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As society has become more conscious of our environmental impact, we’ve all begun to think about how we can have a lighter footprint on the planet. One area you may not have thought about is roofing. In recent years, more and more homeowners and homebuilders are beginning to consider sustainable roofing. But what exactly does that mean?

One way of thinking about sustainability in roofing is considering where the materials being used have been sourced. When using this criterion, the only genuinely sustainable materials are wood shakes and shingles. And that’s only if the wood comes from a source that replaces the trees it harvests. Wood is a sustainable resource, but only if it’s treated as such.

Another way of defining roofing materials’ sustainability is by considering how they can be recycled or reused when their life on a roof has come to an end. Wood again has an advantage since it is biodegradable and can be recycled. Other materials have the potential to be repurposed, but it very much depends upon the way the roofing is manufactured and any special treatments it may be given. It’s something that needs to be researched for each particular case.

A roofing material might also be thought of contributing to sustainability if it reflects or absorbs sunlight so that it reduces the amount of energy used to maintain the climate inside the building. Some types of clay, concrete, and metal roofing are suitable for this purpose.

A completely different way of thinking about the sustainability of roofing materials is to consider their usefulness beyond merely covering a building. The most common example is the solar panels that are springing up on buildings across the country. The panels create energy, which is used to offset some of the power the building uses, reducing the building’s carbon footprint.

Another example is including landscaping on the roof to deflect sunlight (lowering energy use), clean the air, and decrease the building’s impact on the surrounding ecology. Some buildings even use roofing to capture rainwater for use in landscaping.

More options are available than ever to a builder or homeowner looking for sustainable roofing, and innovative ideas continue to spring up.