When discussing why so many contractors and the AEC industry still focus on recycling over reuse options, the typically cited culprit is more awareness and education. But with countless resources citing the benefits of green building, sustainability, and circular economy business models available today, the biggest challenge is money.
Having an architecture or design firm filled with staff and professionals who genuinely understand sustainability and the circular economy mindset will only get you so far. The more significant challenge is pitching the ideas of green building, LEED scores, and the long-term benefits of sustainability to a client fixated only on today’s construction costs.
The more focused a project is towards reuse, circularity, and sustainability, the greater the building’s longevity for the property owner and local community. By incorporating these principles into materials and infrastructure design, owners and communities can effectively minimize waste and reduce energy usage while conserving natural and financial resources.
For more information on sustainable building practices, visit our website at Feldman Construction.
What is the Circular Economy?
To fully understand the importance of durability and reuse, let’s compare a linear economy to a circular economy. A linear economy is also known as the take-make-waste business model because finite resources get extracted to make products used by consumers and thrown away at the end of their lifecycle. A circular economy reduces the use of raw materials by reusing, reconfiguring, or recycling products at the end of their life cycle.
For the AEC industry, transitioning to a circular economy requires companies to modify their business model to include detailed discussions about reuse, reconfiguration, and recycling in their design and building processes. Adopting circular economy principles results in less waste heading to landfills, reduced energy usage to acquire raw materials, and sustainable buildings for the local community.
As a result, modular components such as beams & columns, cabinets, doors & windows, plumbing & electrical fixtures, flooring, and HVAC units can be easily reused on future projects to minimize construction costs while shortening project timelines.
Closing the Loop: Design for Durability and Reusability
Modular components are especially valuable to the AEC industry. Since they are already a part of the built environment, they provide three distinct advantages for designers, architects, and property owners.
- Eliminate the costs of acquiring raw resources from the environment.
- Reduce the amount of energy used for transporting and manufacturing.
- Reduce waste generated locally while conserving limited resources.
According to Wayne Braun, founder of the Houston-based PDR Corporation, “The first resolve is to have a conceptual commitment to that flexibility and decide to what degree you want to invest in a future-proof solution for your facility.”
Braun suggests that those who lease space should utilize a 10-year perspective, while those purchasing space should extend their perspective to 30 years.
“In a 30-year situation, it would make sense to invest more in future-proofing. If you’re leasing, you realize you’re going to have to rethink the outcome you need every 10 years.”
As a result, the AEC industry needs to shift its focus from yesterday’s linear economy products to today’s circular economy products.
Increased durability ratings provide improved longevity and secondary reuse capabilities. The longer a product lasts, the lower the associated maintenance and repair costs.
Expanding modular products throughout the building’s infrastructure systems and finishes can shorten construction schedules dramatically. Repair-friendly components contribute to the circular economy by helping to minimize future replacement costs while helping to preserve natural resources.
As more AEC companies promote the benefits of reuse, refurbishment, and reconfiguration to their clients, consumer demand will increase for green building design and sustainable building materials.
Resource Efficiency: Reuse is More Efficient Than Recover and Recycle
While recycling remains an option for many of today’s building materials and products, reuse is preferred for a circular economy.
Using steel beams as an example, when a building is demolished, the steel is sorted out from the other materials and transported to a recycling facility. Upon arrival, the steel beam is melted and turned into sheets, blocks, or rolled materials. These recycled materials are then shipped to another facility, becoming new products.
However, when the steel beams are slated for reuse, they are transported to the next building project upon disassembly. Aside from some potential minor reworking on site, the beams are ready for installation immediately. When a product gets reused, the labor and energy used for sorting, transporting to different locations, recycling, and remanufacturing are saved.
More efficient manufacturing, design, and building processes must include waste reduction, reuse, reconfiguration, and refurbishing strategies before considering recycling.
Closing the Loop: Design for Reuse
The idea of a circular economy and material reuse is still relatively new to the AEC industry. But the modular building industry is a perfect fit as a successful circular economy business model.
Increased usability has been a concern of the modular industry since it debuted in the 1940s. As a result, its manufacturers are constantly designing products with increased reusability ratings to meet changing project needs.
Promoting the reuse of materials and components is critical to the modular design and building process. Many infrastructure components, original materials, and modular assemblies can be uninstalled, relocated, and reused as the building use or tenants’ needs change.
When the manufacturer has done the work of integration and reusability, you’re set for success in a circular economy. One product that meets the demanding criteria for reusability is the Gridd® Adaptive Cabling Distribution® System.