Below, we discuss sustainable materials.
We explain what they are, give a list of some general examples of materials, and, we also identify sustainable materials across specific uses and industries.
What Is Meant By Sustainable Materials?
Sustainable materials are materials that are sustainable in some aspect (by themselves, or, when used in sustainable products)
Two key areas they might be sustainable is in contributing to sustainable resource management, or, reducing negative environmental impact in some way
Other areas might involve social goals, such as reducing the toxicity of certain materials or substances
In some applications where it’s practical and safe to do so, the most sustainable option might be using no materials at all
What Makes Some Materials More Sustainable?
Materials might be made more sustainable by considering what the materials are made of, how they are manufactured/made, how they perform (or how they are used), and in other ways.
As a few examples:
– They might be made from a renewable resource (instead of a non-renewable resource)
– They might be made from recycled or repurposed material (and therefore help with waste management, and sustainable resource management)
– They might deliver some type of sustainability benefit whilst in use (such as helping to save energy), or when it comes time to dispose of them
In a general sense, it’s also worth noting that all materials, products, and items can be made more sustainable by considering miscellaneous factors, such as making the material with cleaner energy during manufacturing, or generally improving the sustainability of the manufacturing process or the supply chain (and transport) process.
One example of this might be making steel without the use of fossil fuels as energy sources – this is known as ‘green steel’.
Another example might be sourcing from a ‘sustainable supplier’, that might extract, process, and transport their materials in a more sustainable way.
Examples Of Sustainable Materials – A List
Some general examples of materials that might be sustainable in some way, might be:
Some natural materials (as opposed to some synthetic materials)
Some materials that contain recycled or reclaimed content
Some recyclable or reusable materials
Some materials that are more sustainable in some way during their usage stage (such as contributing to energy efficiency or help save energy whilst in use)
Some materials that are designed for better waste management after use (i.e. their design considers their ‘end of life’ and disposal)
Custom or patented materials from individual companies or brands that are designed to be more sustainable in some way
In some instances where it’s practical to do so, the most sustainable option might be using no materials at all.
This reduces the manufacturing footprint, but also contributes to sustainability via zero waste
What Are The Most Sustainable Materials?
The most sustainable materials in a general sense might be the materials that perform the best across the different sustainability indicators
However, when answering this question more specifically, the most sustainable materials might differ depending on the use or function they are being used for.
This differs between different industries and applications, and, we list what might be some of the most sustainable materials across different industries and applications below.
Sustainable Materials For Construction/Building, & Architecture
Some examples of sustainable materials in architecture and construction/building might be:
Metal with recycled content, such as steel or aluminium
‘Green steel’ made without the use of fossil fuels
Some types of wood or timber
Some types of precast concrete
Energy efficient material, like some types of insulation
Some recycled aggregates
Some crushed glass
Some materials made from waste from other industries (such as some cement that uses fly ash waste from other industries)
Materials and substances that are non toxic, or low VOC
Read more about sustainable construction/building in this guide
Sustainable Materials For Clothing & Fashion
Some examples of sustainable materials in clothing and fashion might be:
Some secondhand or pre-used materials and items
Some recycled fibres or fabrics
Some organic materials (like some organic cotton)
Some patented or custom fibres like TENCEL
Read more about sustainable fibres and fabrics in this guide
Sustainable Materials For Furniture, & Interior Design
Some examples of sustainable materials for furniture and in interior design might be:
Some types of new wood
Materials using natural fibres, or plant based fibres
Metal with recycled content
Sustainable Materials For Packaging
Some examples of sustainable materials for packaging might be:
Zero or no packaging (where practical)
Biodegradable or compostable packaging
An example of a less sustainable type of packaging might be single use packaging, with single use plastic packaging being a common example of this.
Read more about sustainable packaging in this guide
Practical Considerations For Sustainable Materials
It might be desirable for sustainable materials to meet certain resource management and environment criteria.
However, materials should also be practical, meet performance standards whilst in use, meet safety standards, meet any industry guidelines, along with abiding by any other relevant regulations in the industry they are used in.
There might be tradeoffs made in trying to meet these different criteria.
1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides