A bamboo forrest, sustainable building materials

Have you ever wondered about the kind of materials used to build your home and whether they contribute to green building initiatives? Well, today, we’re investigating sustainable construction and the environmentally friendly materials taking over the building scene. Sustainable building materials can make a huge difference in terms of environmental impact, carbon emissions, and energy efficiency. Switching from traditional construction materials to sustainable ones can play a vital role in creating an eco-friendly building – a positive step for our planet. But what building materials are sustainable? Let’s uncover what makes a building material sustainable and why you should consider this for your future projects. Ready? Let’s dive in! 

Reclaimed Wood

Timber wood leftover building materials

Reclaimed Wood is timber repurposed from old buildings and structures, saving new trees from being cut down. Reclaimed wood can come from a variety of sources such as barns, old homes, bridges, and even whiskey barrels. Many people appreciate the unique character and history that reclaimed wood brings to their projects. Architects and designers often incorporate reclaimed wood into buildings such as in exterior cladding, flooring, feature walls and structural beams.

Using reclaimed wood helps prevent deforestation and reduce waste and environmental impact. When old buildings are torn down, the wood is often left to rot or burned as trash. By salvaging this wood, we are giving it a second life while reducing the amount of waste that goes into landfills.


A bamboo forrest, sustainable building materials

Bamboo is famously fast-growing and sustainable; it’s a strong and versatile material. In China, bamboo is still often used as scaffolding on construction sites. Bamboo is an incredibly renewable resource, as it can grow up to 91 cm in a day. It also has a higher tensile strength than many materials used in construction, including steel. Due to its versatility and natural strength, bamboo has a wide range of applications, from textiles to furniture to flooring.

Overall, bamboo is a versatile and sustainable material with a broad range of applications. From building materials to scaffolding, bamboo is a key element in many industries, and its popularity is only likely to increase in the years to come. 

Recycled Metal

Recycled metal requires much less energy to reuse than virgin metal and can be continually recycled. This is because the process of extracting metal from ore requires a lot of energy, as the ore has to be mined, transported, and then processed using high temperatures and chemicals to separate the metal from the other materials. On the other hand, recycled material can be melted down and purified with much less energy, as it has already been extracted from ore in the past.

Recycling metal also reduces the need for new mining, which can have negative impacts on the environment and surrounding communities. By using recycled metal instead of virgin metal, we can conserve natural resources, reduce energy consumption, and minimize waste. 

Rammed Earth

Rammed earth is a natural and abundant material which provides excellent thermal mass. Rammed earth made by compressing layers of earth, gravel, sand, silt, and other materials. As it’s made from natural and locally sourced materials, Rammed Earth has a low carbon footprint associated with transportation.

The thermal mass of rammed is excellent, which means it can store and release heat slowly, making it an efficient material for reducing energy consumption and maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature. This quality can also regulate humidity levels and improve indoor air quality, creating a healthy living space.

Rammed earth has a unique and visually appealing texture that creates a sense of warmth and connection with the natural environment. Its durability and resistance to fire, pests, and weather also make it a low-maintenance material that can last for centuries. 

Straw Bales

Straw bails building material

Straw Bales are used in place of walls; they are a natural material that is both renewable and makes a good insulation material.  Straw bale construction is gaining popularity as people seek to build more sustainable and environmentally friendly homes. The technique of building houses with bales has been around for centuries and has been found to be effective in keeping homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Straw bales can be used as infill material between a wooden or steel frame or as load-bearing walls. They provide excellent insulation and form incredibly sturdy structures that and can withstand high winds and earthquakes. They are also fire-resistant, with some reports suggesting that they can withstand fire for up to 3 hours.

Straw can be harvested and re-planted each year, as they are a byproduct of cereal crops such as wheat, barley, and rice. Using straw bales in construction repurposes this waste material and reduces the amount of material going to landfill.

Straw bale construction does come with some challenges; bales are susceptible to moisture damage, which can lead to mould and rot if not properly protected.

Recycled Plastic

Recycled Plastic can be transformed into durable construction materials, reducing plastic waste. Recycling plastic waste into construction materials has become an innovative way to reduce plastic pollution and promote sustainability. Plastics are recycled into a range of materials in construction, including roofing tiles, stronger concrete, insulation, structure lumber, PVC windows, fences and floor tiles. While eco warriors may hate the idea of using plastic, recycling plastic waste into construction materials is a beneficial way to reduce plastic pollution and promote sustainability.

Green Concrete

Traditional concrete has a bad reputation for its impact on the environment. In fact, concrete is responsible for approximately 5% of all the world’s carbon emissions. This is mainly due to the large amount of heat required to make it. Modern experimental methods of concrete production are tackling this problem by adding magnesium sulphate, which means less heat is needed when making concrete. Not only that, when mixed the concrete effectively absorbs Carbon dioxide – up to 0.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide for each tonne of green concrete.

Plant-based Polyurethane Rigid Foam

Plant-based Polyurethane Rigid Foam provides excellent insulation. It’s made from renewable materials such as soybean oil, castor oil, and other plant-derived oils and extracts. This makes this foam an eco-friendly alternative to traditional products.

The foam is produced by combining the plant-based oil with a polyol (a type of alcohol) in the presence of a catalyst and blowing agent. This mixture is then poured into a mould and allowed to expand and harden.

Plant-based polyurethane rigid foam offers excellent thermal insulation properties, meaning that it can keep buildings warm in winter and cool in summer. It also has good structural strength and can be used in a range of applications, from insulation panels to sandwich panels for walls, floors, and roofs. In addition to its eco-friendly credentials, this type of foam is non-toxic and emits very low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making it safe for use in homes, offices, and other indoor environments.

Low- or Zero-VOC Paints and Finishes

Tins of pain with paint brush

Low- or Zero-VOC Paints and Finishes improve indoor air quality by minimizing pollutants. Low- or zero-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and finishes are becoming increasingly popular among homeowners, architects, and designers. These products are specifically formulated to reduce and eliminate harmful emissions that can have adverse effects on your health and the environment.

Here are some benefits of using low- or zero-VOC paints and finishes:

  1. Improves Indoor Air Quality: Traditional paints and finishes have a high VOC content that can emit harmful pollutants into the air. These can include formaldehyde, benzene, and other toxins that can cause respiratory problems, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. Low- or zero-VOC paints and finishes help to minimize these pollutants, improving the air quality in your home or workplace.
  2. Reduces Environmental Impact: VOCs contribute to air pollution and can also affect water quality when the paint is disposed of. Low- or zero-VOC paints and finishes are formulated with a focus on environmental sustainability, minimizing waste and pollution.
  3. Prevents Health Problems: VOCs have been linked to a number of health problems, including respiratory issues, allergic reactions, and even cancer. By choosing low- or zero-VOC paints and finishes, you can reduce your exposure to these harmful substances and protect your health.
  4. Provides High-Quality Results: Low- or zero-VOC paints and finishes are now available in a wide range of colours and finishes, so you don’t have to sacrifice quality for safety. These products offer the same high-quality results you would expect from a traditional paint or finish without the harmful VOC emissions.

Cool Roofs

Cool roofs reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat, improving energy efficiency. This can result in lower energy costs for buildings, reduced urban heat island effects, and lower air conditioning needs.

Cool roofs can also reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the use of air conditioning and other cooling equipment. Additionally, they can help to extend the lifespan of roofing materials by reducing the exposure to heat and ultraviolet radiation. Overall, cool roofs are a simple and effective way to improve energy efficiency in buildings and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Green Roofs

Eco friendly building materials building designed with green roof

The idea of a green roof is simple, instead of traditional coverings such as ceramic tiles, a building’s roof is covered with vegetation, such as grass or moss, which provides insulation and absorbs stormwater. Green roofs have many benefits, including:

  1. Improved energy efficiency
  2. Reduced stormwater runoff
  3. Improved local air quality
  4. Increased biodiversity in urban areas
  5. Pleasing aesthetic appeal
  6. Increased lifespan of the roof by up to three times


Hempcrete is a concrete-like material made from the hemp plant’s inner woody core, it’s a renewable resource that absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows. This makes it a more sustainable option compared to traditional concrete.

Hempcrete is a sustainable building material that has gained popularity in recent years for its numerous benefits. It has 
 excellent thermal properties, is lightweight, strong and durable, making it ideal for construction.

A unique property of Hempcrete is its ability to absorb and release moisture, which helps regulate indoor humidity levels. This property can help prevent mould growth and improve indoor air quality. When compared to traditional concrete, hempcrete requires less energy in production and generates less waste. Additionally, the inner woody core of the hemp plant used in hempcrete is a byproduct of hemp fiber production, making it a sustainable and cost-effective option.


Mycelium is a type of fungus (mushroom) grown into specific forms and is completely compostable at the end of its life cycle. When grown in controlled conditions, mycelium can be used to create a range of products, including building materials.

Although Mycelium is still in the early days of research and development for use in construction, it is being used to create airtight insulating walls and bricks with good thermal and acoustic dampening properties. The current limitation of Mycelium is its low strength.

Unlike many traditional materials that take hundreds of years to break down in landfill, mycelium products are completely compostable at the end of their life cycle, returning valuable nutrients to the soil.

Wool Bricks

Wool Bricks are made from wool and algae, a natural polymer found in seaweed. They are 37% stronger than traditional bricks.

Wool bricks have several advantages over their traditional counterparts: they are lighter, more flexible, and have better thermal properties, making them ideal for construction projects. They also have a lower carbon footprint, as they require less energy and resources to produce.

There are some limitations to the use of wool bricks, such as their cost (which is currently higher than that of traditional bricks) and their susceptibility to moisture (which may cause them to degrade over time). However, the potential benefits of using wool bricks in sustainable construction projects are significant, and ongoing research is exploring ways to enhance their properties and reduce their production costs. 


Timbercrete is made from sawdust and concrete; it’s lighter than concrete and has better insulation properties. The sawdust acts as a filler, reducing the amount of concrete needed in the mix, making it lighter. Timbercrete is an excellent insulator, making it perfect for homes and buildings located in regions with extreme weather conditions.

Timbercrete is also an affordable construction material that is easy to work with, making it ideal for do-it-yourself projects. Additionally, it is a low-maintenance material with excellent durability, making it a great long-term investment.
Construction companies and architects are increasingly turning to Timbercrete as a popular alternative to traditional concrete. With the growing awareness of the benefits of using eco-friendly materials, it is not surprising that Timbercrete is becoming more widely used in construction projects. It offers an environmentally-friendly, sustainable solution for building construction that is both energy-efficient and cost-effective. 


Ferrock is an iron-rich material that absorbs and seals in carbon dioxide as it dries, it’s even stronger than concrete. It is created out of iron dust and industrial waste materials such as slag and fly ash. The iron is oxidized or rusted, which creates the binding agent that holds the material together. The process of oxidation also helps absorb carbon dioxide from the air and bind it into the material.

Ferrock has been shown to be more durable and stronger than concrete, with a compressive strength of up to 10 times greater. It is also less brittle and has a higher tensile strength, making it more resistant to cracking and other damage.
In addition to its strength and carbon-sequestering properties, Ferrock has other advantages over traditional building materials. It is non-toxic, fire-resistant, and has a lower carbon footprint than concrete, as it uses waste materials that would otherwise be discarded.

While Ferrock is a relatively new material, it has the potential to revolutionize the construction industry and mitigate the impact of carbon emissions through the reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere. 

Recycled Glass

Recycled glass can be used in a variety of ways, including in countertops, tiles, and insulation. It’s a versatile and sustainable material that can be used in a wide range of applications to create beautiful and functional spaces.

Countertops made from recycled glass countertops are becoming increasingly popular as a sustainable option for kitchens and bathrooms. The glass is mixed with a binder material such as epoxy or cement and poured into molds to create a durable and attractive surface. The result is a unique and eye-catching countertop that adds character and depth to any space.


Cork is a renewable resource as it’s harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree; it’s a great insulator and has fire-retardant properties. In addition, cork is biodegradable, recyclable, and sustainable. Cork’s excellent insulating properties make it an ideal choice for flooring, wall tiles, and other building materials.

The harvesting process involves stripping the bark off the tree, which doesn’t harm the tree and allows it to regenerate the bark naturally in about nine years. This makes cork a highly sustainable material as it can be harvested repeatedly without damaging the tree or its habitat. 

Paper Insulation (Cellulose)

Paper Insulation is made from recycled newspapers, which can help save energy and make your home more energy efficient. This eco-friendly alternative to fiberglass is more effective at preventing heat loss and can result in lower energy bills. Plus, you won’t have to worry about irritating fibers causing skin or respiratory issues.

Paper Insulation, also known as cellulose insulation, is a type of loose-fill insulation made from shredded newspaper and other recycled paper materials. The shredded paper is treated with chemicals to make it fire-resistant, and then it is blown into attics, walls, and other spaces.

Earth Bags

Earth Bags are polypropylene or burlap bags filled with soil or earth. They are a low-cost and sustainable building material. They are primarily used for constructing walls and have gained popularity in recent years due to their eco-friendliness and affordability. The bags can be stacked over each other and arranged in different patterns to create unique structures. Earth bags can also be used in combination with other materials such as straw bales, cob, and mud brick to create even more durable and energy-efficient walls. Additionally, the use of earth bags has been promoted as an alternative to traditional construction methods in areas prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.


Cordwood is a construction technique using Short, debarked logs that are stacked across and secured using mortar or cobb. The logs can be easily sourced and provide excellent insulation when used in walls. The cordwood technique is used in a range of building types from traditional log cabin construction to modern timber frame or post-and-beam construction. When properly installed, they provide excellent insulation and can help to reduce energy costs by keeping the building warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Aron Marriott-Smith

Aron looks after our mobile apps and website here at Material Network. Before becoming a software developer, Aron trained as a brick layer in the UK.

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