Last week saw the second Annual Summit of the Ellen Macarthur foundation Circular Economy 100 initiative. CE100 members and business thought leaders met at The Royal Institution to explore how we can create more value through a circular economy.
The event kicked off with a bang… lights dimmed, deep base beat emerging, and video projected onto the stunning domed ceiling of The Royal Institute’s lecture theatre, setting the scene for discussing ‘What do we want normal to be?’ Today, normal is throwing things away, losing precious and scarce resources, creating only short term value and making the stuff we use every day (even the buildings we live and work in) with potentially harmful materials. But a new normal is emerging, and the CE100 group of organisations are at the forefront of this.
One of the speaker panels discussing opportunity at the summit
It's all about opportunity
Opening the summit, Dame Ellen Macarthur set the tone, reminding us that opportunity is at the core of the circular economy. It’s about achieving economic growth and abundance, decoupled from resource constraints; and while design is key, it’s really about systems change.
Chris Dedicoat, of Cisco, demonstrated the massive opportunity presented by improving resource efficiency in the IT sector, where a ton of IT scrap contains more gold than a ton of gold ore! The IT sector is growing and by 2015 will be worth $3.7 trillion per year, which makes improving material recovery rates all the more important.
Park 2020 near Amsterdam is changing the mould of real estate development
Coert Zacharise, of Delta Developments, showed how their Park 2020 development in Holland, on which BAM worked, is proving the business case for circular economy in real estate. Buildings are designed to be ‘material banks’ where flexibility, easy disassembly and material tracking allow for the recovery of materials at maximum value. The results are lower costs of tenancy (as fit outs are easier), 3-5% increased productivity (from healthy materials and spaces), higher rental yields (up to 80%) and ultimately buildings with a net value at end of life instead of a net cost of demolition (€70-80 / m2 net value vs €55 / m2 net cost!).
My favourite session of the day saw architect Michael Pawlyn present his vision of ‘restorative design’ and the role biomimicry can play in making buildings and infrastructure that enhance our lives.
He declared “Nature is like a catalogue of products and all of these have benefited from a 3.8 billion year research and development period…and given that level of investment it makes sense to use it”.
His examples included mimicking the structure of bird bones to light weight a concrete structure (reducing material quantity by 50%) and taking inspiration from the Namibian fog basking beetle to create a development which helps bring vegetation back to the desert.
Changing industries and mind-sets
In a thriving circular economy, the role of waste management providers will be crucial, as pointed out by David Schelling, of Ragn-Sells. We need to professionalise the waste industry to better understand the value of materials and have the right infrastructure to access it. We also need to bring ‘waste professionals’ into the decision making process earlier (see my previous blog on this here). As Frederick Talbot wrote in the early twentieth century, waste was "merely raw material in the wrong place."
Mark Miodownik from the UCL Institute of Making provided a range of examples of how material choices can have unintended consequences. Two examples we can all relate too struck a chord…
Did you know that if the green plastic tops on your milk bottles were clear, they’d be much easier to recycle? Why are they green? Because suppliers think we want them that way. And yogurt pots are made from polystyrene (rather than recyclable polyethylene) because they believe we all want to hear that ‘fresh’ sounding cracking noise when we take them apart. If we think about this in the context of buildings, there are likely to be a much wider range of issues but also a lot of untapped value for building owners and investors when buildings come to be demolished or refurbished.
So how about a new normal, where waste only exists in the dictionary, where we live and work in buildings which are good for us and the environment and where we create long term economic value? I for one would be happy to make some changes to achieve that (even if it means silent yogurt pots and clear bottle tops).Look out for a full round up and video of the summit here.
Jesse Putzel is a Senior Sustainability Manager at BAM