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Episode 47 – Circularity in the Built Environment (Free Webinar 7/9)


Jessica: Hi, this is Jessica with Build Green Live Green. And today our podcast is covering the concept of circularity in the built environment in the world and in building materials. So today our guest is Maddie Rohrbacher. She is with CaraGreen. Hi Maddie.

Maddie: Hi.

Jessica: Maddie recently created our continuing education course on circularity. And you probably felt a little bit of circularity in creating the course because there was a lot of back and forth on the. So what we wanted to talk about today is, you know, CaraGreen we try to stay you know on top of the trends in the building industry, whether it's biophilic design or biomimicry. And we're starting to see a real shift in building materials towards the concept of circularity and understanding the role of building materials in a circular building in a circular economy. And we're not talking about a literal, literal, circular building, but rather one that kind of, you know, is almost like a cradle to cradle tech concept in its construction. So really interesting topic and Maddie, we're glad to have you here today.

Maddie: It's good to be here. Thank you.

Jessica: So when you first started with the circularity CEU for CaraGreen, what was, you know what were some of the challenges you faced initially and kind of even understanding the concept?

Maddie: Sure. I think beginning with everything, you know, it's, it was a little bit alarming to see just how, how many key players need to be involved in influencing a circular economy to really take place. And I think the important thing for me to try to understand was you know, at CaraGreen and, and with our customers, how do we start influencing this circular process of, you know, construction into the use and how it goes back into the manufacturing phase, essentially. To understanding each role and how each player influences one another was that was the most tricky thing at first to understand, but once you understand the concept makes sense, sense how one influences the other.

Jessica: Yeah. And I think that that's really important because at the end of the day, you know, CaraGreen needs to tie back to, you know, our core competency, which is healthy building materials and circularity, certainly a big component of that is health. Would you agree?

Maddie: Totally. I think it really plays on, you know, a lot of things that are happening nowadays with trends that we're seeing, focusing on occupant health and how materials play a part in that even going into, you know, our buildings. And it's not just a building standard, but really a practice that needs to be embodied, everything that we do in the construction industry.

Jessica: So, you know, at the, at its very highest level, a circular economy is kind of effectively like a closed-loop system where its waste is reused. And, it's just a very kind of cohesive well-working ecosystem that's self-sustaining correct.

Maddie: Correct. Yeah. It's a closed-loop system.

Jessica: And then the idea of buildings within that circular economy, which is kind of where our products play, is this idea of a building that kind of gives back it doesn't just take energy and electricity. But it can actually have a role in you know the generation of some of those things as well.

Maddie: Correct. Yeah. It's something that's regenerative. You know, the building can be used and reuse, so it has that modular aspect to it. So you're not just putting it on-site to be, you know demolish, you know, years later it can, the parts of the site and the building itself can be reused for something else.

Jessica: So that is a really nice segue to the building materials themselves. So they are the building blocks here and it's the responsibility of the manufacturers of those materials to not just say that they have a good you know backstory. But actually have programs in place to fit into this kind of, you know, reusable Lego-like system that you're describing, right?

Maddie: It’s exactly what that is. It's a, like a leg system you know, pull pieces apart, but also you're not making the same thing over and over again. You're using what's available to you in a new, new way, but it was with a sustainable approach to it.

Jessica: And I think, you know, for these building materials, they're not going to out of the shoot be, you know, perfect closed-loop products. It just, it doesn't really work like that. But I think the phase that we're at for the building industry is it's time for building materials manufacturers to start thinking about and putting in place those real take-back programs. And real instructions for end of life of the products and what other uses there may be.

Maddie: Exactly. I think I think we've been able to with this model identify where the gaps are with a lot of different building manufacturers. And I think that key component really is the take-back program. You know, as long as it's going back into their manufacturing loop, that that's one of the first actions they really can take. There's also, you know, parts of the, their entire you know business practices that can be looked at in a circular economy approach. Especially as you're producing the material, making sure that you are considering yield and offering, you know, the exact sizes that your customer needs. So you're not creating more waste during the manufacturing process than it's necessary to.

Jessica: Yeah. And I think that, you know, if you look at some of the work that CaraGreen has been doing, and some of the hashtags that we use on our social media accounts, we, you know, we often use the hashtag create better. We also use hashtag modern surfaces and both of those really kind of play into this here, which is the future of building materials is to create better. And it's not just better ingredients that they're made out of and more recycled content, but also documented actual reliable take-back programs because, you know, I've been doing this for a while and 10 years ago, every carpet company had their hand up saying they have take-back programs. But in reality, you know, when someone called to get the product taken back, they were put down with glues that could no longer be in the process. So there's a lot of stipulations around some of those take-back programs. So it's not just about the take-back program. It has to be about, you know, what has been done to that product when it's out in the field. Can it be taken back? Is there a way to install materials as you described in a less adhered way? So it can be (inaudible 07:15) that's, that's a part of kind of circular design in the products too, right?

Maddie: Right. When I was doing my research for the presentation and we, we go heavily into the circular building by arup. And the one thing I was fascinated with was…

Jessica: Arup is A R U P

Maddie: Correct. Being able to utilize or not utilize mechanical fastening and all the smart, small bits and bops basically that are required during, you know, normal construction, they were able to avoid that. And you know, that's what made it more modular. It was easily broken down because you didn't have all those other components to have to think about. So it's really designing in a smarter way.

Jessica: So I think was a lot of the brands that we represent like Durat and PaperStone and Kirei, Lapitec some of those brands really, you know, they're starting to incorporate these programs. And they're, you know, and Durat actually has a pretty comprehensive program for their take back. Do you think that the overall landscape will shift towards more of this? Do you think people will adopt that? Is that what you're seeing when you did your research? Are you starting to see some of the, you know bigger companies really look at these things?

Maddie: Like I said, I think it I think there's many key players that influence one another. And I think we're starting to see that influence from out in the field with talking to architects and designers, where, you know, you go into their libraries and they have all different kind of check boxes of what they require for their materials. And, you know, looking for materials that have a you know circular story and those healthy ingredients and things that, you know consider, you know, what's important to their designs now. So I think with, you know, the influence of A and D choosing these, these types of materials that have this circular story, we'll see more and more manufacturers have that kind of aha moment of, we need to get on board with this. This is clearly important for, you know, our customers in the end.

Jessica: Yeah. I think, you know, every time that I show the graph (inaudible 09:45) with the recycled speckle and people you know to ask about it. And telling them that that recycles Durat, that seems to kind of resonate really well with them. So being able to have those examples in your toolkit of products that, you know, already that recycle themselves back into themselves and actually show that product is pretty powerful. And then when you supplement that with, you know, the story of Durat in Finland, when that hotel was redoing all their bathrooms and Durat removed all the vanities and took them back. So it's actual examples of the implementation of those take-back programs that I think, as you said, they're going to get to the designers and the designers are going to start demanding that. And at some point I imagine there will be some sort of certification or you know, some sort of representation of the take-back program that's, that's accounted for in these certifications.

Maddie: Right. It seems like we're getting there. And I think with all the different types of building standards, green building standards that we're seeing too, that call for those types of products, you'll definitely see more available in the market. I'm curious to know what that certification may look like.

Jessica: Yeah. And I think, you know, for some of the surfacing products you know, they're so durable, like take a PaperStone or a Lapitec. I mean, it's so durable and you know, that, you know, a material like that could easily be reused you know, post, post-install you know, I mean, it's durable enough that it could stay there forever. But if someone did decide to do something with it, it'll be interesting to see how the designers and installers incorporate some of these more modular, less permanent installation techniques in order to get closer to circularity.

Maddie: Yeah. I'm, I'm curious even with, you know what, what may be replaced with like these modern surfaces that we're talking about what we're replacing those countertops, like say a laminate and we're putting a modern surface in, and I'm curious to know if those laminate companies or things of that nature will have a practice they'll consider you know, with, instead of people just throwing it away, they'll, they'll be able to take it back as well.

Jessica: Yeah. And I, you know, and I, and I wonder, you know, is it, I feel like circularity almost has to be designed into the product. So that's, you know, that's almost you know, we're almost at this point now where we need to, you know, kind of get to critical mass with the products that are being installed. Because laminates one where it's really hard to take that rip the laminate off, you know it's core. So maybe too little too late for those guys, but I would love to see the whole industry start thinking more about, you know, this modularity this non permanent installation is reuse in these take-back programs. And just, you know, get us all a little bit closer to circular materials, circular buildings in a circular economy.

Jessica: Well, thank you, Maddie. It's been great having you here today and thanks for the CareGreen CE presentation. If any of our listeners want to listen or want us to present our CE presentation on circularity. Please reach out to Maddie. She's Maddie M A D D I E@caragreen.com. And we will schedule the circularity, CE course it's a one hour credit AIA and HSW I think yay HSW. And we also have on our website here; we also have on our website caragreen.com/education, where you can see all of our education courses and caragreen.com/podcast, where you can listen to our other podcasts recordings. This is Jessica Build Green Live Green and Maddie with CaraGreen.

Maddie: Thank you.

Jessica: Thanks, Maddie.

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