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Is fiber cement a green building product?

Green has become a catch-all term used by virtually every building product's manufacturer. As an example, when I attended the International Builders' Show, I picked up a brochure for fasteners that featured endorsements from seven organizations making a case for the product's environmentally friendly qualities. I would never think of fasteners as green, but now I am wondering why not -- with all those endorsements?

What does green mean?

As a discriminating consumer I still struggle with the concept of what is actually green. Of the seven organizations touting the green virtues of those fasteners, I recognized only one. The others looked important, but I had never actually heard of any of them. So, how does one know fact from fiction?

One of Merriam-Webster's definitions of "green" is "tending to preserve environmental quality (as by being recyclable, biodegradable or nonpolluting)." I like this because it fits with my personal notion of green; it is intuitive and it does not require several paragraphs of explanation. Using the Merriam-Webster definition, how well does James Hardie's fiber cement fit the definition?

Is James Hardie a green manufacturer?

Can fiber cement preserve the quality of our environment? James Hardie starts with three basic raw materials: sand, cellulose fiber and cement. None of these ingredients are in short supply and none threaten the environment during extraction.

  • Sand is sourced nearby to James Hardie's manufacturing plants, reducing the energy required to transport it.
  • Cellulose fiber is derived from trees grown expressly for this purpose. No virgin forests are harvested.
  • James Hardie uses locally produced cement and does not rely on imported cement, which may be used by some other fiber cement manufacturers.

In addition to using locally sourced raw materials, James Hardie also employs these leading, environmentally friendly manufacturing techniques.

  1. During the manufacturing process, water is constantly recycled via a closed-loop water system. Ultimately, this eliminates the discharge of pollutants from James Hardie's manufacturing plants.
  2. James Hardie is proud to be the only U.S. manufacturer of fiber cement using a system that captures volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced during the autoclave process.
  3. Over five years ago James Hardie initiated a program called Zero-To-Landfill that rewards its manufacturing facilities for improving their use of scrap materials and finding alternative uses for materials that cannot be reintroduced into the manufacturing process.

Are James Hardie products green?

James Hardie fiber cement embodies the green standard: It's durable, low-maintenance and serviceable for much longer than other cladding products. If you apply the Webster definition of "tending to preserve environmental quality," the longevity of James Hardie's fiber cement siding -- 100 years with proper maintenance -- means less frequent replacement. The impact on landfills over time is minimized.

So how well overall does James Hardie's fiber cement exemplify green products and manufacturing? Green Builder magazine polled its readers, members of the building community. They gave it a resounding thumbs-up with 35.8 percent of respondents agreeing it is, by a wide margin, the greenest siding product. Now that's an endorsement!

About the Author

Matt Spencer is the National Installation Manager for James Hardie Building Products, the largest manufacturer of siding in North America. Matt and his team educate installers, builders, and design professionals on the proper techniques to install fiber cement siding. Matt also works with James Hardie's R&D group to develop and improve installation practices for new and existing products. Matt has been with James Hardie for eleven years holding prior positions in sales and product development. He earned a master's from Northwestern University in product design and development.

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