Sustainability is a wide topic, that concerns every aspect of our life. The design industry is no different and new options are coming up on a daily basis, from furnishings and accessories that are mindful of our planet (opened in a new window/tab) to sustainable building materials.
What are sustainable building materials?
Here is the big question. As it often happens, the answer is not unique, but it includes several aspects.
Above all, a sustainable building material is one that:
- Generates less waste
- Uses renewable raw materials
- Is more durable
and the list could continue...
Research is currently moving in all these directions and I’m sharing here 6 inspiring examples that really prove the potential of sustainable and circular design and show that there’s good hope for the future if we keep exploring!
The new generation of concrete
One of the most widely used building materials is certainly concrete. To give an idea of scale, the Guardian states that
“All the plastic produced over the past 60 years amounts to 8bn tonnes. The cement industry pumps out more than that every two years.”
Cit. Jonathan Watts
Concrete has undeniable sturdiness advantages, but these are definitely paired with some disadvantages. For instance, some considerations about the sustainability of concrete (opened in a new window/tab) are the huge amount of water used for production, the air pollution and overexploitation of natural resources coming as consequences of quarries and many more…
There is no fast and easy solution here, but the following projects are all good food for thought!
Circular design: from waste to bricks
Project by: StoneCycling (opened in a new window/tab)
Besides making a lot of buildings, we also demolish plenty. And where do all the demolition debris go? Are those just waste?
Certainly not in a circular design perspective, where they should be looked at as a resource and transformed into something useful.
This is exactly what StoneCycling has done, turning demolition debris into waste-based bricks that can be used in construction again!!!! Their WasteBasedBricks® collection includes plenty of textures and colours that open to all sorts of creative pairings!
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Concrete for biodiversity
Another disadvantage of concrete is that it's pretty distant from all what is natural and it "takes space away" from plants and greenery.
But there’s a new sustainable building material at the horizon that could build a bridge and actually foster biodiversity.
Made of a mix of soil, cement, charcoal and organic luffa fibres (yes the same of bath sponges!), the Green Charcoal bio-bricks (opened in a new window/tab) are very porous and the air they contain allows plants to develop into them!
Essentially, these bricks can become the background of a naturally grown green wall and the presence of hollow pockets also makes them able to cool down interior spaces. In short, they help with indoor air quality while introducing a biophilic element!
One of the top disadvantages of concrete is that is cracks.
We’ve already seen that the design industry is looking into the so-called biofabrication to create living materials that are both beautiful and eco-friendly.
In this case, researchers are experimenting with a sort of living concrete, that is essentially equal to standard concrete, but has bacteria added into the mix. These bacteria wake up when they come in contact with water and oxygen (aka when a crack occurs). They then start producing limestone and essentially heal the crack, leaving only a slight scar on the surface! Is this not mind-blowing?
Biobased building materials
Similarly to living concrete, other biobased and sustainable construction materials are coming up. The thing they all have in common is that they're made of organic ingredients. And – in some applications in particular – they would be a brilliant alternative to concrete!
Project by: Dun Agro (opened in a new window/tab)
Mix hemp fibres with natural glue and some water, and you’ll get an innovative building material! Its name is hemp concrete (or Hempcrete) and – besides being a sustainable option – it also retains all the positive qualities we look for in building materials. It is indeed sturdy, has good thermal and acoustic insulation qualities and is fire resistant.
And one of its biggest sustainable properties is that of being CO2 negative, namely absorbing more CO2 than the one it emits!
organic circular design bricks
Project by: The Living (opened in a new window/tab)
Hy-fi bricks are a mix of circular design and biofabrication. In particular, they make use of agricultural waste (corn stalks) and mix it with mushroom mycelium into brick-shaped moulds. At this point, mushrooms will take a few days to grow and the result are organic bricks that can be composted at the end of their life!
Brick without mortar
Project by: The Living (opened in a new window/tab)
Similarly, mushroom mycelium has been used to grow bricks that naturally weld together without needing any mortar-like substance. This Voxel bio-welding ensures an extremely strong joint, because the different bricks essentially become one single thing!
I've seen these exposed at Broken Nature as an example of restorative design and I must say they look impressive!
Sustainable design can take many different forms and it’s extremely inspiring to see how every single object can get a sustainable makeover and become better for us and for the environment!
Ultimately, this means we can all make a difference! So if you’re curious to see how your home could become more sustainable, take a moment to browse through SforSustainable (opened in a new window/tab), the sustainable interior design resource I curate, where I collect the most interesting sustainable and ethically made homeware products!