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Episode 30 – Circular building – not just round buildings!

Dicover how you can green your life by building a knowledge base of current sustainable and eco-savvy trends. This is Build Green Live Green.

In this episode, we will discuss circular building and what it is. We are here today with Jessica McNaughton and Cody Ruffing of CaraGreen.

JESSICA:  Hi, this is Build Green Live Green. And I'm Jessica. 

CODY: And I'm Cody. 

JESSICA: We're both with CaraGreen and today we're going to talk a little bit about one of our core competencies, which is educating people. So, we try to stay on trend with industry topics, which you can listen to in any of our podcast episodes. We've covered tariffs, we've covered wool insulation, we've covered biophilic design topics and biomimicry, topics that we find are really relevant to the architect and design space and also to consumers as well. So, one of the topics that Cody and I have been hearing a lot about is circularity. And what circularity really means in our industry is, you know, the overall concept is the circular economy. Basically we're, you know, it's a closed loop. We're using what we need and so on. And for CaraGreen, it's really about a circular building. And you know, we're not talking about a literal circular building. We're talking about a larger concept. So, Cody, can you elaborate a little bit more on what circular building really means?

CODY:  Yeah, I think it's an interesting concept and people get confused with, you mentioned closed-loop system and circularity. The term circular building has a lot of closed-loop systems involved in it. You have various different materials, various different products that are involved in building a circular building. And that just means assembling and building with the plan and the intention and the design involved where that building can be disassembled in a, you know, clean, organized manner that the products are not demolished, that we’re not just, you know, going in and blowing up his building and bringing it all down. And there's a bunch of waste piled up there, you know, we have it set like Lego blocks kind of where, you know, it's all disassembled and it looks exactly how it did previously to the construction of the building.

JESSICA:  So, I love this idea because it's so utopian and I think it's achievable, but I want it to be at scale. So, I feel like we're a ways from flipping a switch and having all of our buildings be easily constructed and deconstructed. But I think that, you know, we can take steps along the way to get closer to that. So, you brought up an interesting point about demolition waste. Construction waste is 45% – it is responsible for 45% of all waste, which is a huge number, which lends itself to the need for circular buildings, and I would call it circular materials. So, you know, we carry products that we initially called green building products. IceStone, recycled glass, or PaperStone, recycled paper. Then we transitioned to calling them sustainable, because you know, green started to get kind of a bad name. And now with the new products that we've brought on with this circularity in mind, the umbrella for our products has now become “healthy,” and healthy is not just about personally healthy, you know, your personal health but also the health of the environment. So, I would like to see CaraGreen’s products over time move closer to being these circular materials. I just don't think that it's a switch that you can flip overnight and make that happen. 

CODY: Yeah, absolutely. What do you think are the roadblocks that we are currently facing in getting there right now with the products that we carry? Or even just other building materials? 

JESSICA: I would say one of the things that I think is the biggest shortcoming of some of these products, and not just the ones we carry, but other large names out there as well that have take-back programs. So, a take back program is the first step in circularity. You have, when someone's done with your product, you say you will take it back. What mechanism do you give people to know where to take it? The person who specified that product or installed it may not be the person who was taking it out. So, what cheat code do I have on that product that tells me, “okay, when done return this to, you know, X, Y, Z?” The manufacturers need to start putting that information on the products. I mean, ideally you would basically, I would love to have a circularity barcode scanner that you could just go into a building during demolition or deconstruction, because it's not demolition, it’s now deconstruction and you scan your PaperStone top and it says return to PanelTech, Hoquiam, Washington, you know, and there it's taken back, it's cut into samples. It's given to Habitat for Humanity, it's made into tables. There's so many things you can do with these materials, especially something as workable and durable as PaperStone which could have multiple uses over the course of its lifetime. 

CODY: Absolutely. I think you're hitting on a really good point that technology is going to be a major factor in making this possible. I mean it really comes down to, based on what you're saying, it comes down to customer communication and being able to empower the customer with information that you don't always have to be providing, but that it's right there on the product that they can see and it's obvious, I mean because like I'm sure you can attest to this, it has to be obvious for customers to really get it and the same goes for recycling. 

JESSICA: Right. Especially a crew that's going in to take something apart. Right? They're interested in time, right? How long it's going to take them to take that apart. So, you're now asking them to exert care in what they do and not just take it apart, but package it up and have it sent somewhere. So, I think the manufacturers need to make it as easy as possible to either go and pick up that material, have someone locally that knows how to repurpose it or have, you know programs can be put in place locally to do that. Think about Kirei EchoPanel, acoustic panels, those are so reusable, right? So, any of those installations, you know, those could easily be taken out of a project and easily reuse somewhere else. Everyone knows that acoustics are a huge problem in many spaces. So yeah, you know again, I think that the responsibility goes to the manufacturer on making sure there's a labeling program that allows this deconstruction, re-purposing, recycling to actually happen.

CODY:  Right and like you said, somewhat local drop-off points or something along those lines. That makes it just a little bit more sustainable, both on the environmental side of not shipping things across the country, but also just sustainable as far as, you know, it's, you're not going to want to ship across huge materials across the country. You have to have local points where it can go and then it can be reused from that same location hopefully.

JESSICA:  Yeah, and I really think it's the materials that plan thoughtfully that are going to reap the rewards of circular building and when you know, as it continues to happen. One of the products that we carry that I think has had the most foresight into this idea of circular building is Lapitec. So Lapitec is 100% minerals. At the end of its life, it can be broken down into 100% minerals and formed into more Lapitec. So, you know, that was part of its initial concept during manufacture. You compare it to something like quartz or porcelain, which has, you know, 30, 50, 90% silica content. You don't want to be, you know, cutting that down into something else or trying to repurpose those materials. I think because of the silica content, those are going to start to kind of get phased out of buildings as people want less and less silica in those buildings. And you're going to start to see more circular materials like Lapitec sintered stone being put in these places, not just because they're healthier for everyone along the line, but because they can be end of life, not even end of life, but you know, basically put back into their own process. And you know, again, the responsibility goes onto the manufacturer of making sure that, that is a known feature of the product and that it's easy to see how to do that at the end of life of the material. 

CODY:  Right. And it's so much simpler when you have a product that is so pure in its input, such as Lapitec being all basically the same material. There is no binders and resins involved. You don't have all this nasty stuff that you have to work with. I mean, the more stuff that's involved, the less likely it is to be recycled. And that's a big problem with the recycling crisis in general is the sorting processes and you know, plastic grades that have different mixtures and they don't recycle properly. If it was all the same, it'd be so much easier. And that's why Lapitec really sets itself apart, especially in the countertop world.

JESSICA:  Yeah, I think that, you know, I do like the fact that Durat solid surface also has a recycling program where they actually have an entire line of Durat that the filler is recycled Durat. So that is an active program that I think is, you know, again, a step in the right direction. You know, you mentioned the recycling crisis and we did do a podcast on that if our listeners want to hear it. That talks about, you know, some of these inputs and some of the issues we're having with the China recycling ban. And that's on our website at caragreen.com. But another, that got me thinking about another podcast we recently did on wool insulation. And one of the things about this circular building and these steps along the way, you're not going to pull wool insulation out of your wall and reuse it. I mean, technically you could, but I don't see that as a kind of a realistic interim solution here. But you certainly aren't going to pull fiberglass insulation out of your wall. You're probably not going to touch it. You're going to leave it there. But with the wool insulation, what I like about it is A, that you can touch it, but B, it's compostable. 

CODY: Yeah, exactly. 

JESSICA: So again, a 100% natural material that is functioning in a building and can be put back into another process, in this case, composting. Because it's 100% natural material. And again, you've controlled those inputs. It's not, you know, fiberglass and formaldehyde.

CODY:  Yeah. And in that instance, it's not necessarily like what I was describing earlier of a circular building where you're disassembling and reusing it, but it is a closed-loop cycle. It is something where it is being reused for a very important process of biodegradation and you know, reentering nutrients and proteins back into the soil that enable further carbon sequestration and you know, further growth from there. I think that was one of the big reasons why, you know, in our earlier episode with me talking about my tiny house, a huge reason why I use wool and I really saw that being a difference maker in my actual building process because you know, especially with installation, when you're working with it by yourself, you're cutting little pieces off here and there. You know, when I was using recycled PIP foam, there were pieces going everywhere and I was trying so hard to clean it up, and you know how cleaning up Styrofoam is. 

JESSICA: No, I don't, because I don't go near Styrofoam. 

CODY: I'm so with you, thank God you don't. And wool, you know, it would get all over and it would blow away in the wind and I didn't worry about it. And that's such an important thing that we have to factor into our buildings. Because when you go on to any construction site, there are messes everywhere. There are things blown around in the wind. It's always an open project and things get away from construction sites all the time. I mean, not even talking about the erosion that, I'm sorry, the runoff after the rains from a construction site, everything. It's crazy. And so, you don't want fiberglass getting into your local river system, but wool was not a problem and that's something we have to factor in with all of our materials that we choose. 

JESSICA: So, I think, you know, I think we're going to keep building on this idea of circular buildings and circular materials and really start trying to educate our architects and designers about, you know, we're not trying to get to the ideal today, but we are working with all of our partners. We are working with PaperStone, Lapitec, Durat, Kirei. We're working with all of our partners to make sure that we do what we can to educate them about this move towards circularity and get better about your labeling, your take back programs, what your, you know, reuse, ideas for reuse and starting to put some of those programs in place. So I think it's our mission as CaraGreen to be an ambassador to this concept of circularity, but work with our partners to help them get closer and then have architects and designers use those products and just trust CaraGreen and know that we are taking strides to get them closer than they would be, you know, left to their own devices. 

CODY: Yeah, absolutely. And to touch on my point earlier, I was talking about compostable materials and it doesn't have to be that everything is this natural Holy Grail, utopian compostable material. It's just like you said, setting that intention, communicating with your customers and then working from there to set up the systems in place in order to make that happen. And I think that a lot of our vendors and with our intentions as well, we're working towards that. 

JESSICA: Great. Well, let's close the loop on this one. This is Jessica. 

CODY: This is Cody. 

JESSICA: And this is Build Green Live Green.

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