What needs to happen to transition Ireland’s construction sector towards the circular economy? The Irish Green Building Council (IGBC) held a new conference, ReSource 2018, on 21st June looking to answer this question.
The key themes of the day examined how we can design buildings to minimise embodied carbon and create a circular economy for construction. The IGBC also released their brand new guide on the Circular Economy.
What is a Circular economy? The traditional linear economy (take, make, consume and dispose) leads to resource depletion and can have negative side effects on ecosystems. A circular economy is an alternative approach where we look to turn products at the end of their usefulness back into other materials/products. This way materials can be conserved, and we can cut out waste.
Opening the event CEO of the Irish Green Building Council Pat Barry said “The IGBC proposes ten steps to move the construction industry towards a Circular Economy”. Barry spoke about Irelands EPD program and how Irish manufacturers can develop an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) through it.
EPD’s are 3rd party verified documents prepared by a manufacturer to set out the various environmental impacts of their products. Medite Smartply, Munster Joinery and Quinn Building Products, were all given their EPD certificates at ReSource. These were the first to develop an EPD under the EPD Ireland programme.
Speaking on the importance of EPD program Pat Barry said: “Half a million homes must be built by 2040. They will further blow our carbon budget if we don’t measure and reduce the carbon embodied in their construction. We must start focusing on the environmental impact of the products used to build our homes, offices and infrastructure”. Pat acknowledged the impressive start to the EPD program and looks to encourage Irish manufacturers to continue this promising trend.
Continuing the discussion on EPD’s, our speaker Peter Seymour from EcoReview reviewed the process for developing an EPD, as well as the different indicators and their impacts. Peter provided details on how EPD’s can make it easier for the specifier to identify impacts. In addition, how EPD’s can be used by the government to support Green Public Procurement. An EPD provides accurate and verified environmental data and it is essential currency for compliance and communication. Acting as a building block for building/project calculation tools an EPD is also a key element of a national environmental database.
Cradle to Cradle Design
Our Keynote speaker at the conference was Chemist Prof. Michael Braungart, who is widely known for his work with the Cradle to Cradle design concept. Throughout his talk Braungart focused on choosing healthy materials for buildings. If chosen wisely the materials we use to construct our buildings can have a positive impact on both our health and the planet. We need to “make buildings that support life”, he said.
You have to think of a building like a tree – which provides shade, habitat, food, energy and clean water. Healthy indoor air has to come before energy reduction in building design.
– Michael Braungart
Braungart believes that the world doesn’t have a waste problem but a design problem. Recycling alone may not be enough to achieve this as through downcycling, over time materials can still be lost and the quality degraded. He spoke about how if we rethink the way we design products we can achieve a circular economy model, through the circulation of vital resources. “Cradle to Cradle is about everything being a nutrient, being beneficial, not less bad.”, Braungart told. Looking at product materials as nutrients (biological and technical) they can be safely circulated in a closed loop lifecycles.
Moving towards Circularity in Construction
During the second half of the conference our speakers looked at what’s already happening in Irish construction around the Circular Economy. The Speakers discussed the challenges they have faced and what steps the Irish Industry can take to move to the next stage.
Our first speaker of this session was Johanna Jarvinen of One Click LCA. The software was developed by Bionova, a world leading expert in building Life Cycle Assessment. Speaking at the conference Jarvinen said, “Currently, buildings are directly responsible for 35% of global emissions. When all aspects of buildings are considered, some estimate that over half of emissions are related to the building sector.” Considering this, Jarvinen spoke about how LCA can be used for better decision making, moving beyond energy efficiency to embodied carbon and other impacts. In addition, she discussed how LCA is already being used in Public procurement. She also highlighted how, an increasing number of certification systems utilize LCA within their accreditation, including BREEAM, LEED v4 and Home Performance Index.
Our second speaker, Nellie Reid Managing Director of Meehan Green focused on Healthy Materials and why they are so important in buildings. In addition, she discussed the ABC’s of Selecting Materials for LEED + LBC+ WELL Projects.
Nellie spoke about how the Living Building Challenge (LBC) pushed the industry towards implementing the health and wellbeing criteria into building design. Speaking at the conference, she said “LEED has evolved and continuously improved and taken into account everything we learned about building impacts on our health”. LEED v4 is the current version of LEED and merges together with aspects of the WELL certification scheme, giving more emphasis on environmental product declarations and health product declarations.
Our last speaker Noel Gill from Hegarty Demolition Ltd discussed their strategy for achieving zero waste on site. Using the example of Hegartys work on Oisín House on Pearse Street, Noel explained how developing a waste management plan specific to the site is essential in achieving zero waste to landfill projects. Once you have accessed the waste you can categorise it into different streams, process it and then access how it can be reused or recycled efficiently.
Hegarty’s waste management plan identified eight main waste streams: reinforced concrete, blockwork, timber, steel, plasterboard, ceiling tiles, carpets and glass. Concrete made up the majority of the waste which meant a plan for processing the concrete was vital. Noel showed the benefits gained from being resource-efficient on site with construction and demolition waste. Hegarty saved on the cost of new material as well as the costs of the waste disposal, with the added environmental benefits.
Overall this session aimed to provide details on what’s happening in Ireland already with regards to the Circular Economy. A key theme running through the session was the impacts of buildings and their materials on both the environment and human health and wellbeing. Also the benefits that can be gained for those who choose to utilise these circular economy approaches.
A copy of the IGBC’s Circular Economy guide is available here: https://www.igbc.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/IGBC-Report-Web-Final-21.06.18.pdf