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CA24 - Circles over lines
3 reasons our economy is doomed ... our linear economy that is.
THE TOPIC - LINEAR, RECYCLING, CIRCULAR
The news is often filled with doom and gloom about the state of the economy. If you’ve ever sat down and watched CNN for 20 minutes or scrolled the News App, you know what I mean. The economy is slowing, inflation is increasing, and the stock market it going to crash! Well, that’s the financial economy. What we are going to talk about today is a different kind of economy, but one that has a big impact on carbon.
You may have heard the term Circular Economy before, but let’s unpack it a little.
1 - The Linear Economy | Our society is built on a linear economic model. Anything new that is created eventually ends up in the trash bin, and to be honest it doesn’t usually take long to get there. We take, make and throw away.
2 - The Recycling Economy | The idea of a recycling economy, which some people falsely believe we live in, is an economy where new materials and products aren’t thrown in the garbage, but rather recycled once or twice before eventually ending up in the same place. The trash bin.
3 - The Circular Economy | A circular economy, as you may have guessed, is circular (light-bulb) where materials are continually used rather than thrown away. This process happens over and over again.
Although it may seem normal to us, the linear economy doesn’t make any sense and it’s very unnatural. In a natural system, waste from one system is useful to the next system. It’s a circle … Think about it another way. As a species we spend incredible amounts of time and effort extracting things from the ground, milling and manufacturing them, and putting them together only to use them and throw them away. Next time you throw something in the trash, think about the amount of energy, time and effort that went into extracting all that material.
“In a circular economy, there is no such thing as waste” - Duncan Baker-Brown
The concept of a Circular Economy has risen to the surface recently in the news with a groundbreaking case in the UK where the British Secretary of State rejected a large development proposal that proposed the demolition of the historic Mark’s & Spencer’s Oxford Street store based on embodied carbon. Read more about this historic case:
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WHY IT MATTERS
The Linear Economy is doomed for three primary reasons:
Embodied carbon is too high and too important
Materials are becoming too valuable to throw away
Simply unsustainable long-term
Let’s dig a little deeper:
1 - Embodied carbon is too high and too important
The M&S case out of the UK is a clear example of this idea in action. It was estimated that the demolition and reconstruction of the proposed building would incur 40,000 tonnes of CO2. The state of the climate and the drastic steps that are and will continue to be required to meet our climate goals will require an end to the shameless demolition of perfectly good structures. Embodied carbon matters … ALOT!
2 - Materials are becoming too valuable to throw away
The idea of buildings as material banks is a topic for another issue, but it’s the idea that buildings will become banks of stored materials for future use. Rather than the current method of build and dispose, buildings will be designed to store materials for future use! What an amazing concept and it makes you think twice about the value of a building. Imagine after 30 years rather than a heap of garbage you have a pile of valuable materials to sell.
3 - Simply unsustainable long-term
The linear economy cannot last forever, it’s simple math. One day we will need to create a circular economy or we will literally run out of useful things. Nature has figured this one out, but we are still fumbling our way around it. We need to take cues from our natural environment and stop thinking so short-term.
1 PERSON TO FOLLOW
Will Arnold is a structural engineer with a focus on the decarbonization of the construction industry. He is very active on LinkedIn and regularly posts amazing content for anyone in the AEC industry looking to design low-impact buildings. His passion is clear from what he writes and his wealth of knowledge is a no-brainer to tap into.
1 RESOURCE TO ACT ON
The Architects Climate Action Network has an amazing series of videos on the Circular Economy as it relates to the AEC industry. It is an 8 part series that is available for FREE through youtube and gives some excellent knowledge and tactics for integrating this process into your design.