Where does all that material of our streets, walls, buildings and parks come from and where does it end up? Have you ever thought of the cities we live in as material banks for our future environments? If we need to consume less, we need to think about creative ways of creating better environments without producing more materials.
On a mission to create thriving, healthy and economically viable cities, we set out on a journey to Amsterdam’s top notch circular economy showcases in built environment with a circular economy enthusiast community led by Green Building Council Finland. In two days, we visited leading examples such as CIRCL initiated by ABN AMRO, Olympic initiated by Edge Technologies, The Cloud co-owned by a local fund and a Finnish Mutual Pension Insurance Company Ilmarinen, and Madaster – a local startup which creates a material passport platform for building and infrastructure materials. To complete our circular-minded trip, we stayed in Conscious Hotels, discussed with the City officials of Amsterdam about their circular economy plans and visited a circular economy NGO consultancy called C-creators.
Enthusiasm towards tackling the waste problem and creating viable business through circular economy was huge. Multiple actors were on a mission to create the most circular building and an increasing amount of showcases are popping up. There was even an initiation by the local Green Building Council of driving circularity to BREEAM sustainability certificates as BREEAM currently does not take the cradle-to-cradle thinking in to account.
Circular economy – just hype or scalable business?
It was notable, however, that as single showcases appear and cradle-to-cradle boom is boosting focusing on how the materials of new developments can be dismantled and utilized to a large extent after their functional lifetimes, they mainly look forward to how they can be reused in 50-100-200 years.
We could not, though, find solutions that would try to solve the current material waste problem and utilize to a large extent materials gathered from other dismantled buildings all around the country. Thus, we reflected, in order to be able to scale up from the one-off showcases, we need to solve the transparency and the logistics issues on a national level. If we get that radical, we will be able to create scalable solutions. NCC’s sustainability initiative Vastuullinen työmaa (Responsible site) is already a great example but we need to be able to take these into consideration also in designing the buildings.
Amsterdam had a vision of being totally circular as an economy by 2050 meaning that only 3% would go to waste, and 97% would remain in the circular loop. The message was clear: the basis of designing built environment must be rethought if we want to create a resilient industry. We need to move from the sub-optimized, short-term incentives and visions to a more holistic vision.
8 actions to close the loop
As a reflection on what we saw and discussed during the trip, I wrote down a set of eight actions that could help us get there. I call the set Reve Niaga – Reimagine our built environment:
- Have courage
- Take circularity as a mindset
- When designing buildings, think where the materials come from and where they end up
- Design the materials so that they can be dismantled and reused after the building’s functional lifetime (cradle-to-cradle)
- Create an open source library of the materials in the existing built environment
- Solve the logistics material and time puzzle between sites
- Scale up through collaboration and adding transparency to the sector to understand what materials there will be for use and when
Unfortunately, the shift is risky. It requires collaboration and experimentation with solutions that have not been done before to a large extent. Let us start from the courage and work our way through to scale it all up. You are welcome to join the journey. eveR agaiN