Think Twice About Making a Building Purchase

In the market for a new building material? Learn how sustainability plays a factor in the purchase of anything from a building to what goes inside!

Sustainability extends beyond the boundaries of a building. It includes the products and materials that are purchased for use in the building, whether paper products or equipment or construction materials. Before making any purchase, a building manager must consider whether the existing product can still be used. Often products are thrown away or recycled while still functioning due to a desire to have the best or newest product on the market.


Here we list the 4 kinds of sustainable goods a building manager should consider before making a purchase.

1. Longer-Life Goods

Most goods purchased in the U.S. have a relatively short usable life (six months or less), either because they are designed this way or because they are replaced by more efficient or technologically advanced goods. This poses a challenge for meeting high-performance sustainable purchasing goals. Before buying a product, a building manager should compare its useful life with that of its competitors and choose the option that lasts the longest.

2. Positive Social and Environmental Impact Goods

While building management ultimately decides on product purchases, vendors can serve as reliable sources of information about products and competitors. Asking vendors (or potential vendors) for products with environmental or social attributes that reduce the impact during the product life cycle is important for sustainable purchasing.

3. Goods from Vendors Committed to Sustainability

Often vendors who sell sustainable products use sustainable business practices themselves. In pursuing sustainable purchasing decisions, building professionals should verify vendors are truly sustainable, and not practicing "greenwashing." Read about vendors’ business practices and sustainability commitments on their websites, and ask direct questions about their commitment to sustainability. In addition, identify whether or not vendors belong to sustainability associations and if they have third-party certifications for products.

4. Durable Goods Based on Lifecycle Costs

To pursue a lifecycle cost approach for purchasing durable goods, effort should be taken to identify the activities and estimate the costs associated with owning the product, as well as other costs, including shipping, transportation, and delivery to the building.

Once the activities are identified, calculation can be made to compare the total costs for different product options. Many products with lower purchase prices have shorter useful lives and can ultimately cost owners more in the long run. By evaluating the total cost of a product in terms of its life cycle, building managers can create an effective business case for sustainable purchases that can result in longer-lasting, higher-efficiency products.

Keep these sustainable goods in mind next time you are looking to upgrade your building materials and products.

This article is adapted from BOMI International’s course High-Performance Sustainable Building Practices, part of the BOMI-HP® designation program. More information regarding this course is available by calling 1.800.235.2664. Visit BOMI International’s website, www.bomi.org.

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