Sustainable Design and Building Materials

by Rebecca Foss, CSI, CCS, EcoDesign Resources


It used to be that a friend would ask for a recommendation on “any good book” you were reading; nowadays, it’s as apt to be “any good website” you’ve surfed recently! In the realm of sustainable design it seems that scads of new websites appear daily, and weeding your way through them can be time-consuming at best. Here are a few of the tried-and-true sites, along with some new ones that offer a broad range of information on sustainable design, both from design and implementation aspects. Case studies are always interesting, especially when the design teams are willing to share their less successful attempts along with the “best and brightest.” As with all good sites, each of these has a list of related links and resources – one good thing leads to another!

Case Studies and Construction Building Information Sites

Carnegie Mellon University began a campus-wide Green Design Initiative in 1992 to promote environmentally conscious engineering, product and process design, manufacturing, and architecture. The initiative involves forming partnerships with industrial corporations, foundations, and government agencies to develop joint research and education programs which improve environmental quality while encouraging sustainable economic development.

The George Washington University Green University Initiative began as a grassroots movement to implement sustainable practices into all aspects of life at GW. In December 1994, GW and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formed a unique public-private partnership around the Green University Initiative.

Environmental Building News Articles, reviews, and news stories are a prime resource on energy-efficient, resource-efficient, and healthy building practices. Material selection, siting, indoor air quality, daylighting, and other subjects relating to green building practices are addressed.

The National Park Service created this free Sustainable Design database as a guide in design and construction. Providing a wide array of information, you can download this database onto your hard drive and use it as needed.

Iris Communications and Oikos Information for making buildings energy efficient and environmentally responsible, including online databases, newsletters and other references.

Solstice is the Internet information service of the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST), and is your site for Sustainable Energy and Development Information.

The Woods of the World Database provides physical, mechanical, environmental, and woodworking characteristics on 750 common and lesser-known tropical and temperate wood species and on composite and structural wood product. Designed to help locate alternative species whose use will be less ecologically damaging.

Alameda County’s (CA) website on directives, organization, codes and ordinances supporting construction demolition and waste recycling efforts. Comprehensive programs. 

Energy Efficiency

American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACE3) The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing energy efficiency as a means of promoting both economic prosperity and environmental protection. Based in Washington, D.C., ACEEE works closely with the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other local, state, and federal agencies. 

Canada Natural Resources Offers both English and French versions. Energy efficiency helps Canadians save money, ensures the responsible use of natural resources and helps protect our environment. This site has helpful tools and information to increase the energy efficiency of homes, vehicles, businesses, institutions and governments. 

Design for Environment (DfE) This DOE program was created to help planners, engineers, and others incorporate pollution-prevention strategies into the design phase of processes, facilities, and products. In other words, it helps designers to minimize or eliminate pollution and waste up front. 

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network (EREN) Here is DOE's online source of energy efficiency and renewable energy information. 

Energy Effiiciency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse (EREC) EREC offers information and assistance to a broad audience (consumers, educators and students, builders, businesses, government agencies, entrepreneurs) on a wide range of topics by providing publications, customized responses, and referrals to energy organizations. The collection of EREC fact sheets covers such topics as energy-efficient windows, solar hot water heating, loose-fill insulations, solar power, and landscaping for energy efficiency. 

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) Nonprofit research and educational foundation with a vision across boundaries. Its mission is to foster the efficient and sustainable use of resources as a path to global security. 

Evaluation and Rating Systems

Minnesota Sustainable Design Guide: Cooperative effort of the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance (MOEA), Hennepin County, and Minnesota DNR. Educational format that teaches as it helps design teams set and evaluate strategies and guidelines for successful projects. Case studies. 

BEES Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability Technical Manual and User Guide Government sponsored, software evaluation system using rational, systematic technique for selecting environmentally and economically balanced building products. The technique is based on consensus standards and designed to be practical, flexible, and transparent. 

Local Information

Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy's Sustainable Minnesota (ME3): Non-profit organization with information on sprawl, construction waste recycling, code and ordinance innovations, climate change effects on Minnesota's economy, etc. 

Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance: Resource site for state supported initiatives on recycling, reuse and remanufacture of products; education and programs for businesses, schools, consumers. Grants program for research, educational opportunities. 

As with all good sites, each of these has a list of related links and resources - one good thing leads to another!

Rebecca Foss, the president of EcoDesgin Resource, is actively promoting sustainable design. Contact her by phone at 612-375-8703, or by e-mail at

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