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Buildings have an enormous direct and indirect impact on the environment. In the United States, buildings account for 39% of total energy use, 12% of the total water consumption, 68% of total electricity consumption, and 38% of carbon dioxide emissions.  Buildings not only use resources such as energy and raw materials, they also generate waste and air pollution.  Over the past few years the market for “green” building materials has greatly expanded.  Buildings can now be constructed with recycled materials, and designed or retrofitted with materials and equipment that maximize energy and water efficiency and safeguard indoor air quality.  


Top 5 Steps a Food Service Facility Can Take to Increase Energy Efficiency

1.  Wherever possible, reuse furnishings and building materials throughout the space

2.  Look for products made from post consumer recycled materials, such as carpet tiles made from recycled carpet backings or recycled glass countertops.

3.  If you cannot find products made from post consumer waste that meet your needs, the next best option is a product made from pre consumer recycled content (also called post industrial content).

4.  Purchase products made from rapidly renewable materials, such as bamboo.

5.  If you can not find reclaimed wood or products made from recycled wood scraps, ask your vendors for FSC Certified wood products. These products are made from virgin wood that has been responsibly and legally produced.


  1. Flooring

There are many environmentally friendly flooring options that meet or exceed the performance characteristics of conventional materials:


  1. Concrete:

Concrete is durable, waterproof, and cheap, and largely composed of recycled, local materials.


  1. Natural linoleum: “Marmoleum”

Marmoleum can be made from cork, linseed oil, wood flour, or pine resin. It is available in a wide range of colors and designs, and is suitable for bathrooms and high traffic areas since it is waterproof, scratch resistant, and comfortable. Unlike vinyl, marmoleum is petroleum-free and made from renewable resources.  The manufacturing of Marmoleum also generates very little waste, because nearly all factory waste is recycled back into product. 


  1. Bamboo

Bamboo is a fast growing, rapidly renewable grass. It can be harvested in three to five years and requires no pesticides or fertilizers. It is harder than most wood species and has a very similar appearance. Bamboo performs well and is reasonably priced.


  1. Sustainable Wood

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified wood ensures that the forest from which the flooring is produced was managed sustainably: preserving old-growth tree species and respecting the property rights on indigenous groups. Certified wood flooring products are available in a wide variety of domestic and exotic species, but domestic wood is preferable due to the environmental costs of transporting lumber over long distances.


  1. Adhesives

Regardless of which flooring option is chosen, it is crucial to select low-toxicity, zero-VOC adhesives and coatings to maintain the health benefits that come from choosing natural flooring options. Conventional adhesives contain a high content of chlorinated solvents, which are harmful to human health.


The GRA recommends low-toxicity water-based or plant-based adhesives, which minimize the amount of toxic gasses and VOCs released from the adhesive.


  1. Paint

Most standard paints contain petroleum-based ingredients that emit volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) into the air.  Even "low-VOC" paints may still contain odorous, toxic, or otherwise undesirable ingredients such as ammonia, formaldehyde, crystalline silica, acetone, fungicides, and bactericides. These compounds may not affect occupants, but can be hazardous to painters, and result in environmental degradation after disposal. Whenever possible, choose zero-VOC paints and colorants.


  1. Ceilings

The major constituents of acoustical ceiling tiles are typically mineral wool, cellulose, starch, clay, fiberglass, and paint. Mining raw materials produces soil erosion, pollutant runoff, and habitat loss. However, the manufacture of recycled content acoustic ceiling tiles does not generate much waste because scrap material is recycled back into the process. Tiles made from recycled materials are available from a number of manufacturers and can contain as much as 80% recycled content.


Biobased, cellulose ceiling tiles are another option and they are suitable for dry areas and moderate acoustical requirements. Where acoustical demands are higher, specify mineral fiber tiles or cellulose tiles that are coated with low-VOC, water-based paint and do not contain vinyl facing.


  1. Wall Coverings

Wall coverings should be made from rapidly renewable materials, and contain low or zero-VOC’s.  Wall covers should also be “breathable”, thereby reducing mold and mildew on the wall.


  1. Countertops

Paper composite countertops are a durable blend of 100% post consumer recycled paper and non-toxic, non-petroleum based resins. Other composites include wheat and sunflower, and 100% recycled currency and recycled plastic. All varieties composed of natural looking, stain and heat resistant material.


  1. Cabinetry

Particleboard, which is composed of wood fibers bound together by resins, is commonly used in all types of building construction. Particleboard is often bound with resins containing formaldehyde, which can pollute indoor air.  Particleboard may also contain virgin wood fibers rather than recycled wood particles.  For this reason, MDF fibreboard and Agriboard are better alternatives to conventional particleboard. MDF fibreboard is made entirely from waste produced during wood processing and does not use additional formaldehyde (other than that which is naturally occurring in the wood).


Agriboard is made from recycled agricultural fiber (such as wheat, sunflower seed, or rice) or from Forest Stewardship Council Certified particleboard. The best options are colored with non-toxic, water based dyes, which offer a wider variety of finished looks for the surfaces. The resin in this product is free of formaldehyde.


  1. Furniture         

Wherever possible, use salvaged materials throughout your facility. Salvaged materials include pieces of furniture reused from a previous restaurant, as well as materials taken from old buildings or salvage warehouses.


Another option is furniture made from recycled materials, such as recycled plastic, wood, and metal furniture. Biobased and rapidly renewable materials, such as bamboo or FSC certified wood are also an option as long as they are finished without toxic stains and adhesives. Many commercial furniture suppliers carry recycled and natural products due to the recent rise in demand for green building materials. 


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