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Building design and construction use significant quantities of natural resources and materials. The building industry consumes 3 billion tons of raw materials annually -- 40 percent of the total material flow in the global economy. The manufacturing process of new materials is water and energy intensive and contributes to environmental degradation and pollution. Harvesting, extraction, mining, and processing new materials pollute the air and rivers and threaten ecosystems and wildlife habitat. North America, Europe and Japan consume more than 25 percent of the world's annual 4.5 billion cubic meters of wood production (Worldwatch Institute, 1991). According to the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), at present rates of destruction the rainforests will be gone by 2050. In addition, global wood production is expected to double over the next 30 years. Consumption of other raw materials and natural resources continue to accelerate. And the products we select affect the quality of the spaces we inhabit. We spend upwards of 90% of our time indoors in this country, and the quality of air in our buildings has been proven to have significant negative health impacts on us. The choice of materials can improve or degrade our indoor air quality and we can affect that quality through the materials and products we select. In view of these environmental concerns, sustainable design embodies the following goals:

It is the intention of this Guide to provide a resource to assist designers and other stakeholders in the process of evaluating the comparative characteristics and properties of materials and products with respect to life cycle stages. (Refer to the "Definitions" section for an explanation of life cycle terminology.)

The main body of the Guide is organized according to the material, product, and system descriptions of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) known as MASTERFORMAT™. A secondary path for comparison relies on CSI's building assembly system, UNIFORMAT™. Each building assembly group (Substructure, Shell, Interiors, Services, etc.) is prefaced by a short overview that outlines specific concerns related to the products and systems in that assembly. This is followed by product listings and information designed to help you purchase or specify sustainable building products. Individual products are identified by the CSI 16 Division MASTERFORMAT™ number, and this level is where the bulk of the data resides.

The products are documented and evaluated in eight categories, which contain specific information related to generic or proprietary products. You can click on the Summary Page for any product for a listing of those eight categories and the properties that have been used for comparison. Not all products have information available in all categories, and one of the primary goals of this database is to help product manufacturers understand the type of information owners, designers and practitioners, contractors and facility managers are looking for from them. Whether the products have gone through life cycle assessment, or can make LCA inventory information available anecdotally, this database has attempted to categorize the most important properties that will improve our understanding of product performance throughout product and building life cycles. As more certified Life Cycle information is provided by manufacturers, the evaluation process will improve significantly. The next step in the database development will be an active product input system that will allow manufacturers to add and update their products and LCA information through an approved process.

To further aid you in your decision to design and build sustainably, there is an extensive list of organizations, publications, and computer software in the "Resources" section.

A product's or company's inclusion in this Guide is not an endorsement or guarantee of quality. The responsibility to understand each product's or company's qualities and liabilities before committing it to a project rests with the designer, specifier, and purchaser.

Printing from the Database: Most of the sheets will print on 1 page if you set your "Print Format" to Landscape and "format for 1 page."

To view the charts and explanations in this database, you can click on any of the tabs or underlined titles to find the information you are looking for.

Our approach was to gather as much information pertinent to basic life cycle questions and to assess the authenticity of the information whenever possible. Information was garnered from many sources, all with merit. Where specific factual information was not directly available, we documented anecdotal information when appropriate. Wherever possible, information was gathered from one or both of the more standardized "Life Cycle Assessment" programs (BEES and ATHENA.) But here, again, the data was still subjective because it had to be selected through a comparison system against other products, which might not be relevant to your choices for your project. Wherever possible, we've outlined what the parameters for product comparison are based on, to give you the most accurate interpretation of the data.

Data Gathering:

  1. Review product information in as many resources as possible.
  2. Document which resources have been reviewed, and when, and whether or not they yielded any pertinent material.
  3. Keep track of whether the performance data is for a specific product or for a general range of "product type" (i.e. moisture resistant gypsum board or SHEETROCK Brand, Water Resistant Gypsum Panels versus "gypsum board.") For example, is it an average percent recycled number on steel studs in general, or is it for a particular manufacturer's product?


  1. When information is compiled in the charts, first compare performance information among similar types of products (i.e. all cork flooring, generic, tiles, laminated planks) to set performance ratings. This rating may not indicate any real differences, especially if the product has high performance ratings on sustainable characteristics, because it will not necessarily indicate "good" or "better than" in comparison to other similar "good" products of the same type.
  2. Then, compare generics against other generic types of products (i.e. generic cork tiles versus generic linoleum sheet, tiles, or generic rubber tiles or sheets.) This will give you a different rating because some of these product types definitely perform better than others.


  1. It is our hope that the Minnesota Building Materials Database will become a useful and progressive tool for all those making product-related decisions for building projects. In order for it to be useful it must contain up to date information, and the best way for that to happen is for users and product manufacturers to contribute updates whenever appropriate. Whether that is cost-related information specific to this region or LCA information as it becomes available for specific products, the addition of timely information updates will keep this tool useful. In the near future you will find a link to a product information sheet that can be submitted for review by the database steering committee, and the information, as approved will be added in a timely fashion. New products will also be solicited for inclusion in the database.

PowerPoint Presentation on the Development of the Minnesota Building Materials Database. Download MBMD_Presentation.pdf (3.2 MB).