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Greening the Built Environment: How Construction Materials Can Make Buildings More Sustainable

Greening the Built Environment
Reported by
Jill Pope

Posted March 22, 2007


On October 25, 2006, the Academy's Physical Sciences and Engineering Program launched the first meeting of the Green Science and Environmental Systems Discussion Group. Appropriately enough, the meeting's focus was green construction materials: specifically, concrete and glass.

Christian Meyer spoke about ways we can engineer concrete to make it more environmentally friendly, including replacing cement with flyash and incorporating recycled glass as aggregate.

Tom Richardson talked about how advances in window technology since the 1970s have meant huge savings in energy and dollars. He described his work on electrochromic windows, which can change from transparent to reflective and back again.

Chris Garvin discussed how researchers developing the new materials can overcome some of the resistance to adopting these products in markets and new buildings.

Use the tabs above to find a meeting report and multimedia from this event.

Web Sites

Making Concrete Sustainable

Columbia University Concrete Materials Research
Christian Meyer's site at Columbia University contains detailed information about research conducted in the lab.

Headwaters Resources (a fly-ash supplier)
This site discusses fly ash as a replacement for cement and describes its environmental impact. Contains a resource library with case studies and technical bulletins.

If You Can't Control the Weather, Control the Windows

Daylighting the New York Times Headquarters Building
Berkeley Labs details its involvement in helping The New York Times Company test lighting technologies at its mock-up building in Queens.

Transition Metal-Hydride Switchable Mirrors
Article from Berkeley Lab's Science Beat online magazine about switchable mirrors, including a video of a mirror in action.

Windows and Daylighting Publications
This Web site contains PDF files of the publications of the Windows and Daylighting Group in the Building Technologies Department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Moving Green Materials Into Buildings

This industry newsletter highlights many new green building materials and contains a database of green building case studies.

Cook+Fox Architects
This Web site details the design firm's involvement in several green building projects.

Green Building Case Studies
Compiled by California's Integrated Waste Management Board, this site describes many commercial and residential buildings that showcase green building materials and systems.

Natural Resources Defense Council's Building Green
This "Webby" award-winning site provides case studies of several new buildings across the United States that take an environmentally sound approach.

U.S. Green Building Council
This Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization is devoted to sustainable building and has established the LEED green building rating system. The group offers project certification, professional accreditation, training, and resources.


Hawken P, Lovins A, Hunter L. 2000. Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. Back Bay Books, New York.

Spiegel R, Meadows D. 2006. Green Building Materials: A Guide to Product Selection and Specification. John Wiley & Sons, New York.


Making Concrete Sustainable

Meyer C. 2005. Concrete as a green building material. Electronic Proceedings, ConMat'05, Third International Conference on Construction Materials: Performance, Innovations and Structural Implications, Vancouver, Canada (Invited Presentation; PDF, 39 KB) Full Text

Meyer C. 2003. Glass concrete. Concrete International (June): 55-58. (PDF, 622 KB) Full Text

Morris C. 2004. A green window into the urban future: Glass concrete. Columbia News (February 24). Full Text

Vilkner G, Meyer C, Shimanovich S. 2004. Properties of glass concrete containing recycled carpet fibers. BEFIB 2004, 6th RILEM Symp. on Fiber-Reinforced Concrete, Varenna, Italy. (PDF, 1.81 MB) Full Text

If You Can't Control the Weather, Control the Windows

Apte J, Arasteh D, Huang Y- J. 2003. Future advanced windows for zero-energy homes. ASHRAE Transactions 109: 871-882.

Liu G, Richardson TJ. 2005. Sb-Cu-Li electrochromic mirrors. Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells 86: 113-121.

Richardson TJ. 2003. New electrochromic mirror systems. Solid State Ionics 165: 305-308.

Richardson TJ, Slack Jl. 2003. Lithium-based electrochromic mirrors. Proceedings of the Electrochemical Society 03-17: 208-217.

Richardson TJ, Slack Jl, Armitage R, et al. 2001. Switchable mirrors based on nickel-magnesium films. Applied Physics Letters 78: 3047-3049.

Richardson TJ, Slack Jl, Farangis B, Rubin MD. 2002. Mixed metal films with switchable optical properties. Applied Physics Letters 80: 1349-1351.

Richardson TJ, Slack Jl, Rubin MD. 2001. Electrochromism in copper oxide thin films. Electrochimica Acta 46: 2281-2284.

Slack JL, Locke JC, Song S-W, et al. 2006. Metal hydride switchable mirrors: factors influencing dynamic range and stability. Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells 90: 485-490.

Moving Green Materials Into Buildings

Kats G. 2003. The costs and financial benefits of green buildings: a report to California's sustainable building task force. (PDF, 174 KB) Executive Summary

Pogrebin R. 2006. 7 World Trade Center and Hearst Building: New York's test cases for environmentally aware office towers. New York Times (April 16). Full Text

Ritter J. 2006. Building 'green' reaches a new level. USA Today (July 26; PDF, 96 KB).


Christian Meyer, PhD

Columbia University
e-mail | web site | publications

Christian Meyer is a professor of civil engineering at Columbia University. He spent his early years as an engineer with A.C. Martin and Associates in Los Angeles, and Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation in Boston. He specializes in structural analysis and design with primary interests in concrete structures, earthquake engineering, and concrete technology.

His research activities include the development of mathematical models to simulate the response of concrete frame elements to cyclic loads, and damage mechanics-based models to simulate low-cycle fatigue behavior of concrete with and without fiber reinforcement. His most recent research efforts are directed at finding ways of using waste glass as aggregate in concrete, both in utilitarian application, such as masonary block units, as well as decorative architectural concrete products.

Christian Meyer is a registered professional engineer in the states of New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. He has consulted extensively for private industry and public agencies and testified as an expert witness. He has published more than 100 technical articles, including a textbook on the design of reinforced concrete structures. Meyer received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

Thomas J. Richardson, PhD

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
e-mail | web site

Thomas Richardson earned a BS in chemical physics at Michigan State University and a PhD in inorganic chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. He leads a materials research team in the Windows and Daylighting Group, Building Technologies Department of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He also heads a group of chemists developing lithium batteries for the U.S. Department of Energy's Batteries for Advanced Transportation Technologies (BATT) program and another pursuing lightweight hydrogen storage solutions for fuel cell cars.

Richardson's work in the field of electrochromic windows has been focused on dynamic reflecting coatings that act as switchable mirrors in both the visible and near infrared regions of the solar spectrum. These windows have the potential to reduce energy consumption for heating, cooling, and lighting of commercial and residential buildings while at the same time improving user comfort and productivity. He won an R&D 100 Award in 2004 for this technology.

Chris Garvin

Cook+Fox Architects
e-mail | web site

Chris Garvin specializes in environmental architecture and sustainable materials research. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, he has been working on sustainability in the built environment since 1998. Garvin is also the co-chair of the AIA New York Chapter Committee on the Environment (COTE) and an Environmental Leadership Senior Fellow. He has lectured on a diverse range of issues related to the built environment and teaches several continuing education courses at Pratt Institute.

Jill Pope

Jill Pope is a science writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn, NY.