Path to Positive: Espero’s Take on the Built Positive Movement

For years, the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ products program has motivated manufacturers and suppliers to optimize processes and ingredients to provide the built environment with safe, cyclical products that create positive impact for people, planet, and the economy. Therefore, for material manufacturers like Mark Delany, owner and chairman at Espero Group, the launch of the Built Positive movement is like “Christmas coming early” and represents a very important step for the building industry and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

An internationally renowned manufacturer of mobile wall systems, Espero leads the market in the Benelux region in Europe. They have been affiliated with the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute for a number of years and recently underwent an extensive re-assessment and re-creation of their entire product range.

Delany bought the company 11 years ago with the conviction that we had to change the way we are manufacturing. The idea to seek Cradle to Cradle certification came as a natural progression from the way he tried to live his own life: “I thought, if I’m watching what I put into my own body, then why not translate this into my business practice and monitor what is going into my products?”

After some time searching for a suitable certification label, Delany became acquainted with Cradle to Cradle® principles about four years ago and immediately felt it was the right way to go. Since then, Cradle to Cradle Certified has been an important driver in bringing the journey to sustainability to life.

“We look at Cradle to Cradle certification not as a marketing ploy, but as a way to move our products and company forward. This means assessing how we manufacture, the way we deal with our suppliers and customers, and what products we are putting out into the marketplace. Having the standard demonstrates that we are a company that is investing in our products and the future. We made a conscious decision for a minimum of 90% of our turnover to come from Cradle to Cradle Certified products–it’s important for us to have all our products Cradle to Cradle [Certified], so whether you like it or not you will be getting a Cradle to Cradle Certified product.”

Material Health as a Starting Point
Delany thinks it is important we start to realize that our way of living is not sustainable and that everything we come into contact with has important consequences for our health. He believes a focus on material health is a good starting point for the industry. “If the building that you are in is made from healthy materials, then you’re going to be more careful about the things you are filling it with, like the carpets, the furniture, and other interior features.

“We want to see the principles of Cradle to Cradle® design having a much bigger presence in the built environment, to influence the way buildings are made, how towns are planned, and how we think about our cities,” he continues. “Built Positive is essential for this because industry changes have to come from the top down.”

Material health has been the leading concept for Espero on a product level as well. At the moment, all of Espero’s wood-based products have achieved the Basic level of Material Health certification under the Cradle to Cradle Certified products program, and the glass products have achieved Bronze. “What differentiates our products is their complexity,” Delany notes. “Every type of wall manufactured by us consists of a varied range of materials, so during our assessment process we worked closely with around 170 suppliers over a year and a half period to achieve our certification, and in this way our products are pioneering and unique to the market we are in.”

Aspirations for the Future
Espero will continue to improve the material health of new product concepts and look for room for improvement where possible. In the next product line, there will also be a focus on designing for disassembly and recovery. “We will be redeveloping our products to make them more recyclable, easier to disassemble and recover so that they can re-enter the chain once the product comes to the end of its life,” Delany says. “But also looking at our manufacturing facilities and how we can improve our energy consumption.”

Delany says the company aims to have all products at the Silver level in the next two to three years. “If you asked me this question two years ago, the idea of being at Cradle to Cradle Silver or Gold seemed like a million miles away, but now this seems viable,” he says. “During our certification process, we had some suppliers that found it difficult to answer our questions, but now more and more of the small to medium enterprises are becoming Cradle to Cradle Certified themselves, which makes certification for us increasingly easier.”

Delany adds: “More generally, I want to see the day where a Cradle to Cradle Certified certificate is a necessary requirement to supply government projects, like the ISO40001 standards that are in place now. We need to see building owners, investment companies, and pension funds fueling this. What I want to see is something like what Google is doing with its Healthy Materials Program–created to identify the healthiest products and materials for Google buildings around the world–but on a much larger scale. We want to see architects and designers saying, ‘We want all the products in this building to be Cradle to Cradle Certified.’”  

Material Health Certificate Registry
Visit the Material Health Certificate Registry for an overview of products that have been assessed against the Material Health requirements of the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard. The Material Health Certificate Registry is a free database for architects to find and specify products that have been assessed against the v3.1 Material Health Certification Standard, which is governed by the Institute’s Certification Standards Board.