Spring 2021 Seminar: The Circular Economy – Science and Business of Construction

Globally, the construction industry is the biggest consumer of energy and resources, as well as the biggest producer of emissions and waste. As a way to overcome the social, economic, and environmental problems of the current linear economic system, the concept of the circular economy is increasingly gaining attention, defined as one that is “restorative and regenerative by design and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015) The consequent closing of production and consumption loops offers not only the possibility to end the loss of valuable finite resources, but also to reduce dependencies on global, volatile resource markets, prevent greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, and support new business models and green job opportunities. 

Unfortunately, although there is much theory about the circular economy, implementation has only just started. The circular economy requires a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we design, construct and manage our built environment, but in the construction industry, there is limited data on material availability and specifications, new construction methods and technologies, and viable circular business models. This seminar aims to provide students the opportunity to address these gaps. Starting with local case study analyses, students will map material stocks and flows, stakeholder interests and economic conditions required to realize both the business and science of circular construction. 

This semester we will engage a multitude of local industry partners along the construction value chain and combine this knowledge with hands-on components and external insights through national and international guests as part of the Engaged Cornell Grant CI:RCLE – Circular Ithaca: Researching Construction in the Local Economy, a collaboration of the Cornell AAP Department of Architecture (Felix Heisel) and the Samuel Curtis Johnson College of Business (Mark Milstein) with community partners Finger Lakes Reuse, Ithaca NHS, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Trade Design Build and Taitem Engineering.

[Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 2015. “Towards the Circular Economy: Business Rationale for an Accelerated Transition.” 4. Rethink the Future. London, UK: Ellen MacArthur Foundation]