A Canadian university known for its commitment to sustainability has launched an online tool to help users select environmentally friendly materials for new construction and renovation projects.

The Material Analysis Tool (MAT) from McGill University is an online ranking system that distills manufacturer information to assist users in the selection of building products that are healthy and environmentally responsible. Designed to help McGill University staff and contractors, the MAT is also available to the public.

McGill is a very large purchaser of new building material in the region of Montreal and is currently managing approximately 500 construction and renovation projects. Frustrated with the available tools for making sustainable building decisions, McGill’s facilities staff, with the support of the university’s Sustainability Projects Fund, set out to develop something better, says facilities architect Emmanuelle Lapointe, initiator of the project.

“Figuring out exactly which products are best for McGill has always been a bit of a puzzle” she says. “There are a variety of criteria that could go into making a product sustainable. You might ask: Is it locally manufactured? Is it non-toxic? Was the raw material extracted in a responsible fashion? Is it durable? Once you start comparing multiple products along these various criteria, it’s easy to get confused or caught up in marketing language. MAT will help all of us make better, more sustainable product choices, according to the sustainability criteria we believe are most important.”

MAT relies on seven criteria: certification, durability, health impacts, rapidly renewable content, recycled content, recyclability, and region of manufacture and extraction. Each of these criteria are weighted and summed to create a score for each product in the database, allowing the designer to rank like-products. This will help users to identify materials in order to conform to green building rating systems such as LEED, says Lapointe.