Have you ever finished a 1,000+ piece puzzle and decided to use the glue included to save your accomplishment? Sure – you’ve turned many hours of struggle into a nice piece of art, but made it impossible to ever do the puzzle again.
The glue has been absorbed by the cardboard pieces, making them very difficult – if not impossible – to recycle. If your art work breaks, or you get tired of it, it’s just waste. And if you want to do puzzles again, you’ll have to buy a new one.
This has been the ruling mindset of the construction and interior design industry for a very long time: take, make, waste. But recently, this linear mindset has begun to shift towards a more circular one, where the aim is to replace virgin materials with reused and recycled ones to the furthest extent possible.
The shift from linear to circular is a journey. While some may be able to leapfrog using new methods, others will have to settle for slow and steady progression. Either way, this shift needs to happen; we’re running out of natural resources – sand, among many other things. And since the entire idea behind circular economy is to stop extracting virgin materials and start using materials that are already “in the loop”, it’s our best option.
The concept of circular economy is also a key area of focus in the newly launched WELL Building Standard version 2 from the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). Along with the World Green Building Council’s recently introduced Health and Wellbeing Framework, aiming to transform the meaning of health and wellbeing for a sustainable building movement, more and more people are beginning to understand the importance of a holistic view.
Now that we have a standard for circular economy construction – let’s get on with the building! But hold on… There’s one piece of the puzzle missing: Hazardous chemicals and toxic substances in construction materials, and how they affect us and the environment.
In order to achieve a truly sustainable circular economy within the construction and interior design industry, we need to be mindful of what we put into today’s materials. If we’re not, toxic chemicals and harmful substances will be perpetuated into the buildings of tomorrow.
So how do we avoid this? Unfortunately, manufacturers of construction material are not required by law to disclose the entire ingredients list of their products. However, more and more companies are starting to move towards safer chemicals and a more transparent mindset – without waiting for legislation to catch up and become stricter.
Ways to keep harmful substances out of building material are:
The keyword is “transparency”.
In addition to keeping toxins and harmful chemicals out of construction materials, we also need to think twice about how we put the building blocks together, to make sure materials can be disassembled and reused or recycled. One company working hard to combine these two aspects is carpet and flooring manufacturer Shaw Contract.
“Shaw Contract has focused on material health and reutilisation in parallel, along with other initiatives as part of our sustainability work. We also work with industry-wide initiatives such as Cradle to Cradle Certified™, a globally recognised measure of safer and more sustainable products, enabling the shift to circular economy”, says Andrew Jackson, commercial director at Shaw Contract EMEA.
“Ensuring that we have independent third-party product certifications, such as Environmental Product Declarations* (EPD) we view as very important for the sake of transparency. Shaw Contract is also a pilot manufacturer of the Health Product Declaration Collaborative (HPD) and a member of the Chemsec business group.”
For manufacturers to consider what constitutes best practise is an important step on the journey towards circular economy. At ChemSec, along with other organisations, we are driving the change to safer chemicals, embracing knowledge from a variety of sectors. If this knowledge is shared, new ideas and best practices can be brought into the construction and interior design sector too.
The buildings of today contain the construction materials of tomorrow. Let’s start treating them with the respect they deserve and build for the future.
Hazardous chemicals can be found everywhere, from the world’s most remote locations to everyday products such as clothes, electronics and food packaging. Some increase the risk of serious illness. Others damage the environment. At ChemSec, we’ve decided to take action. We are an independent, non-profit organisation committed to the development of sustainable chemicals use through dissemination of knowledge, collaboration and practical tools.
Part of Shaw Industries, Shaw Contract designs and manufactures carpet and resilient flooring products that give foundation to spaces and support the people within them. Shaw Contract is a member of ChemSec’s business group.
*An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is an independently verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable information about the life-cycle environmental impact of products.