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Materials reuse panel more proof of green revoloution

Materials Reuse Panel more proof of Green Revolution

by ROB McMANAMY | Nov 19, 2015

For some, this week's "monumental" annual Greenbuild Conference in Washington DC actually may have started last week in Chicago, at an intimate panel discussion hosted by DIRTT Environmental Solutions and focused on the reuse and recycling of more sustainable building materials.

If that sounds like a nice-but-inconsequential goal for do-gooders who have the luxury of not caring about the bottom line, consider this: 


"Building materials, alone, make up one quarter to 40% of all waste in all cities," said Andrew Balster, event moderator, architect and executive director of nonprofit ARCHEWORKS, a Chicago-based, multidisciplinary, public interest design school "with a social agenda". Started in 1994 by renowned, forward-thinking architect Stanley Tigerman, FAIA, and award-winning designer Eva Maddox, FIIDA, the 21-year-old group's mission statement sounds like it could have been written yesterday: Design shapes the way we live. The fewer resources communities and individuals have, the more they need great design solutions to enhance their quality of life.

Two decades later, just the makeup of the evening's panel was proof that so much has changed since 1994, as further evidenced this week by the mammoth size and breadth of Greenbuld 2015. Of course, 98% of the heavy lifting remains to be done globally to achieve true sustainability, but it is heartening to see that the formerly fringe movement has now established a beachhead and is moving well inland. Need proof? The DIRTT panel included Deborah Stone, director and chief sustainability officer for the Cook County (IL) Dept. of Environmental Control. (Yes, Cook County has a chief sustainability officer!)

"Recycling is great, but reuse is even better," said Stone, who added that the county has recently implemented a "Green Halo" system to screen the demolition contractors that it uses.

  • Reusable Panel (from left): Balster, Iffrig, Stone, Nicklin, and Mlade. (Click for more images.)

In addition to Balster and Stone, the expert panel included DIRTT's Calgary-based sustainability leader Andrée Iffrig, whose team's Enzo System earlier this year won the Canadian Green Building Council's 2015 Product of the Year award; Anne Nicklin, executive director of the Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA); and John Mlade, senior sustainability manager and "living building challenge" specialist for strategic consultant YR&G. (All were expected in DC this week.)

As terms like "sustainable materials management" (SMM), "phased deconstruction", "waste diversion rates", and more proliferate, Nicklin pointed to another surprising sign of the times. In just the last 18 months, it appears that "our national government is finally leading on this issue," she said, noting that June's G7 Summit in Germany included a White House first. The group heard a presentation from Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. 

Of course, perhaps the most crucial factor is the fact that the green movement now finally is offering the potential for a greener bottom line, as well. Profit + purpose. That may make all the difference in the world.

Stay tuned for more coverage from Greenbuild 2015.

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