Fifteen years ago, before the sustainable building groundswell began in earnest, environmentally friendly products had an organic (some might say earthy) look that only the sandal-wearing hippie fringe could appreciate. If you were looking for a refined finish, you looked elsewhere.

Today, of course, there's money in green products. As a result, manufacturers have invested large sums to develop high-performing eco-surfaces that look good in addition to performing well. Those are the kinds of products Santa Monica, Calif.–based LivingHomes uses in its houses.

BORN AGAIN:

August Products - Ion Lithium

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    BORN AGAIN:

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    BORN AGAIN:

    Made from a minimum of 60 percent post-industrial scrap aluminum and polymeric resins, Alkemi is strong and durable, its manufacturer says, and can be sanded and buffed to a matte or high-gloss finish. It can also be shaped using regular woodworking tools. Available in ½-inch or ¾-inch thicknesses, the product comes in sheets measuring 3 feet wide by 8 or 10 feet long. Renewed Materials. 301-320-0042. www.renewedmaterials.com.

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    BOARD STIFF:

    Cardboard never looked so good. The manufacturer's newest creation is a paper-based composite countertop made from 50 percent recycled corrugated cardboard and 50 percent Pacific Northwest softwood pulp. It is stain, scratch, and heat resistant, the maker says. It's also dense enough to accommodate long spans and cantilevers without additional support. Richlite. 888-383-5533. www.richlite.com.

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    BIO LOGIC:

    Bio Glass is made from 100 percent recycled material and can be used for countertops, interior flooring, or walls. The product has a nonporous surface that is easy to clean and an appearance that varies based on the lighting. It comes in slabs measuring 110 inches by 49 inches. Coverings Etc. 305-757-6000. www.coveringsetc.com.

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    Q TIP:

    Finding yet another use for old glass, the manufacturer has unveiled Trend Q, an agglomerate stone product with 72 percent post-consumer recycled material. It's impervious to stains and fading, the company says, and is water resistant, making it ideal for kitchen and bath countertops. Measuring only ¼ inch thick, it comes in 12-inch tiles or custom panels in 50 colors. Trend USA. 866-508-7363. www.trendgroup-usa.com.

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    METAL LIGHT:

    hese recycled-aluminum countertop tiles are one way to get a metal look with easy installation. Each piece has a clear, powder-coated finish that is nonreactive, nontoxic, and stain-proof, the company says. Squares, rectangles, frontwraps, and backsplashes are available. Eleek. 503-232-5526. www.eleekinc.com.

Launched last year by CEO Steve Glenn, LivingHomes is a builder and developer of modern, sustainable, prefabricated homes, and the company places a premium on design as well as the environment.

“We are designing our homes to create the healthiest living environments—and to radically reduce the impact they have on soil, water, air, and energy use,” Glenn says in a release announcing the launch of the company. “We are following the four core tenets of good sustainable design: to reduce, reuse, recycle, and reclaim.” As a result, the builder offers only high–recycled-content countertops in its homes. Lisa Jackson, a representative for the developer, says the important criteria for the company's choice in countertops are sustainability, aesthetics, and price.

These days, it's not that hard to find products that fit those criteria well; the selection is vast. For example, Tacoma, Wash.–based Richlite has made a reputation manufacturing paper-based countertops for residential and commercial applications. Its newest product is a material made from corrugated cardboard and wood pulp. The product contains no dyes or pigments, so the countertops have cardboard's warm color. The manufacturer says it is stain and scratch resistant and can stand up to a hot pot.

“The building industry requires resources in order to grow,” says Don Atkinson, sales and marketing director for Richlite. “The environment requires a reduction in the use of resources to be sustainable. Countertops with recycled resources such as Richlite OCC [old corrugated cardboard] offer a balance and are a step in the right direction.”

The cardboard look might not be for all buyers; some may want a little more refinement in the kitchen. Bio Glass from Miami-based Coverings Etc has it in spades. Bio Glass is made from 100 percent recycled material, but its textured surface has a look unlike any glass you've seen. Its multidimensional appearance and its coloring vary with direct and indirect light.

“The material can be used for counter or work tops, interior flooring, walls, or other decorative purposes,” says Coverings Etc's Sonja Bogensperger. “It's an avant garde product that caters to buyers who value bio-architecture. We foresee builders, interior designers, and trendsetters incorporating this striking glass material into various modern spaces.”

Other manufacturers also have found uses for recycled glass. EnviroGLAS in Plano, Texas, produces an environmentally friendly countertop that is made from 100 percent recycled glass and porcelain terrazzo. The manufacturer says it is heat and scratch resistant and highly resistant to common household stains. Richmond, Calif.–based Vetrazzo offers a similar countertop surfacing product made primarily from cement and curbside-recycling glass.

Miami-based Trend USA produces a recycled glass–based countertop, Trend Q. But instead of producing thick slabs like other manufacturers, the company makes tiles and thin sheets. “It's only ¼ inch thick, so it's lighter in weight,” says JoAnn Locktov, the company's public relations representative. Trend Q has the strength and durability of a normal-sized slab, Locktov explains, “but it can be heated and bent to form a bullnose or backsplash.” Plus, it's easier to install, which should make it a godsend for builders to use.

For more product information, visit ebuild, Hanley Wood's interactive product catalog, at www.ebuild.com.