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Designing buildings with sustainable features to minimise negative environmental impacts is a familiar concept. However Royal Haskoning is aspiring to go one step further by applying the ‘Cradle to Cradle®’ approach to create a conceptual model for a primary school that will be a world away from concrete playgrounds, fluorescent strip lights and overheated classrooms.
Leading this innovative piece of internal research is Matthew Hunt, Royal Haskoning’s Principal Consultant for Climate Change and Sustainability.
“It’s not just about being sustainable – it’s about making smart decisions by enhancing the value of the learning environment for our children.”
Matthew Hunt, Principal Consultant for Climate Change and Sustainability, Royal Haskoning
Matthew explains: “Cradle to Cradle®, is a relatively new idea, and although its principles are broad and wide-ranging, many of its aspects in application can still seem a bit conceptual. Our aim is to apply Cradle to Cradle® to a tangible product to demonstrate how the ideas would realistically work on the ground and, more importantly, the processes you need to go through from the very earliest stages.
“A primary school has a clear purpose, with no industrial processing to take into account. Our research will mainly focus on the building and its function. However it will also be interesting to take into account how the principles of Cradle to Cradle® could be reflected within the school’s curriculum, and influence the lives and careers of its pupils as the next generation.”
The three main principles of Cradle to Cradle®, an idea presented in the book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, are to use waste as food, to celebrate diversity (rather than rely on one-size-fits- all solutions) and to use only renewable energy. Applying the theory behind these principles to what may become a future real life product, is the challenge for Matthew and his team.
“We will be looking at many interacting issues, such as where building materials could come from, the design and construction process, how the school operates, and how people interact with it. The research will be a pilot to see what can be achieved realistically and to identify limitations in the materials and technology available.
“To achieve a truly Cradle to Cradle® primary school all materials used in its construction and function – from the bricks and mortar to the paper the pupils write on – would be sourced according to the environmental and social footprint they leave. Everything has a supply chain that connects it to something else, and uses resources such as water, energy, people, or produces pollutants. “Construction materials will ideally be biologically based, and sourced locally from environmentally positive supply chains. Cradle to Cradle® emphasises the idea of continuous cycles, so materials must have the capacity to be composted or ‘upcycled’, where they are separated and reused in their original form. This ensures they maintain, or even increase, their value through the materials life cycle. “For example, chairs moulded from different types of plastic would not be chosen, as the original materials cannot be separated and reused. The building itself also needs to be easily deconstructed when it is no longer required so the original materials can be recovered. A Cradle to Cradle® way of reusing the bricks would be to deconstruct the building and reuse its bricks elsewhere in their original form. But non-toxic and biologically based building materials could just be composted at the end of the building’s use.
“The team will also be looking at renewable energy, and identifying processes that closely follow Cradle to Cradle® principles. Drawing all our energy needs from the current solar income does mean that fossil fuels are not burned.
“However there is a technological challenge at the moment as solar panels themselves are not reusable or upcyclable, and require a range of scarce materials in their construction. Our challenge is to be clear about the limitations of what we can achieve, and where there are clear areas for future research and development, whilst at the same time embracing as many Cradle to Cradle®-inspired aspects as possible.
“We are anticipating that the research stage will take a few months, and then we can examine potential feasibility. It will be an interesting challenge as we are starting with a blank canvas. Cradle to Cradle® is not very well known in the UK and other countries yet, but we are aiming to reflect its principles as accurately as possible within our theoretical primary school. This will help us to explain the true long-term benefits of taking a Cradle to Cradle®- inspired approach in a clear and tangible way.
“It is not about making a school that will look different, but more about the materials it’s made of, how people feel, work and interact when they’re in it, and the feel of the building. Cradle to Cradle® is not just about being sustainable, it’s about having positive footprints and making financially smart decisions by enhancing the value of the learning environment for our children.”