And anyone who passionately preached about the subject was a tree hugging unwashed hippy. These days, however, the garden is swamped in sustainability information and it now seems everyone is promoting their product’s green credential.

A while back, there was a period of confusion where it was extremely difficult to track down and understand the green credentials of a product or make an accurate assessment of the materials and processes that made one product more sustainable over another.

Then came a short period of clarity where a number of far sighted businesses working within the design and build arena published the detail and life cycle processes behind their products and the air was clear, the sun shone brightly and all was rosy in the green eco garden. However, the garden is now swamped again it’s become impossible to pick out the choice shoots from the weeds. Everyone now claims their product has a green credential and so confusion reigns again.

The problem stems from a manufacturer being keen to ensure their product or service gets placed on a business register of acceptable suppliers rightly claims they have an element that means they tick the green box.

The tangled mess that has grown from this battle not to be left on the supplier rubbish heap, has led designers and specifies back up the garden path of confusion. How far, for instance, do you take a manufacturing process to calculate a product’s green credentials?

How green is green?

Take something like photovoltaic cells, a tremendous product producing energy from the suns rays. What could be greener than that? Well, most things if you account for the manufacturing of the units. The largest manufacturers of photovoltaic cells are currently based in the Far East, a continent not noted for being particularly very ecologically sound.

The process involves mercury and lead, two of the most Eco unfriendly and poisonous elements in the world and without getting too political, the region has one or two slightly questionable employment laws. The other consideration that makes a mockery of the basic eco credentials of the product is the location of the manufacturing plants. Almost halfway across the world from the UK I fail to see how the mileage clocked up in transit alone can mean that it ticks all of the accreditation boxes.

The confusion doesn’t just centre on products that have a long journey ahead of them or those that have obviously toxic substances involved. Many products now profess to having a substantial recycled content or a significant proportion that can be reused. But what about the energy expended in extraction and reuse? Please don’t misunderstand me. It’s absolutely right and proper that everything has a continuous cycle of use and reuse but what makes one product better than another?

Cradle to cradle

To my mind, the outright winner must be the so called ‘cradle to cradle’ product that clearly demonstrates a minimum loss of elements and is processed and re-engineered close to the intended market. Second must be the products that have already had a life followed by those that can have a new life. Perhaps it is more applicable in the eco garden that suppliers actively promote their product as ultimately destined for the compost heap.

The green and sustainable debate doesn’t end there. It’s not only about Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, it’s also about wellbeing and control which opens up a whole new can of earth worms. Building systems work far more efficiently when they have a central control and are zoned. But all the latest best practice guides emphasise the benefits to staff of individual control.

The two scenarios are completely poles apart. Being able to adjust light and temperature to your own desired level will undoubtedly keep you happier, more comfortable and hopefully more productive. But from an energy standpoint it couldn’t be any worse. Having one control set higher than the norm and the next lower means that the system is fighting itself and the cooling heating cycle gets progressively more exaggerated.

All benefits of an efficient system are lost as the system fights itself and not the environment as a whole. Another blight in our eco garden with exactly the same issue concerns air quality. Access to fresh air through an opening window will compromise any air conditioning system making for an environment that is not acceptable to any of the occupants.

So as yet not everything is rosy in the green garden, as what’s good for the individual is not always best for the environment. And while the intentions are honourable and right, the best way to create the ultimate garden of Eden is a solution yet to be dug up by the custodians of sustainability accreditation, and that’s a worry.