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Green Grows Up: Building in the Age of the Circular Economy

There’s no denying that the green building movement has made tremendous strides to reduce impact on people and planet by improving efficiencies in water and energy consumption. But bigger challenges remain: We are plundering our world of precious, finite resources at an increasing rate.

Thus, we must usher in the next era in the built environment—the materials economy.

Cradle to Cradle[1] has long provided a galvanizing platform to help designers fully consider the environmental and human impacts of materials in the built environment beyond their immediate lifecycle. Now, with the concept of a global circular economy taking root, the Cradle to Cradle products program provides a framework for developing and verifying materials for the circular economy that is more relevant than ever—and the conditions are right to make the economic case for a materials revolution.

In the future, we will create buildings that are essentially material banks whereby the materials a building contains are selected based upon principles of circular design, material health, and design for disassembly and recovery. In turn, this approach will help owners realize greater economic value, occupants have improved health, and the environment bear less of the burden of growth and consumption.

There is economic value in the materials that are used every day in the built environment. But, we need to design products, buildings, and cities differently to realize that value. When we create value through intelligent design, we not only create economic value but we also create positive impacts for people and the planet.

Following in the footsteps of William McDonough and Michael Braungart, that is exactly what our new initiative, Built Positive, aims to do. Built Positive is a co-creative movement to increase the built environment’s positive impact on people, planet, and economy by designing for circularity, innovating to improve inputs, and quantifying positive impact from the molecule to the metropolis. Built Positive will help the sustainable design community to build what is next.

What Is Built Positive?
Through circular design and circular value chains, materials in buildings sustain their value so that they function as banks of valuable materials. This shift allows the building sector to produce less waste, use fewer virgin resources, slow the usage of resources to a rate that meets the capacity of the planet, and improve human health while creating true value for owners and occupants.

The key concepts of the Built Positive movement are as follows:

  • Circular Design: Everything is a resource for something else. Intentionally eliminate the concept of waste through design at all levels:  material, product, and building.
  • Material Health: Quality assurance and value retention through the use of materials that are verified to be safe and healthy for humans and the environment.
  • Design for Disassembly, Reuse, and Recovery: Buildings that can be easily deconstructed so that materials, products and components can be easily recovered, their value retained, to be meaningfully cycled.
  • Value Chain Collaboration & Integration: To innovate and accelerate circular solutions requires early and often engagement of the supply chain, material manufacturers, architectural and interior designer, owners and developers, banks and financiers.
  • Realizing Value: Creating and retaining value over the use and reuse cycles of a product or building enabled by the identification, optimization, verification, and tracking of materials thoughtfully designed and assembled for whole building circularity.
  • Policies and Standards: Governments can affect preconditions for a circular building sector through various incentives, policies, standards, and regulations.

(In subsequent newsletters, we’ll dive deeper into each of these concepts and provide real-life examples and testimony.)

For years in the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ products certification program, manufacturers and suppliers have been innovating in their design and production departments to be able to provide the built environment with inputs that are safe, cyclable, and manufactured in ways that create positive impact for humans and the environment. This is foundational and necessary to enable circular systems. Now, the conditions are ripe to scale these ideas and to realize the world our founders envisioned and to create a robust circular economy.

Ready to get started? Check out our pre-recorded webinars “Built Positive: An Introduction to What’s Next” and “Google’s Healthy Materials Moonshot.”

And join us at an upcoming event in Europe and the U.S.:

 

1 Cradle to Cradle - Remaking the Way We Make Things, copyright 2002, North Point Press, William McDonough and Michael Braungart