THE RIGHT INFORMATION FOR THE RIGHT PARTY
Author: Germien Cox, Madaster
EPEA stands for Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency. This scientific research and consultancy institute, founded by Michael Braungart in 1987, was involved in the original development of the Cradle-to-Cradle concept—intended to arrive at products, processes and structures that would be of added value for people and the environment. An important element in this concept is that of applying materials within a closed loop that will retain the quality of those materials. And is this not precisely what the circular economy is all about?
Hein van Tuijl, EPEA’s Managing Director, explains: ‘In recent years, many reports have been published on the circular economy, which caused a revival of the concept’s popularity. The closed-loop processes referred to in the publications by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation are based on Cradle to Cradle.’ Is it, therefore, not true that there is no real difference between Cradle to Cradle and the circular economy? Hein van Tuijl replies: ‘Our objective for Cradle to Cradle is that of making a positive impact. We are developing products, processes, systems and buildings, which, for example, restore soils, purify water and air, and support human health. The circulation of materials in a continuous, closed loop is an important element here, but we like to take it one step further.’
Could you give a recent example of a building that clearly illustrates the Cradle-to-Cradle concept? Hein van Tuijl replies: ‘The new municipal building in Venlo would be a fine example. The building was set up as a repository of materials for which the residual value was determined, beforehand. The building purifies water and air, produces energy and has a positive, defined added value for its users and their environment. In the first year of occupation, sickness absence decreased by 1.5%, compared to that in the old municipal building. Furthermore, the air quality within a 500-metre radius around the building is higher than in other locations in the city, because of the building’s green wall facade.’
The EPEA helps companies and government authorities to translate concepts such as Cradle to Cradle and circular economy into practical products, processes and buildings. In this respect, asking the right questions at the right moment in time is important. This also applies to the Madaster Circularity Indicator (CI), to which the EPEA contributed substantially. Hein van Tuijl explains: ‘When you are developing a circularity indicator, having knowledge about products and materials is vital. In order to score the level of circularity, it is
important to know the degree of recyclability. This starts and ends with chemistry. For example, often, additives such as colouring agents determine whether or not materials or products are highly recyclable. We helped Madaster to formulate the right questions and draft their indicators in such a way that these could be linked to scores.’
It is not surprising that the EPEA knows which questions to ask. At its core, the EPEA is a scientific institute, founded by a chemist, no less. Over the years, they have conducted research—on behalf of thousands of parties—into the tiniest building blocks of products and the materials they comprise. The EPEA, thus, has acquired an enormous database that they have been filling over the past thirty-odd years with specific information about a wide variety of materials. Hein van Tuijl does not rule out that, in the future, this database will be linked to the Madaster platform: ‘We emphasise the importance of making the right information accessible to actors within the built environment. Everyone in that chain should have access to information that is relevant to them, in order to put Cradle to Cradle or circularity into practice. An independent, publicly available platform such as Madaster helps to lift this idea to a higher plane by generating material passports for large groups of users. As a data partner and in collaboration with manufacturers, we would be able to provide the platform with product knowledge and how those products could be applied in buildings in a circular way.’