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Regenerative Design and its Applications: Q&A with Cuningham’s Paul Hutton (Part 2)

Connect CRE recently posed a series of questions on climate change hazards and regenerative design responses from the build-design community to Paul Hutton, Cuningham’s Director of Regenerative Design. In this second of a two-part Q&A series, Hutton delves more deeply into applications and implementations of regenerative design.

Connect CRE: Is regenerative design more expensive than other environmental tools?

Paul Hutton: I think that depends on your point of view. If the goal of a regenerative design-based project is to “do good” and restore environments on a holistic basis, then one must consider not just the immediate expenses of the building materials and methods used to create the structure, but also the long term financial, environmental and social benefits that will accrue because of the building.

It’s true that certain aspects of regenerative design may have higher upfront costs; net-zero energy and water require things traditional buildings don’t need. Reducing embodied carbon may mean sourcing material from a more expensive vendor. But in the long run, when you factor in the recapture of lost natural space, the reduction of waste, and potential impact on reversing climate change, regenerative design costs should be seen as spectacularly cheaper than how we’ve built things in the past.

Connect CRE: You mention the circular economy as an important part of regenerative design. What is it and how does it work?

Paul Hutton: The circular economy represents a different way to think about how we relate to the world. In our current, linear economy, we take raw material from nature like rock and ore. We convert it into a resource like cement or steel, and then. Then at the end of that product or building’s life cycle, it becomes waste. Even though some that waste is recycled, this linear process is becoming impossible to continue as we’re running out of natural resources.

In the circular economy, the idea is that waste – the end-of-life state in the linear system – is continuously turned into something new. Waste is designed out of the system entirely.

The circular economy has five key principles: Circular Supply, Resource Recovery, Life Extension, Sharing Platforms, and Product as Service. The circular economy doesn’t operate separately from the current economy, it requires participation, particularly from our industry. We are the primary decision makers on materials, their use and reuse and construction methodologies.

As it relates specifically to development of the built environment, Cuningham has developed a publicly available online toolkit that allows developers to learn about the circular economy. It also lets them take a closer look at their projects to see how to incorporate the ideas into their designs.

Connect CRE: Where can designers and developers find more information about regenerative design?

Paul Hutton: In addition to our regenerative design practice and Circular Economy Toolkit, The International Living Future Institute has done a lot to promote regeneration. Their seven petals are a great place to start. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has also recognized the importance of regeneration. The AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence includes 10 principles that encompass a lot of the thinking about regenerative design, such as Design for Equitable Communities, Design for Ecosystems, and Design for Water. Note the word sustainability is nowhere on the list. AIA’s Blueprint for Better campaign is another AIA resource focused on the subject.

Most importantly, regenerative design is about getting our industry to think about the future and humanity’s role in it. We only have one Earth and only so many natural resources, so we need a new path. Designers and developers have an outsized role in forging that path. Regenerative design is one way to take the lead.


Inside The Story

Cuningham's Paul Hutton

About Amy Wolff Sorter

I love content. I love writing it, visualizing it, and manipulating it to fit into different formats. I have years of experience in working with content, both as creator and editor. The content I create and edit provides assistance with many goals, ranging from lead generation, to developing street cred through well-timed thought-leadership pieces. Content skills include, but aren't limited to, articles and blogs, e-mails, promotional collateral, infographics, e-books and white papers, website copy and more.

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