What Is an Eco-Friendly Material? (See These 11 Examples)

A cartoon drawing of the earth in green on a brown "cardboard-textured" background. There are eco-friendly symbols arranged around the earth, including recycling arrows, a frog, a green house, and a bicycle. The words "What Is an Eco-Friendly Material? (See These 11 Examples)" are written across the top in green letters. There is a green cartoon tree in the bottom left corner and a tick (or check mark) in the bottom right.

An eco-friendly material should be at the top of your list when you are building, renovating, or just looking for stylish and sustainable materials.

These materials can help reduce the environmental impact of your project and promote sustainability.

Eco-friendly materials are derived from renewable resources, have a minimal environmental impact, and are recyclable or biodegradable. These materials can be used to manufacture everything from furniture to building products and even clothing; they include bamboo, cork, and straw bales.

Eco-friendly materials are generally more resource-efficient than traditional materials, meaning they use less energy and fewer resources.

In this article, I’ll discuss the benefits and provide examples of eco-friendly materials you can use.

For more information about how to tell whether a material is sustainable, see our article “What Are Sustainable Materials: How To Know For Sure.”

11 Examples of Eco-Friendly Materials

Eco-friendly materials can be used for a variety of applications. Here are eleven examples used in building:

1. Bamboo

Two bamboo plants growing out of the ground. The shorter one on the right is being grasped by a person's hand.
Bamboo grows extremely quickly (up to 24 inches (60 cm) every day. As a result, it’s one of the most renewable building materials available.

Bamboo is a fast-growing and sustainable material, making it one of the most eco-friendly construction materials. It requires very little water to grow and can be harvested in 3 to 5 years.

Given its strength, bamboo is ideal for structural support beams, flooring, and furniture. It can be stronger than many concrete mixtures.

If adequately inspected and maintained, bamboo constructions can last as long as their concrete and timber counterparts — on average, thirty years.

2. Cork

Cork boards after they have been cured. The boards are flat and stacked in piles ten layers thick or more.
Cork boards stacked in a pile after curing. The curing process can take up to six months and allows the boards to flatten and strengthen.

You might not think of cork as a construction material, but it’s an excellent eco-friendly option for insulation, flooring, and even walls.

Cork is a natural material harvested from cork trees without damaging them.

It’s naturally water and fire-resistant so it can be used in various ways in construction projects.

Cork is an excellent insulator and can help regulate the temperature inside your home or office.

3. Hemp

A field of industrial hemp growing under a clear blue sky.
Industrial hemp plants contain very low levels of the active compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive component of cannabis. The absence of significant levels of THC means that the plant can be used without legal or ethical concerns.

Hemp is becoming more and more popular in eco-friendly construction. It’s durable, strong, and relatively lightweight.

Hemp materials can be used for insulation, flooring, countertops, and more.

Hempcrete, a natural concrete alternative that is fireproof, pest-resistant, and incredibly energy efficient, is one of the most popular uses for hemp in construction.

Its production also requires significantly less energy than traditional concrete, making it a great option for building sustainably.

4. Straw Bales

A straw bale house under construction. The wooden frame is largely complete and openings are visible for the windows and doors. Some of the straw bales are stacked along the walls where they will be permanently installed. The rest of the bales are stacked inside the house under the roof to keep them dry.
Straw bale houses are very thermally efficient thanks to the high R-values that the bales provide. They are also quick and easy to build because the bales are easy to handle and work with.

Straw bales are made from easy-to-find, renewable resources. They are also highly sustainable since they’re made from plants that can be harvested repeatedly without depleting resources.

The straw can come from different plants, including rice, wheat, rye, and oats.

The bales are then packed and secured with a wire mesh to create structural blocks that can be used as walls for building projects.

5. Recycled Steel

Recycled steel of various cross-sections stacked neatly in shelving. There are cylindrical pipes at the top and square or rectangular pieces lower down.
Steel is widely recycled, which cuts down on the energy required to produce new structural members and other components of buildings.

This is steel that has been previously used and then recycled so it can be used again in construction. It reduces the energy needed to create steel from raw materials and diverts material from landfills.

You can find recycled steel in everything from structural beams to home framing. The recycled steel can also be painted or coated to protect against deterioration.

6. Linoleum Flooring

A fitter laying linoleum flooring over a concrete floor slab. He is wearing safety glasses and gloves.
Linoleum is manufactured from natural ingredients such as wood flour and linseed oil. It was invented in Yorkshire and manufactured on a large scale in Kirkcaldy, Scotland.

The floors in any construction project can be a major component contributing to any space’s overall look and feel.

Linoleum flooring is made from natural materials such as cork, wood flour, and linseed oil.

The material can take on various colors and patterns to create a truly unique design element.

It’s easy to clean and maintain, increasing the value of this already eco-friendly choice. You can find linoleum flooring in commercial, industrial, and residential projects.

7. Rammed Earth

The Telenor 345 Head Office Complex as it nears completion. It is made from rammed earth and the layers of earth can clearly be seen in the front elevation. There is a small group of people wearing hard hats in the foreground.
The Telenor 345 Head Office Complex near Islamabad, Pakistan. Image courtesy of SIREWALL.

Rammed earth is one of the oldest sustainable building materials around. It’s made by compacting layers of soil to form a sturdy building material to create a high level of thermal mass.

It’s perfect for constructing massive walls, as it can store and release heat to maintain a comfortable interior temperature.

Its durability also makes it a great choice for homes in a wide range of climates, and it can last for centuries with minimal upkeep.

The materials are also often locally sourced, reducing the construction project’s carbon footprint.

8. Recycled Glass

A closeup of the necks of bottles arranged closely together in a vertical position. The bottles are all clean, clear glass with no branding.
Glass bottles can be recycled into all manner of glass products used in the building industry. Using recycled glass helps to keep valuable materials cycling in the circular economy, which benefits the environment and keeps costs down.

A great eco-friendly material for construction is recycled glass. This green building material can be used in various ways, such as countertops and tiles, insulation, and fabric.

It looks great and helps reduce landfill waste, conserve energy, and reduce emissions from producing new glass.

Made from crushed and melted glass, recycled glass is an affordable and excellent alternative to regular glass.

9. Fiber Cement Siding

Cream-colored fiber cement siding with a wood grain effect. The planks are arranged horizontally and each plank slightly overlaps the top edge of the plank below.
Fiber cement siding uses cellulose fibers (often from recycled waste paper) bonded with natural raw materials such as gypsum and water.

Fiber cement is made from sand, cellulose fibers, and Portland cement. It’s an incredibly durable material with better thermal insulation properties than stone or brick and is very resistant to damage. Its primary application is for internal and external walls

Fiber cement siding can be recycled and repurposed, reducing the energy used for production and transportation.

Fiber cement siding does not require additional finishing or treatments like paint or sealant, making it a great choice for exterior construction.

10. Sheep’s Wool Insulation

A piece of sheep's wool insulation held in the cupped hands of a woman. The wool has a slight brown shade to it and is matted together into a rough ball-shape.
Sheep’s wool insulation uses the renewable supply of sheep’s wooly sweaters to make insulation suitable for use in buildings. It is very sustainable and non-toxic.

As an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic insulation, sheep’s wool is a natural material that offers excellent thermal and acoustic properties.

It is made from a naturally sustainable resource and is exceptionally durable and breathable.

Sheep’s wool insulation is also fire and water-resistant, so it is an excellent choice for safely keeping your home warm and energy efficient.

Another property that makes sheep’s wool ideal for any eco-friendly construction project is its ease of installation.

11. Adobe Brick

A well-constructed adobe brick wall with rectangular cross-section blocks held together with mortar.
Adobe walls can certainly stand the test of time. When carefully constructed and held together by mortar made with soil, sand and lime, they can last many decades if not centuries.

Adobe brick is a building material made from clay, sand, and water. This sustainable material was used in ancient cultures to build structures that still stand today due to their impressive durability.

Adobe bricks offer many environmental benefits, such as low energy consumption during production and excellent thermal properties that reduce the need for additional heating or cooling.

Advantages of Using Eco-Friendly and Recycled Materials

A piece of buff-colored paper with an eco-friendly stamp that includes a picture of a tree and the words "eco-friendly" in green. The stamp is resting on the paper next to where it left the mark and there is a thumbs-up sign with a plus symbol in a circle in the top right of the image. These symbols are icons and in a natural shade of green also.
There are many advantages of using eco-friendly and recycled materials, with energy efficiency and better sustainability being key.

Using eco-friendly materials in your construction projects can benefit the environment, improve energy efficiency and reduce indoor air pollution. Some of the benefits include:

  • Energy efficiency. Eco-friendly materials often have excellent insulation properties that help to reduce energy consumption. Using these materials can save money on heating and cooling costs, creating a more comfortable living environment in the process.
  • Durability. Eco-friendly materials are more durable than traditional materials. Many are moisture and rot-resistant and can last for many years.
  • Reduced indoor air pollution. Eco-friendly materials are often made from natural and renewable resources. This helps to reduce indoor air pollution by eliminating harmful chemicals and improving indoor air quality.
  • Increased sustainability. Many eco-friendly materials are designed to be reused or recycled, which helps to reduce waste and keep our planet clean. They help create a more sustainable future for generations to come. You can also reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to global initiatives to reduce pollution.
  • Improved health. Eco-friendly materials are not only durable and energy-efficient but also healthy for the people living in the building. Many of these materials are free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause health problems and aggravate allergies.

Final Thoughts On Sustainable Materials

Eco-friendly materials come in all shapes and sizes. From adobe brick to sheep’s wool insulation, there are a variety of materials that offer environmental benefits.

Not only do they help to reduce energy consumption and indoor air pollution, but many of them are also incredibly durable and long-lasting.

Utilizing these materials in your construction projects can help create a more sustainable future and contribute to global efforts to combat climate change and protect the natural environment.

Plus, you can save money on energy costs.

For more information about sustainable building materials, why not read our article “23 Sustainable Building Materials You Can Use Today?”

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