Author Marga Hoek: recycling not only helps the planet, but business too

From carpets that clean the air to bricks made out of recycled materials: how a circular economy can transform buildings

Marga Hoek
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We have been living in a world where we throw away, use and dispose of. But this never has made sense and never will, because that is how we fill our oceans with rubbish. It is how we have created enormous landfills of litter. And it is how we allow our planet to waste away. In the US alone, consumers generate more than 251 million tonnes of waste, of which 40 per cent comes from construction projects. This is not good for the planet, but it is also not good for the wallet, as we also squander a huge amount of our own potentially useful resources. And, these days, resources are scarce.

The circular economy and circular business models offer a solution for both our planet and our pockets, through the employment of methods of recycling and upcycling materials to reduce costs and waste. In his book Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough first mentions the term "upcycling" to describe "a process that can be repeated in perpetuity of returning materials back to a pliable, usable form, without degradation to their latent value – moving resources back up the supply chain".

Companies can put into effect the circular economy model by rethinking products and services, using principles based on "durability, renewability, reuse, repair, replacement, upgrades, refurbishment and reduced material use". By applying these principles, while carrying out the recycling and upcycling methods, companies can design out waste, increase resource productivity and decouple growth from resource consumption.

By transitioning to a circular economy, we can also unlock global GDP growth of $4.5 trillion (Dh16.526tn) by 2030 and enhance the resilience of global economies. Not only do companies stand to gain a competitive advantage through increased efficiencies and reduced costs, but the World Business Council for Sustainable Development also names these business benefits:

  • Job creation: through circular principles, up to 500,000 additional jobs could be created in France alone.
  • Reduced energy consumption: circular economy solutions could offer a 37 per cent reduction in energy consumption in the EU.
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions: in India, introducing circular solutions presents the opportunity to reduce emissions by about 40 per cent.
  • Increased resource security: sustainably managed forests ensure long-term availability of renewable resources for producing bio-based materials.
  • Innovation driver: the potential revenue of selected circular economy business models for automotive companies could more than double by 2030, growing by $400-600 billion.

The construction and housing sector is a "hotspot" of opportunities for the circular economy. First and foremost, it reduces a company's costs for building materials, which make up for 30 to 45 per cent of construction costs in general. Secondly, for global construction companies, it also reduces their international dependency. This makes sense due to increasing geopolitical uncertainties. Thirdly, there is an increasing demand for circular construction by business, ­government and private clients, so using circular products and resources provides a construction company a competitive advantage now and a stable position in the market later – particularly as government regulations will start demanding companies to follow this path.

'The Trillion Dollar Shift' by Marga Hoek
'The Trillion Dollar Shift' by Marga Hoek

The innovations we can already see at front-runner companies are inspiringfor example, carpets made entirely of waste but also clean the air in your home, or bricks made of recycled materials that can power buildings by catching and keeping energy from the Sun. Making the world a better place via ­circular construction is a no-brainer. So let's get it done.

Marga Hoek is a global thought-leader on sustainable business, international speaker and the author of The Trillion Dollar Shift,