Choosing environmentally-friendly building materials is a great way direct design choices in a new build or remodel. While it’s sometimes difficult to know which products are truly environmentally kind and which are the products of a marketing push, eco-friendly countertops can add character and style as well as being good for the planet. Look for good choices in woods, metals, resins, stones and glass.

Glass

Although at first glance a glass countertop may seem unusual, there are several stylish choices that use recycled glass. One is IceStone, featuring tiny particles of glass set into colored concrete. The countertop must be sealed twice a year, adding a maintenance effort not needed by other countertops. Bio-glass also uses recycled glass, but without any other materials in the mix. It’s semi-transparent appearance can be striking, although it cannot stand up to knives — cutting boards are a necessity.

Wood

Bamboo is a hard, strong wood that grows quickly and can be produced sustainably, and is used in countertop design by several manufacturers. When considering the ecological impact of the product remember that most bamboo must be transported from China, adding energy costs.

Other wood choices include salvaged wood or butcher block designs. Salvaged wood can come from anywhere, meaning the coutertop may have a personal connection or an interesting history. Butcher block designs can be created from reclaimed or repurposed woods such as shipping pallets or old buildings. Wood does not work well near heat or water, so these options work best as an island or preparation counter.

Steel

Stainless steel can be recycled indefinitely so it has a long, useful life. It is durable and has a contemporary look that suits many modern cooks. It does tend to collect fingerprints and watermarks, so be prepared to spend time cleaning stainless steel countertops.

Resin and More

Look for recycled resin countertops in a myriad of colors and finishes. 3-Form is one company selling these countertops, and is intent on providing variety while keeping the planet safe. Other interesting options in eco-friendly countertops include pressed paper, stone and glass aggregates or concrete.

Certifications

When choosing sustainably-produced countertops, there are independent organizations that rate and certify products based on several different environmental criteria. Looking for these independent endorsements can guide your choices in creating a green kitchen or bathroom.

The Cradle to Cradle certification gives a high rating to products designed to have a long life cycle and to be safe for the planet and the people on it. Green Guard is a certification for products that protect indoor air quality by giving off low chemical emissions, and the Forest Stewardship Council certifies wood products as coming at least in part from sustainable, responsibly harvested forests.