The earth’s resources are finite. This is becoming evident in all areas of the economy. Raw materials are becoming scarce and therefore expensive. At the same time, building materials are for the most part still used according to the ‘take-make-waste’ approach and later discarded. The resulting waste is immense, especially in the construction industry; even recyclable materials are persistently ‘downcycled’ and end up sooner or later in the rubbish. In Germany, the construction industry accounts for almost 60% of waste. On the one hand, this is a problem. On the other hand, there is also a vast potential to reduce waste in this area, conserve resources and reap the long-term benefits of an intelligent building. Nonetheless, disassembly, disposal and reuse of building materials are rarely part of any building design strategy. This is partly because buildings have such a long life cycle. New building developers are not inclined to consider their disposal. After all, buildings are expensive! However, the amount of material flowing through a building during its lifetime is overlooked. Recycling building materials is only part of a complex issue.
When we create a plan based on the cradle-to-cradle principles, complex requirements emerge in terms of how users, materials, technology, the environment, quality of life and health interact within buildings, neighbourhoods and cities. It is important to understand that a building is not a fixed entity, but rather a dynamic system that has an impact on its location, the environment and its users. This is why buildings should not only sustain the environment, but also benefit the environment – they should not just be efficient, but effective! The main question we should be asking is what a building can do for its users and its environment, rather than trying to reduce the damage it causes as much as possible.
With regard to the resources used, this means first of all that a building needs to be viewed as a material bank in which investments are already made in the first planning phase by intelligently selecting the raw materials. This works with the corresponding quality of the building materials used. A consistent circular approach makes sense and can be implemented right from the concept phase and it pays off during later use. But the interaction between the environment, building technology and construction is ultimately the determining factor with regard to the cradle-to-cradle principles. The aim is to achieve an individual building quality that is compatible with nature and future-oriented. These are dynamic, flexible, interactive buildings and urban spaces that generate added value by leveraging synergies between the selected materials and technologies. We are a certified Cradle to Cradle consultant, member of the New Business Models working group for the BAMB2020 (Building As Material Banks) research project and active sponsors of the Cradle to Cradle Association Germany.