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A Higher Calling

Joe Rettman

A Higher Calling

Features - Construction

The green-building movement is increasing the emphasis on deconstruction and reuse to create a higher value for secondary materials.

Anne NicklinMarch 19, 2013

The Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA), Chicago, has been providing information, research and educational support to the deconstruction and reuse industries for nearly 20 years. In that time there have been great strides within the field, and the opportunity now exists to transform the larger C&D marketplace from one based on waste and debris to a dynamic economy of material resources.

Changing Client Demands
The widespread adoption of the U.S. Green Building Association’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building rating system over the past 10 years is a testament to the continued drive of the architecture and engineering (A&E) professions to promote sustainable architecture.

The C&D recycling industry has responded admirably to this client-driven revolution, leading to the achievement of the construction waste diversion LEED credit (MRc2) on more than half of the projects certified in 2012. However, as architects and owners continue to strive for deep green buildings, they are increasingly seeking to divert building materials toward their highest and best uses rather than relying on producing alternative daily cover (ADC) to meet recycling rates.

In addition to these changing views on how to manage their discarded materials, the A&E field is recognizing its own power to “close the loop” and specify reclaimed materials for installation on their projects. The deconstruction and reuse field has responded to this evolving design directive with a growth in services to commercial clients, both in removing buildings and in brokering the supply of reclaimed materials for new construction projects. We’ve also seen the increased adoption of deconstruction techniques by traditional demolition firms offering “green demolition” services requested by clients.

A highly visible example of the growing adoption of reclaimed materials is the construction of a new drive-thru Starbucks café from reclaimed shipping containers, as well as its installation of reclaimed wood products at many branches around the country. Anthony Perez, senior concept designer for the Starbucks corporation will be presenting a keynote speech at the upcoming Decon ’13, April 29 to May 1, at Seattle’s Seattle Center to address precisely this evolving collaboration between designers, builders and the material supply community.

Changing Policy Environment
Regulation of C&D removal, hauling and disposal is, at best, a patchwork quilt of state and local laws informed as much by NIMBYism (not in my backyard) as by health, environmental and economic concerns. In contrast to the increasing fees and regulation applied to C&D landfilling, there is growing international support and encouragement of deconstruction practices, with a number of municipalities updating their policies to specifically include or favor deconstruction and reuse. In Vancouver, British Columbia, there is priority permitting for deconstruction projects. The city of Dubuque, Iowa, has been supporting deconstruction for 10 years with great success in extending the life of its municipal landfill, and now Cook County, Ill., has passed an ordinance calling for material reuse on residential projects. The folks who helped develop and implement all three of these programs will be speaking at Decon ’13, so join the conversation and see what kind of innovations may be in store with your local policymakers.

A Skilled Workforce
The continued growth of the resource-based diversion economy is dependent on the adoption of deconstruction and reuse techniques throughout the country. As an educational organization, the BMRA always has been committed to providing the best learning resources to all interested parties and has now expanded to provide the a nationwide deconstruction curriculum for the community college market written and reviewed by experts within the field. In addition to the classroom and lab lessons included in the curriculum, the BMRA will be offering a certificate in deconstruction for those students who pass both the written and practical tests, offering employers a real means to identify promising deconstruction workers.

Other offerings from the BMRA’s 2013 educational catalog include a 24-hour deconstruction site supervisor course, an 8-hour overview of deconstruction and reuse and more than 40 hours of educational sessions to be held at Decon ’13.

One way make sure that your company is part of the resource-based future is to attend Decon ’13 and network with other practitioners, support the BMRA, provide additional training for your crew and start offering deconstruction services to your clients.

Check out the BMRA’s online directory and add a local reuse store to your potential drop-off sites. As the saying goes, if you fail to plan…you plan to fail. So now’s the time to look at reuse and plan for your future in the resource based material economy.

 The author is executive director of the Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA,, Chicago, and cochair of Decon ’13, the BMRA’s biennial conference on reuse, deconstruction and C&D recycling.

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