Peter Kelly is Group Director of Sustainable Operations at ISG
The word ‘bank’ is working hard these days. Often associated with a retrograde social step – think a food bank, a warm bench, or even a log bench for those suffering from the injustice of energy povertywithout access to a modern central heating system.
There is a striking parallel between all of these latter-day ‘banking’ facilities and functions: it is simply that we are not collectively operating efficiently as a society and effectively preserving, distributing and using finite resources.
But I strongly believe that a ‘new bank’ could be the catalyst for profound change in the built environment, one with significant benefits for our climate and communities that addresses many of society’s most immediate challenges.
The ‘materials bank’ concept as a physical entity and building philosophy has the potential to transform the way we build, operate and deconstruct our buildings at the end of their useful lives. This bank is now attracting the attention of a global audience.
meet or explain
It is widely reported that 80 percent of the buildings that will exist in 2050 are already standing today; With construction activities and the built environment collectively responsible for 40 percent of carbon emissions, there is significant incentive for a new mindset closing the net-zero gap by 2050.
The fabric of our buildings sequesters significant volumes of carbon. So now is the time for a robust ‘comply or explain’ planning model to focus attention on the importance of preserving existing structures, rather than the default demolition and rebuild approach.
We also need to look at what we can reuse or collect from buildings in order to preserve the materials at their highest value level instead of degrading them through recycling or worse, throwing them into landfills.
“If there is no alternative but to build again, we must adopt a materials bank philosophy from the beginning of the project”
We need an effective and thriving materials reuse market to incentivize ethical procurement decisions. Material suppliers and product manufacturers must also step up to renew and recertify reusable components to provide assurance of compliance and warranty.
If there is no alternative but to build again, we must adopt a materials bank philosophy from the beginning of the project. Every decision should be based on values of circularity, deconstruction, and reuse, while embracing the principles of modularization and standardization. Materials must be selected for performance, quality, longevity, and availability through localized, ethical supply chain partners.
There is evidence that this mindset does not cost more or have a negative impact on the duration of the program. Our deep office remodeling project for the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership is now an academic example of this exact philosophy, and a global audience is taking notice.
If we invest our energy in intelligently conserving, reusing and adapting what already exists, then we don’t have to spend resources making new materials and products to perform the same functions. We know that some of the largest clients in our industry are currently seriously exploring a reconfigurable modular reuse methodology to deliver flexible capital projects.
Betting on change is a smart move for our industry and society at large: it just needs a change in mindset, an investment in imagination and innovation, and a focused consensus from the client, contractor, supply chain, and end users.