Back in my undergrad, I was introduced to a book called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Almost two decades after it was published, it is still a good reminder of why we need to strive to develop and use more products that support a circular economy.
The concept of cradle-to-cradle design is simple – designing products with the “end-of-life” in mind rather than not considering the product’s impact over its full lifecycle. Using things like biodegradable materials or durable materials for infinite recycling opportunities and reducing or eliminating production waste are considerations for cradle-to-cradle design. The Ford Model U is a concept car from the early 2000s, produced from cradle-to-cradle materials, such as soy-based resin, with the goal of making it zero waste. Nike launched its Flyleather shoes, made with at least 50% recycled leather fibre, and the Nike Grind partnership through which Nike supplies waste manufacturing materials to create sports and play surfaces. Lastly, I couldn’t mention cradle-to-cradle without paying homage to Ray Anderson and Interface’s carpet tiles which transformed the carpet industry from being a high waste industry to an opportunity to create completely recyclable and easily repairable carpet tiles for commercial spaces.
So how does this relate to sustainable infrastructure? As design team members, we have an opportunity to propose innovative material use and waste strategies on our projects. We can look for places to reuse and recycle existing materials and plan for end-of-life considerations. Frameworks like Envision, encourage the reduction of the use of virgin natural resources and incentivize design teams to look for opportunities to salvage and repurpose materials (RA 1.2 Use Recycled Materials), to identify synergistic relationships between project and external excess resources and waste sources (LD 1.4 Pursue Byproduct Synergies), and to consider the implications of a project’s end-of-life and potential options to make assets more flexible for future reconfiguration or expansion (LD2.4 Plan for End of Life). We are currently working on a project where we are exploring the use of recycled steel, recycled aggregate, concrete wood fibre, and cross-laminated timber. These decisions are being made early and in collaboration with the client, project architect, and engineering disciplines. Some things we are factoring into the decision when looking at using recycled, innovative, and low-carbon materials are durability, lifecycle implications, and cost.