Manufacturers Play Critical Role in Circular Economy Trend
Green building has seen tremendous momentum over the past decade, but the low-hanging fruit is slowly giving way to much more sophisticated concepts that will continue to reduce the impact of the built environment and even contribute to the enhancement of ecology, resources, and occupant health.
Central among those growing trends—the next big thing if you will—is the concept of the circular economy. Under the circular economy, everything is a resource for something else. We intentionally eliminate the concept of waste through design at all levels: material, product, and building.
“There is economic value in the materials that are used every day in the built environment,” says Lewis Perkins, president of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. “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.”
Manufacturers play a critical role in the creation and nurturing of a circular economy. It starts with designing products with consideration for biological or technical nutrient cycles, ensuring restorative cycles by design and intention. As such, we preserve value throughout the product use and reuse cycles.
For technical nutrients, we must design for longevity, repair and upgrade, reuse/remanufacturing, and disassembly. For biological nutrients, we must design for recycling/composting of materials. Manufacturers can make material reuse easy for future stakeholders by permanently capturing reuse intention, value, disassembly and collection instructions.
For example, Shaw is accomplishing this with its EcoWorx carpet. Designed without PVC, phthalates, and other potentially harmful chemicals, the carpet tile can be infinitely recycled with no loss of quality; the desire to cycle safe ingredients during product manufacture ensures its seamless flow back into the raw material stream for reuse into new carpet tiles. (Read more here.)
MechoSystems’ Mecho/5 shades fit into the circular economy via PVC-free ingredients as well as design for disassembly: The spline and the shadecloth are welded together, but are the same material, so the two parts can be recycled together. (Read more here.)
Like Shaw and MechoSystems, the easiest way for manufacturers to begin shifting their design process toward consideration of the Circular economy is through the Cradle to Cradle Certified products program and the Built Positive initiative.
“In terms of how the building industry can embrace the circular economy and design inspired by Cradle to Cradle*, the Built Positive initiative offers a point of access for members of the building sector to learn, share, and innovate in an open and collaborative environment,” Perkins says. “One of the ways Built Positive helps to accomplish this is by encouraging early and often collaboration throughout the value chain, from suppliers to manufacturers, architects and designers to owners and developers, and even banks and financiers.
Products designed with C2C are ideal inputs for the circular economy because they are designed with safe ingredients that can be perpetually cycled. C2C Certified products are verified inputs for the circular economy—the level of certification indicates preparedness for circular systems.
“With the concept of a global circular economy taking root, the Cradle to Cradle Certified 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 materials,” Perkins says.
*Cradle to Cradle - Remaking the Way We Make Things, copyright 2002, North Point Press, William McDonough and Michael Braungart
Image source: Ellen MacArthur (2012) Adapted from the Cradle to Cradle Design Protocol by Braungart & McDonough