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Last edited 06 Aug 2019
Wood and the Circular Economy
The pressure for the built environment to reduce carbon emissions and think in terms of long-term sustainability is increasing. This is where the circular economy model comes in to play. But what exactly does it entail, how can we achieve it and who needs to be involved?
The current business model is to design and make something then throw it away – the linear model. This is neither sustainable nor desirable for the environment. The circular economy is about approaching the way we design and make things with the intention to recycle, reduce and reuse as many resources as possible.
In the construction industry, the circular economy encourages the whole supply chain to choose materials that can achieve a longer lifecycle. That means everyone, from the client and the architect to product manufacturers, engineers and contractors, are all responsible for making better choices to create a 'circular' building.
 Proof is in the pudding
In a bid to get the circular economy spinning in the right direction, certification schemes have been developed such as Cradle to Cradle Certified (C2C Certified), which is a framework based on quality assessment and innovation. Products are assessed under five criteria called quality categories:
- Material health;
- Material re-utilisation;
- Renewable energy and carbon management;
- Water stewardship, and
- Social fairness.
In 2017, the British Woodworking Federation did a feasibility study on cradle-to-cradle timber windows with C2C Certified. The windows were awarded gold for material re-utilisation, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness. Silver was awarded for material health, giving an overall 'silver' grading for timber windows. The only reason for not achieving Gold was that only 95% of the materials used were wood and preservatives. To get the top mark, 100% of the materials need to be assessed.
At the 2019 ASBP Awards, EcoCocon won the Product Innovation Award for its use of straw bale panels in a rural self-build. The panels were C2C Certified with a silver award, and the project was a first for using this particular system in the UK. What impressed judges most was “the combination of extremely high fabric efficiency (Passivhaus certification) achieved through the use of a range of low-impact, natural materials to create a comfortable, healthy environment.”
With the number of C2C Certified products rising, others have been inspired to raise awareness of this offering, cue the creation of Cradle to Cradle Marketplace. As a natural renewable building material, it is unsurprising there are already a number of timber C2C Certified products available for the built environment.
 Building the UK’s circular economy
The Vision 2040 of the European Forest-Based Sector aims at material collection rates of forest-based products at 90% and for their reuse and recycling to account for 70% of all recyclable material. This idea of a circular economy would store carbon and substitute more energy-intensive materials.
In the UK, the Green Building Council (UKGBC) is working with its members and the wider industry to develop practical guidance which will enable organisations working in the built environment to overcome the barriers to implementing circular economy principles.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- 5 things leaders can do to create a truly circular economy.
- A social, circular economy.
- BREEAM Construction waste management.
- Building Revolutions - review.
- Circular economy - transforming the worlds number one consumer of raw materials.
- Construction waste.
- Cradle to cradle product registry system.
- Design for deconstruction.
- End of life potential.
- Green supply chain management.
- Life cycle.
- Mean lean green.
- Recyclable construction materials.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle.
- Renewable energy.
- Sustainable materials.
- Waste management plan.
 External references
- British Woodworking Federation feasibility study
- C2C Certified
- Circularity Gap Report for 2019,
- Cradle to Cradle Certified (C2C Certified)
- Cradle to Cradle Marketplace
- Green Building Council (UKGBC) practical guidance
- Product Innovation Award.
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