Green Project Specifications

Working drawings and specifications are the essential working documents used by a contractor to bid and build a project. Standard building specifications are written documents that go with the drawings and describe the materials as well as the installation methods. They also prescribe the quality standard’s of construction expected on the project.

When specifying green building materials, it is best to follow the Construction Specifications Institute’s (CSI) MasterFormat.™ Environmental goals for a specific project can easily be implemented into CSI MasterFormat.™ The following Web Page will briefly explain CSI MasterFormat™ and identify several areas to incorporate environmental specifications into a project. It will also outline the CSI SectionFormat™ with a sample environmental specification, describe model specifications in general and provide links to some example environmental specifications.

CSI MasterFormat™

CSI standard formatting is used throughout the construction industry to format construction specifications in building contracts. The purpose of this format is to assist the user in locating specific types of information. Information contained in CSI’s MasterFormat™ is organized in a standardized outline form within 16 divisions. Each division contains a number of sections. Each section is divided into three parts—”general,” “products,” and “execution.” Each part is organized by a standardized system of articles and paragraphs. (Spiegel & Meadows, 1999)

Green building specifications can be easily incorporated into CSI MasterFormat™ in three general ways, as follows:

Environmental Protection Procedures

Division 1 is the area to dictate general administrative and procedural requirements as they apply to the entire project.  Adding a section on Environmental Protection Procedures to Division 1 offers a forum to state the project’s environmental goals.  This is the main section, often referred as Section 01350, where special environmental requirements can be identified.  Environmental procedures can address resource efficiency, energy efficiency, “healthy indoor air quality, environmental construction techniques, building component reuse, and construction recycling” (Froeschle, 1999).

There are several other sections within Division 1 where environmental specifications should be included.  For example, general requirements for recycled content levels can be included under Section 01610, Basic Product Requirements.  In addition, a requirement for a Construction and Demolition (C&D) Waste Management Plan can be submitted under Section 01570, Environmental Controls.  This section can also include a statement that requires contractors to talk about the C&D Waste Management Plan at the pre-construction conference (Berg, 2000).

Aside from the environmental procedures section and other sections within Division 1, it is important to incorporate environmental specifications within all 16 CSI Divisions.

Implementing Green Building Materials

Divisions 2 through 16 contain technical specifications for building materials, including material types and installation methods. Specifications that describe the unique product qualities of green building materials and products are often contained in these divisions. Environmental specifications are the attributes that support the project-specific environmental goals, such as low toxicity, minimal chemical emissions, recycled content, recyclability, durability, moisture resistance, and environmental and ecological installation procedures (Froeschle, 1999).

For example, if the project goals include the achievement of exceptional indoor air quality, certain product specifications may require minimum emission standards for toxic chemicals, such as volatile organic compounds (VOC) and formaldehyde. These material specifications may be specifically tailored to each specific building product or building material classification. The specifications must be grounded in real world conditions for building materials and products. For example, there is no point in writing a product specification that cannot be achieved by any building product manufacturer.

Practical Application of Environmental Specifications

Another application of environmental specifications includes addressing the installation, protection, handling and cleanup of specific building materials (even conventional products). They ensure that work is performed in a manner consistent with the environmental goals of the project. The incorporation of a green material alone may not contribute to “greening” the project if it does not function as intended due to improper installation or if it becomes contaminated as the result of careless handling.

Project specifications should be reviewed in detail to evaluate the need for environmental procedures where applicable, and to determine if certain procedures are in conflict with project goals and the general environmental requirements listed in Division 1.

The following outline illustrates CSI’s three-part SectionFormat:

Sample CSI SectionFormat™ for environmental specifications of products

Part 1. General

1. Environmental Requirements

  1. List applicable environmental standards, regulations, and requirements.
  2. Include VOC requirements.
  3. List recycled content requirements.
  4. Identify reuse, recycling, and salvaging methods.
  5. Reference Division 1 Environmental Procedures for Construction.
    i) VOCs or chemicals to avoid.
    ii) General environmental procedures.
    iii) Reuse, recycling, or salvaging requirements.
    iv) Healthful building maintenance.

Part 2.  Products

2. Specific Environmental Product Attributes

  1. Product contains no xxxx chemicals (list and identify).
  2. Product contains xx percent recycled content:
    i) Identify postindustrial recycled content.
    ii) Identify postconsumer recycled content.
  3. Product is recyclable after useful life.
  4. Product is certified by an independent third party.
    i) Recycled content.
    ii) Sustainably harvested.
  5. Product is durable (list warranty).
  6. Product is moisture resistant (if applicable).
  7. Include any other environmental attributes.

Part 3.  Execution

3. Environmental Procedures

  1. Address environmental installation of materials.
  2. Include protection of materials.
  3. Identify environmental methods of cleanup.
  4. Include recycling of scrap during construction.
  5. Reference Division 1 Environmental Procedures.

Sample Green Specifications

Sample green specifications are available to help facilitate the development and application of environmental specifications. Most specifications are organized according to CSI Masterformat. Green specifications also can be used to benchmark the efficacy of other environmental specifications.

Sample specifications are usually intended to supplement, not replace standard specifications. They are designed to be edited, adapted and incorporated into the standard specifications of a building project. Model green specifications generally augment standard specifications by providing additional environmental information, such as Sustainable Building criteria, definitions, and performance requirements. Below are references/links to sample green specifications, which are intended to provide general environmental guidelines for product selection, installation, and the handling of construction waste and demolition materials:


  1. Henry Berg, Environmentally Responsive Specifying, It’s Not Easy Building Green Workshop, PG&E Center, San Francisco, May 3, 2000. (Back)
  2. Lynn M. FroeschleEnvironmental Assessment and Specification of Green Building Materials,The Construction Specifier, October 1999, p. 53. (Back)
  3. Ross Spiegel and Dru Meadows, Green Building Materials: A Guide to Product Selection and Specification, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1999.  (Back)

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