This is a tall question.
First you need to educate yourself on the difference between "green" and "sustainable."
Green vs sustainable
In a nutshell, I define "green" as simply being less bad.
- As an example, take a hybrid automobile: yes, they save gas and therefore greenhouse emissions, but the batteries they run on are an environmental nightmare (full disclosure, I drive a hybrid car).
- Recycled glass countertops are "green" because they take materials out of the waste stream; however, butcher block countertops are sustainable.
- Sustainability takes into consideration the life cycle of a product, or in the simplest terms, the environmental impact of any one material/product in perpetuity.
For background on Life Cycle Analysis, please see my previous GreenHomeGuide post, "Are laminate countertops such as Formica, Wilsonart, etc., more eco-friendly since they don't have to be mined and shipped around the world?"
Durability and maintenance
As with any design project, it is important to establish the goals of the project. It is often the case that certain goals may conflict, such as budget and aesthetic desires.
When selecting a "sustainable" product over a conventional product, make sure youunderstand the durability and maintenance requirements of both materials.
Although some sustainable materials may have a higher upfront cost, you will often find that they are more durable than a conventional product, making them more cost-effective in the long run because they will not need maintenance or replacement as often, which in turn saves money.
Next, develop a clear understanding of what "green washing" is and how to avoid it. (See my article "Green-Wise, not Green Washed" -- the second installment will be available early June 2011).
Through this exercise, you will be exposed to green certifications. By researching third-party product certifiers such as UL Environment, GreenSeal, and the Carpet & Rug Institute's CRI Green Label Plus, you will discover manufacturers who are committed to developing and marketing sustainable products.
Here are some materials databases you can access, at no cost, that focus on materials for the built environment where you can find some interior finish products.
- US Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star and WaterSense programs. These programs provide third-party certification of appliances and plumbing fixtures.
- BPM Select is a building product search engine developed specificallyfor architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals. BPM Select enables you to search, spec and source building products within a targeted database of over 12,000 manufacturer websites.
I am not aware of a comprehensive list of environmentally conscious manufacturers; however, peruse the posts here on GreenHomeGuide and you are bound to find a wide variety of product manufacturers referenced.
Additionally, Green America is a national nonprofit consumer organization promoting environmental sustainability and social justice through its member retailers and manufacturers. You can certainly find a variety of products in the member database.
Wishing you much success!