Building News. Considered the leading newsletter on environmentally sustainable design and construction. EBN has written reviews on many products in the catalog.
Environmental Resource Guide American Institute of Architects
CSI format includes specific project application and product reports. While not referencing specific manufacturers, products are described according to waste generation, energy consumption, resource depletion, and indoor air quality.
National Park Service Product Database National Park Service
$25.00 or download free
CSI format/searchable database. Over 1,300 products listed with contact information described by resource impacts. Also includes a listing of construction debris recyclers and other sustainable information sources.
Resource Efficient Directory (REDI) Iris Communications, Inc.
Web searchable by CSI category, topic, or company. Links to other web sites and information sources. Products are listed with type of company and environmental benefit. Links to manufacturers and suppliers are helpful. Broad listing.
Guide to Resource Efficient Building Elements Center for Resourceful Building Technology
$28.00 order online
Buy building parts from foundations to floor coverings. Each selection discusses resource efficiency and provides comprehensive descriptions of applicable products. Includes contact information.
Green Building Resource Guide John Hermannsson, AIA.
Tauton Press, 1997.
Free access on the web or available in hardcopy for about $40.
By construction division number, but also has indexes of product type and manufacturers. Each product description is listed with manufacturer contact information and icon symbols designating characteristics of nontoxicity, recycled content, resource efficiency, long life cycle, or environmentally conscious manufacturing. A price index number comparing the greener product with a more conventional product make this guide unique.
McRecycle McDonald’s
  Not Reviewed
Sustainable Design Resource Guide Denver AIA Bookstore
Phone:(303) 446-2266
By CSI category, mainly suppliers. AIA may have other regional guides. General discussion at beginning of each section. Products have description and contact information. Products are noted for their resource efficiency in 12 categories from recycled content to durability.
Environmental Products Guide - GSA GSA
Phone: (800)848-8952
Catalog The Government Services Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency published this guide. It is not specific to construction and building products, but does include items such as lighting, insulation, paint, HVAC systems, and solar products.
Jade Mountain Appropriate Technology Jade Mountain
Phone: (800) 442-1972
Box 4616
Boulder, CO 80306-4616
Catalog Jade Mountain is not really a database or a guide. The company’s catalog is a good source for sustainable technologies affecting energy and water. A technical staff is available to answer questions.
Real Goods Real Goods
Phone: (800) 508-2342
555 Leslie Street
Ukiah, CA 95482-5576
Catalog Like Jade Mountain, Real Goods is a company that specializes in environmentally friendly products. Although Real Goods does not offer as many building products as Jade Mountain, they are a good source for technologies affecting energy and water resources. A technical staff is available to answer questions.

Information on green building products is growing rapidly. Many conferences on green building are also offering trade shows and product forums. This listing is not meant to be all inclusive, but represents some of the mainstream information sources. If you are using other product listings that you have found to be particularly helpful, please contact Anna Jones-Crabtree.

How to Integrate Green Products Into Your Projects!

Coming next...What Are Those Sustainable Building Guides Really?

About the Authors

Anna Jones-Crabtree is a licensed Professional Civil Engineer on the Bighorn National Forest in Sheridan, WY. During 1996 and 1997, she studied concepts of sustainable design and construction and facilities operation and maintenance at Georgia Tech.

Steve Oravetz graduated from the University of Washington in Civil Engineering and is a licensed Professional Civil Engineer. He began his career on the Wenatchee National Forest in 1980. He became Chief Engineer for the Northeastern Research Station in 1993. In 1996, he became Engineering Program Leader at MTDC.

Additional single copies of this document may be ordered from:
USDA Forest Service
Missoula Technology and Development Center
5786 Hwy 10 W
Missoula, MT 59808
Phone: (406) 329-3900
FAX: (406) 329-3719

For more information about sustainable building, contact:
Anna Jones-Crabtree
Bighorn National Forest
1969 South Sheridan Avenue
Sheridan, WY 82801
Phone: (307) 672-0751

Steve Oravetz
Phone: (406) 329-3184

Sustainable Building Series

9871-2305 Recycling Construction Materials
9971-2307 What Are Green Building Products and Where Do I Find Them?
9971-2311 Using Sustainable Building Guides
A graphic of a building.


The Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, has developed this information for the guidance of its employees, its contractors, and its cooperating Federal and State agencies, and is not responsible for the interpretation or use of this information by anyone except its own employees. The use of trade, firm, or corporation names in this publication is for the information and convenience of the reader, and does not constitute an endorsement by the Department of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at (202) 720–2600 (voice and TDD). To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, D.C. 20250-9410, or call (202) 720–5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

This page last modified June 17, 2002

Visitor since October 1, 1999