It has become increasingly clear that modern society is addicted to the use of building materials that are damaging to the environment. These can include anything from plastics and other materials derived from oil to metals. However, there is also an increasing move towards the use of sustainable products in architecture. Fortunately, we have a vast repository of knowledge in the use of these materials – much of which resides in the pages of history books – and in the buildings which line the streets that we travel down each day.

Sustainable building materials (otherwise known as ‘green’ building materials) are those which do not harm the environment – either when they are used for construction, not when they have reached the end of their usable lifespan. The use of such materials also reduces the energy footprint of the building. This is important as buildings consume vast amounts of energy – and the resultant pollution is a leading cause of greenhouse gas emission.

So what sorts of materials can reduce the impact that a building has on the natural environment? The use of recycled materials, as well as those sourced from local producers, can both reduce that footprint. Local materials will not require extensive transport – and that alone cuts down on emissions. Recycled and repurposed material can also contribute towards more efficient use of resources.

However, some of the best materials have natural origins – and have been used for centuries. Many of these materials are robust. they are only minimally affected by environmental conditions such as high humidity and temperature fluctuations. This is one of the reasons material such as soil, wood, adobe, cork, bamboo and straw have stood the test of time.

These materials can be either reused in architecture (think about the demand for natural wood flooring for instance) – or can be returned safely to the environment with very little impact. The damnd for materials such as wood has skyrocketed in recent years. However, increased farming of trees – and the growing global focus on sustainability means that the environmental costs of using that particular material have been significantly reduced. Plantations do have some negative impacts due to the fact that monoculture (the growing of a single species) can reduce the natural diversity of a single environment. however, modern farming techniques have reduced the threat of this sort of agriculture.

There are other natural materials that have seen surging demand. Not only due to their minimal environmental impact – but also due to their sheer versatility and attractiveness. one of the most attractive of these is thatch. Thatching of buildings can use a variety of material such as straw, water reeds or even sedge. The resurgence in the popularity of thatching is in part due to the fact that modern fireproofing methods have reduced the likelihood of dangerous blazes – leading to owners having to insure their properties through companies like thatched insurance. However, there can be very little argument that thatching provides a wonderfully rustic appeal.

Using thatch and other biodegradable materials in the modern world are both cost-effective and attractive. The fact that is also environmentally friendly makes it a perfect choice for those who want a unique and striking modern solution to their roofing requirements. Those who see themselves as custodians of the natural world should be supporting products like thatch as viable alternatives to other modern materials.