Last week I chaired a thought-provoking virtual session of the Build It conference on the construction industry's drive to reduce waste, embrace a circular economy and achieve net zero carbon emissions.
And it included a stark warning from eminent experts about the need to stop making "things" that could not be reused.
From a legal perspective that took me back to the many construction contracts and development agreements I have been involved in drafting, which included obligations on the contractor or developer to ensure that all materials were of good (or sometimes when pushing it, best) quality, conform to any specification and were pretty much always new.
Do we really need new?
I don't think so, particularly when the speakers at the conference eloquently and clearly explained ways where existing materials (someone else's waste) could be repurposed and re-used.
We also heard how the cost of building passive house-standard buildings was coming down in comparison to the cost of building to existing standards.
Does that mean the requirement for "new" materials in contracts might become "new only if existing materials of good quality could not be used"? Might there be a move to place obligations on all parties to design and build with an eye on avoiding use of new materials where there is a more environmentally sustainable (and safe) option with incentives based on the reduction of the carbon footprint of a build?
For me, the circular economy is an ideal and one person's waste can be another's treasure.
It cannot be a complete circle if toxic elements are not removed. I take my hat off to those involved in carbon reduction, repurposing and driving us forward to living and working in a cleaner, healthier society. I think of as them as the alchemists of the building industry and this quote from Paul Coelho's "The Alchemist" sums it all up for me.
“This is why alchemy exists," the boy said. "So that everyone will search for his treasure, find it, and then want to be better than he was in his former life. Lead will play its role until the world has no further need for lead; and then lead will have to turn itself into gold. That's what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.