The built environment makes up an astonishing 45% of our global resource consumption and there are new, smarter ways of construction to reduce a building’s footprint while increasing living standards and financially viability. The emergence of the circular economy and the opportunities it presents are enormous and many are tapping into the industry from an early starting point.
On May 17th Dudoc hosted a small roundtable to discuss the Circular Economy in the building industry. We were very pleased to welcome Freek van Eijk, the CEO of Holland Circular Hotspot and local delegates interested in rethinking the building industry with a circular approach. Our findings are presented in the following order: planning/designing, building, innovative examples, and identified gaps in Vancouver based on the information we gained from Freek and the eight participants.
- Planning In our discussions, we found that the initial design needs are vital to plan for optimization over the total lifetime of the building. This includes avoidance of ‘finite’ and toxic materials and instead, designing for 100% recycled and bio-based materials as well as installing materials that are easy to repair and easy to deconstruct. The quest is to design to maintain resources at their highest potential value for as long as possible and when value loss is inevitable, using innovation to repurpose in a way that value is rebuilt and that the material can be used and resold afterwards.
- Building During the construction building phase, the Capex (capital expenditure) is higher and Opex (operation expenditure) is significantly lower. Again, toxic materials should be avoided because they prevent reuse and it is preferred that all energy comes from renewables. Today, it is difficult to learn about a material’s source and composition once it is integrated into the building – circular economy suggests a Material Passport that includes all building components.
- Innovations A few innovative examples that were discussed more deeply besides the material passport Madaster included Park 2020 which is a cradle-to-cradle project near Schiphol in Netherlands with 99.9% occupancy, a vertical farm and many other social/cultural elements. Cradle-to-cradle is a term used to describe the circularity of a product with no ‘end of life’ but a strategy for reuse or repurposing. When discussing wood versus concrete, we learned about the concrete recycling Smartcrusher (www.slimbreker.nl), which presents a solution recovering the sand, the gravel and the cement from concrete while also reducing carbon emissions during the manufacturing process.
- Current Gaps In Vancouver, we identified that a training for engineers could be provided where it is learned how to utilize recycled materials in the built environment – or the training could be part of actual university curriculums as the need to incorporate ‘used’ and recycled materials is increasing. In the Netherlands, Freek said that “all banks are Green” when we asked about funding opportunities. Many are also moving to support circular economy. In Canada, financial institutes seem to be more conservative, which limits the ability to get a head start in the industry. Furthermore, unlike in BC, flexible regulations in the Netherlands more easily allow start-ups to experiment and practice new models and meet requirements later, which is highly beneficial to innovators and drives the industry forward. A few issues with waste stream logistics were identified as well, such as the:
- the consolidation of transportation
- systematic sorting into repurposing potential
- and a strong partnership network for redistribution
Lastly, the general awareness and understanding that waste is a resource and buildings are only a temporary ‘material depot’ is not as common in Vancouver as it is in the Netherlands.
Conclusion: The Netherlands are very active in the field of circular economy and Vancouver has great potential to implement similar strategies if they are taken as priority. Based on Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan2020 and Zero Waste Strategy 2050, we hope that working with the Netherlands and learning from each other will help reduce global resource consumption and drive the building industry to a circular approach.