The circular project
Park 20|20 is a 114,000m2 office park just outside Amsterdam, and according to property developer Delta Development, it will be the first “Cradle to Cradle” working environment in the Netherlands.
It was designed by US architect William McDonough, one of the creators of the Cradle to Cradle certification programme (see case study below).
It may sound like a lofty ambition but it’s also a very commercial one, stresses Owen Zachariasse, head of innovation and sustainability at Delta Development. “Nobody is willing to pay more for sustainability. They’re willing to invest in a positive business case, but right now we need to do all of this within a commercially viable budget.”
Read main article to accompany these case studies
At Park 20|20, Delta has considered the whole lifecycle of each building. “We start to ask questions. The main one is what the building will be used for after the first tenant leaves. It will either be relet or we will have to make a decision. Do we try to repurpose it from commercial to retail, or take it apart and sell it off piece by piece, or break it down into its material components and sell off the steel? That way, you quickly get into a circular approach.”
In some ways, designing for disassembly means considering problems backwards: “When you’re designing a structural steel component, don’t just look at how the corner comes together, how it’s welded. You ask ‘in future, how would I take the corner apart’. When you’ve asked that question, you have the answer to how it should be constructed.”
On Delta’s previous logistics development, at the Fokker aircraft manufacturing plant near Schipol airport, 100% of the materials from demolition were reused either in the development or sold to the demolition company to be reused elsewhere.
“It’s not just for positioning or branding but to reduce our capital investment in the infrastructure, which is one of the most expensive parts of a development,” says Zachariasse. “We had to do a lot of remediation on the site, and when you start incurring extra cost, it forces you to become very creative in how you’re going to go about using the rest of your investment. It drove us to look at alternative uses for the materials.”
Clockwise from top left: Park 20|20 is a 114,000 m2 office park near Amsterdam, designed by William McDonough, creator of the Cradle to Cradle certification; BSH’s Inspiration House features a living green wall and building integrated photovoltaic roof; Travel company Fox Vakanties’ office building at the park features mobile glass wall.
This did make the demolition process more painstaking, as buildings were taken apart piece by piece, but the overall addition to the programme was not significant, he says. “You don’t incur extra costs if you set out your strategy at the start, so it’s in the DNA of the project. It’s when you start something halfway through that it becomes an additional cost.”
The project team at Park 20|20 all sit in the same room and work from the same BIM model. But the wider Dutch industry remains some way from adopting a circular model, which Zachariasse attributes to construction’s low profit margins and high failure costs. “It took two years for the general contractor to get really comfortable and to start coming to us with their own solutions. Then there’s a snowball effect and momentum picks up rapidly.”
For Zachariasse, the focus on reducing carbon is something of a red herring. “It’s more about optimising carbon placement. Carbon in the atmosphere is not a good thing, but carbon in the environment is, so sequestering carbon in green walls is more of a holistic solution.
“It’s about identifying biological or technical nutrients and designing in a way that we can properly recover materials and send them on to their next use. With a material like steel, as long as we maintain its structural and molecular integrity it can be reused indefinitely,” concludes Zachariasse.
Case study: The circular product
One manufacturer that has embraced the circular economy is Danish company KE Fibertec, which makes fabric ventilation ducts. Its CradleVent product has been awarded the Cradle to Cradle certification, developed by circular economy gurus William McDonough and Michael Braungart.
The certification covers the health impacts of materials on people and the environment, the potential for them to be reused safely, use of renewable energy, water stewardship and social fairness.
“I do this of course to make a better world, but also because I believe it can be very competitive,” says managing director Carsten Jespersen. “It’s very important to highlight that we are not a non-profit or green organisation, we’re a purely commercial organisation and we believe there is a commercial outcome.”
Unlike its competitors which import fabric from cheaper markets, KE Fibertec has its own weaving mill in Denmark. This has been harnessed for competitive advantage. “We already had a lot of low-hanging fruit, but even though we control the raw materials, you’d be surprised just how many small pieces each product contains,” says Jespersen. “This is a system of components, so it’s not a simple product to certify, especially in a world where everyone wants tailor-made solutions.”
The merchandising shop at the Olympic Park in 2012 used KE Fibertec’s CradleVent product
Long term, Jespersen hopes to certify his entire product range, but the process is time-consuming and expensive. Achieving certification meant obtaining the content of each component from every one of KE Fibertec’s suppliers.
“You have to know exactly what kind of raw materials are used in the products down to 100 ppm, and to get that information from your sub-suppliers can be difficult,” says Jespersen. “Especially when you work with small wholesale companies or an importer from Asia, they don’t necessarily know where each component comes from or how its produced. We tend to stick to suppliers who are certified, where we know exactly where the products are coming from, going right back to the manufacturing facility.”
The answer, he believes, is simplification: “We have to change. We need to have fewer suppliers or to change the design. In the western world, we overcomplicate things because we want the lowest price.”