We spend over 90 percent of our time indoors. Most of you are probably reading this newsletter indoors. Have you ever spent time thinking about circularity in the built environment? The question I’m thinking about today is: Can buildings be truly circular?
We are a long way from that ideal future right now, so I took a look at some of the numbers for construction and demolition (C&D) and building waste, and suggest a couple strategies to move this sector towards circularity.
Let’s start with a couple of staggering numbers:
We generate an estimated 600 million tons of C&D waste each year in the U.S. This number is double that of all municipal solid waste.
Roughly half of all materials we extract are used in the built environment. This includes non-building infrastructure such as roads and bridges, but importantly, those materials tend to be very similar to those used in buildings and have very similar and disappointing reuse numbers.
As much as 30 percent of all construction materials delivered to building sites leaves as waste.
If these numbers aren’t bad enough, global material use is expected to more than double by 2060, with a third of this rise attributable to the building and construction sector. We also anticipate adding more than 2 trillion square feet of floor space, roughly the equivalent of adding an entire New York City to the world — every month for 40 years. This is a bit of an apples-to-oranges piece of information, but we also know that nearly 40 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from the construction and operation of buildings.
I have trouble wrapping my head around the scale of that development, but we can all probably agree that it is a lot of new buildings and a lot of raw material extraction.
As much as 30% of all construction materials delivered to building sites leaves as waste.
The key question then is, what can we do to improve our situation? There are countless approaches that should all be considered together for circular building design, but I’ll start by addressing just two.
Let’s start with what to do about construction waste. If as much as 30 percent of all material delivered to a job site is disposed of before it even makes its way into the building, it would seem we have a fundamental design problem to address. It can be useful here to think of how manufacturers in all sectors have worked to minimize their waste since the beginning of the industrial revolution, if not since the beginning of humans living in communities. Standardizing processes, planning ahead and automation have all led to significant efficiency gains in nearly every sector’s manufacturing.
There are effective methods to minimize on-site C&D waste. The first, and I would argue one of the most powerful, is to use modular building systems. Manufacturing building systems in a controlled environment and limiting work at the job site to sequencing and assembly has proven effective, but is regrettably still underused.
Home builders have been doing this for a century, if not more. An early example includes the Sears mail order homes of the early 20th century. The homes would arrive with many components pre-cut to size and ready to be assembled. Sears sold more than 70,000 mail order homes between 1908 and 1940.
There are, of course, trade-offs with this method. The waste in this case is pushed upstream to the manufacturer. That being said, efficiencies are often available in manufacturing plants that are not available in the field. This is especially true in the 21st century, where computer programs can optimize each part of the manufacturing process to minimize waste. Both volumetric (whole rooms arriving on site) and panelized (wall and floor systems) modular construction can save materials and lead to more energy-efficient buildings. They can also cut construction times considerably. An additional benefit to modularity is that many buildings can be disassembled and reassembled as needed, thus serving as more of a materials bank than a fixed asset.
As a quick aside, I grew up in a modular home. A few years after my parents sold it, the new owners decided to build a new home. Someone bought our old modular home, separated it down the middle (much as it had been originally delivered in the early 1970s) and moved it to their own land on a new foundation. A good reuse story for sure, and one that almost certainly would not have happened with a standard, site-built home.
Designing buildings for circularity from the beginning is also important. Starting with circularity in mind requires close collaboration between product manufacturers, specifiers and the owners and developers of buildings. We are watching these collaborations begin to take shape through programs such as mindful MATERIALS (yes, that’s how they capitalize their name). Mindful MATERIALS is a collaboration hub that is building a common materials framework to enable better decisions by specifiers. It also supports several building products transparency programs (such as environmental product declarations and ingredient disclosures) that are key to knowing what is in a building at the time it is deconstructed or renovated.
Ultimately, interventions exist to make buildings more circular if we invest in them and put them at the forefront of design. As with any complex system of complex systems, this will take time and commitment by everyone up and down the supply chain. It also will take education to make sure that buyers recognize the value in high-quality, durable and more circular products.
We are starting to see the makings of a circular building sector unfold in front of us, but everyone involved in the sector –pretty much all of us in one way or another — needs to push it forward.
Is Climate Tech the Hottest Corner of the VC Business in the 2020s?
This is an excerpt from “Climatenomics: Washington, Wall Street, and the Economic Battle to Save Our Planet” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2022). Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
While government policies and leadership from Washington can help accelerate change, there’s another place that can accelerate change much faster: Silicon Valley.
In 2003, as a national technology reporter for a chain of newspapers, I visited the Mountain View, California campus of Google to meet with cofounder Sergey Brin. At the time, Google was still a private company, though there was widespread speculation that it would launch an initial public offering soon. The moment I pulled into the company parking lot, I got a taste that Google wasn’t a typical company. Covering many of the parking spaces were canopies made from solar panels, something that’s commonplace today but back then was pretty unusual. Even more unusual were the thick power cords hanging down from the panels over nearly every parking space, something that didn’t make sense until Brin and team later explained it to me. At the time, electric vehicles were even more uncommon than solar parking lot canopies (the first Tesla wouldn’t hit the streets for another five years). But Google knew EVs were coming someday soon, and it wanted to be ready. Google also wanted employees and other visitors to think about the possibilities that could come with solar-powered parking lots and cars that you could plug in to refuel.
Two of the forward-thinking people responsible for Google’s early solar deployment were Chris Sacca, who as the company’s corporate counsel and later head of special initiatives was involved in Google’s energy purchase agreements, and Andrew Beebe, who was chief commercial officer at solar company Suntech, which helped Google go solar.
“There really wasn’t any corporate interest until those guys stepped up and said, ‘Please build solar arrays all over our campus,'” Beebe recalled during a GreenBiz VERGE [climate] tech conference in October 2021. “But (Google executives) also said, ‘Set it up so we can have Walmart and Cisco and Microsoft and all of our competitors come over and see what we have done.’ They obviously had a hugely catalytic role in making all this happen.”
Both Beebe and Sacca would go on to become successful venture capitalists, Beebe with Obvious Ventures, the firm that helped launch companies such as Medium, Beyond Meat and electric bus maker Proterra, and Sacca with his firm called Lowercase Capital, which funded companies such as Twitter, Uber and Instagram. For about three years, Sacca also was a “guest shark” on the ABC television show “Shark Tank,” where budding entrepreneurs bid for the favor — and the funding — of millionaire investors. But it didn’t take long before Sacca was feeling unfulfilled by funding kitchen gadget start-ups on “Shark Tank” or electronic-gaming companies back in Silicon Valley. He, like Beebe, turned his attention almost fully toward clean-energy and climate-related investments.
Sacca and Beebe represent one of the hottest corners of the venture capital business in the 2020s: climate tech. Some of the companies that investors like them are backing today will likely become the Googles of tomorrow. Only instead of changing the way we search for stuff on the Internet, climate tech companies will change the way we source and store our energy, grow our food, and move from point A to point B, whether on land, water, or air. In doing so, they’ll not only transform our economy, but help save the planet.
In 2021, investments in climate tech companies hit more $31 billion, according to deal tracking firm PitchBook. That was 30 percent more than in 2020 and more than 2.5 times what it was in 2019. Those big numbers will likely only get bigger as federal, state and international clean climate and clean-energy policies are implemented. Quite simply, government policies and funding help reassure venture capitalists and other private investors to put more of their money at risk.
In 2021, investments in climate tech companies hit more $31 billion, according to deal tracking firm PitchBook.
Climate-tech and clean-tech investing is no longer just about solar or wind or even batteries anymore. Those businesses now attract plenty of mainstream investors. They’re almost like investing in restaurants or real estate — they’re too passe for venture capitalists who are more interested in finding more disruptive technologies that can scale quickly and create big returns.
“What we look at every day are energy innovations that are just insane, some of which are doing things that Einstein declared literally would not be possible,” Sacca said at the VERGE conference. “We see stuff happening in synthetic biology, for instance, that’s just nuts.”
Amid the hellish fires in the West, back-to-back hurricanes in the East and scientists everywhere warning that things were only going to get worse, Sacca in August 2021 stepped away from Lowercase Capital, quit “Shark Tank,” and with wife Crystal turned his attention specifically toward figuring out how to fund and support companies trying to do more to address climate change. The couple launched a new investment fund called Lowercarbon Capital. In a matter of days, they raised more than $800 million that Lowercarbon Capital could deploy to try to “un— the planet,” in Sacca’s terms. The fund was so popular, Sacca wrote on Lowercarbon Capital’s blog, that it had to turn investors away. “It turns out that raising for a climate fund in the context of an unprecedented heatwave and from behind the thick clouds of fire smoke probably didn’t hurt,” he wrote.
Since then, Lowercarbon has invested in companies that capture carbon dioxide and turn it into consumer products, reduce carbon emissions from livestock and fertilizers on the farm, and mine materials that are key to batteries and storage in ways that don’t destroy the environment. One such company is Twelve, a Bay Area start-up that “upcycles” carbon dioxide captured from industrial emissions and turns it into everything from jet fuel to sunglasses lenses, replacing fossil fuels and plastic. Another company Sacca was particularly excited about in 2021 was Lilac Solutions, which has raised $150 million to commercialize its lithium-mining technology. Lilac claims it can produce the essential element for batteries 10,000 times faster than conventional methods, using 90 percent less land and water. Lowercarbon Capital has also made numerous major investments in companies at the intersection of agriculture and climate, including start-up Formo, which is following the Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger model to make fine European cheeses that don’t require dairy or cows; Entocycle, which has figured out how to speed up the gestation period for black soldier fly larvae which happen to be some of the world’s fastest converters of food waste to protein; and Nitricity, which uses solar-powered modules placed around farms to literally make fertilizer out of thin air by converting and processing nitrates found in the atmosphere.
If garbage-eating fly larvae and fine cheeses bioengineered in a sterile laboratory don’t sound like appealing business models, think again. According to research group Climate Tech VC, food-and-water-related climate tech was the biggest sector for climate venture funding in 2021, followed by mobility, consumer goods, and clean energy. Tech investors’ take on food and agriculture is yielding new high-tech twists in one of the world’s oldest and most established economic sectors. Seattle-based clean-agriculture start-up Nori, for instance, got its start in 2017 when its cofounders entered a hackathon contest for coders to figure out new ways to use blockchain technology for social good. Far from the nearest farm, what they came up with was a way to use blockchain technology to monitor and track low-carbon agriculture practices and then monetize that by selling farm-based carbon-removal offsets.
In doing so, Nori is incentivizing farmers to use more climate-friendly agriculture practices that don’t just reduce carbon emissions but actually increase the ability of soil and crops to store carbon, while also creating a new marketplace for carbon removal and trading. In 2020, Nori raised more than $5 million in seed funding to launch its platform. “We call it climate-smart agriculture — thinking of carbon removal like a crop,” Christophe Jospe, a Nori cofounder, told E2.
This excerpt has been updated since publication.
Original Article: greenbiz.com
Walmart Begins Search for Sustainable Packaging
“We don’t have time to waste.” With this imperative tagline, American retail giant Walmart launched its Circular Connector this spring.
The goal: to accelerate innovation in the field of sustainable and circular packaging, creating a bridge between companies looking for packaging that has less impact on the environment and those with new solutions to offer.
Searching for sustainable packaging
That the world’s largest retail multinational is launching an online platform to encourage the circular economy of packaging — even while accounting for some form of greenwashing — is undoubtedly great news.
After all, it’s a fact that consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to the problem of plastic pollution and in general to any aspect related to the sustainability of products. And Walmart, the retail chain of over 10,000 stores around the world, is held accountable by consumers on a daily basis.
Hence the ambitious commitment that the multinational has set for itself by 2025: to achieve that 100 percent of packaging on its shelves would be either recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable. And hence the rush to find solutions to reach the goals.
It’s a fact that consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to the problem of plastic pollution… And Walmart is held accountable by consumers on a daily basis.
The Circular Connector was therefore created as an online tool to connect packaging designers and manufacturers with companies in various sectors, from food to cosmetics, from fashion to toys. “Basically,” explains a statement on Walmart’s website, “it’s a platform to accelerate packaging innovation and implementation. We want to make it easier for suppliers and brands to find sustainable packaging solutions, thus enabling all of us to move faster toward waste reduction.”
How does the Circular Connector work?
The Circular Connector is accessed from the multinational company’s sustainability policy site, the Walmart Sustainability Hub. To participate, sustainable packaging manufacturers or designers must fill out a special questionnaire with a series of questions about the functions, materials and recyclability of the candidate packaging. Each proposal will then be reviewed according to Walmart’s packaging sustainability goals and, if compatible, will be posted on the site and made available to brands for possible supply contracts.
Reiterating, pragmatically, that they “don’t have time to waste,” the project leaders also made available the company’s Recycling Playbook, based on the two principles of recyclability established by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Namely: 1. Is there, in practice, a system for large-scale recycling of this category of packaging that guarantees at least a 30 percent recycling rate for over 400 million people? 2. Do the packaging components fit into that system?
Walmart’s handbook also contains valuable guidance on materials, such as those that are difficult to recycle and therefore tend to be excluded from sorting: metallic films, multi-layer materials, PVC or PVDC, PETG in rigid plastic packaging, oxo-degradable plastics and colored PET.
“We need to work together to promote innovative solutions on a large scale,” states Walmart. “Companies with reusable, refillable, recyclable and other sustainable packaging solutions should therefore come forward. There are hundreds of brands striving to achieve their own packaging sustainability goals, just like Walmart, and the Circular Connector is one tool available to them in this journey.”
Original Post: greenbiz.com
Episode 317: Conversations About Circularity
This week’s run time is 1:03:05.
CONSIDERING CIRCULARITY (8:50)
Featuring a recap of interviews and stories from Circularity 22, held this week in Atlanta.
INTERVIEW: Jon Smieja, vice president of circularity and senior analyst for GreenBiz, reflects on hot topics and themes
STORY/AUDIO HIGHLIGHT: Planet vs. plastic: Three steps to solving the global plastics crisis (Featuring Keiran Smith, co-founder and CEO of Mr. Green Africa, on how to encourage decisions made at the local level.)
STORY/AUDIO HIGHLIGHT: John Warner: How to do the materials economy right (Featuring John Warner, senior vice president and research fellow of Zymergen, on how green chemistry could enable the leap to a regenerative, circular economy … if we educated chemists.)
CHITCHAT: Textile recycling tech startup triumphs in Circularity 22’s Accelerate competition
AUDIO HIGHLIGHT: Suzanne Shelton, founder and CEO, Shelton Group (On the importance of shifting context; and what that disturbing baby wrapped in cellophane image teaches us about marketing circularity.)
More sustainable consumer goods (47:30)
Interview with new CEO Christy Slay of The Sustainability Consortium, about priorities, circularity and engaging nimble innovators.
*Music in this episode: Lee Rosevere: “Not My Problem” and “Let That Sink In”; ItsWatR: “Awakening Instrumental”
Original Post: greenbiz.com
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