Annabelle von Reutern, Head of Business Development, Concular, on resource-efficient construction

Breaking with traditional rules

Your team identifies reusable building materials. How does this work?
Inventors and project developers who are planning to convert or demolish a building get in touch with us. We usually start with a project of around 5,000 m. of gross floor area with demolition projects. We have no size limit when it comes to creating material passports for new buildings.

Is it possible to fit verified building materials throughout buildings?
Our platform supplies all trades – from structural elements to technical building services and interior fit-out. We want to make circular building and the reuse of materials the new standard. Change and the construction transition will only become a reality when we are no longer a niche entity. In future, the form and design principle of buildings will follow the availability of material.

What happens to material that cannot be removed undamaged?
So far, our focus has been on easily removable products. In future, however, we are also thinking about moving more towards recycling. That means materials that can no longer be used as reusable products. That is what we are currently talking to companies and recycling firms about. We want to create a place where we can change the construction industry together. The Concular inventory includes glass, steel, natural stone as well as sanitary ware parts. What about ceramic tiles?
Ceramic is a product that is definitely worth re-using due to the high amount of energy needed to manufacture it. To date, we have not accepted and sold any tiles. One reason may be that the tile adhesive was contaminated with pollutants. Removal is very time-consuming. In new buildings, it is important to fit all materials in such a way that they can be easily removed and given material passports.

How did the Concular concept come about?
There is a great need for advice from all the parties involved – from demolition companies to manufacturers and general contractors. As construction workers, we have simply forgotten how to plan and build simply and in a way that can subsequently be removed with ease. But the trend back to the careful use of our resources is unstoppable. There is massive demand for our support, and everyone seems keen to change things. But long-established processes cannot be broken down in such a short time. We have the vision and provide the stimulation. However, this only works if everyone gets involved.

Isn’t there a risk of greenwashing when it comes to sustainability?
Everyone should just do what they can. And if the path to sustainability has to go via the PR department, then that’s just the way it is. As long as it doesn’t just stop there or get sent to the Head of Sustainability. For us, it is important to deal with people on a level playing field. And we don’t take on a project if we notice that we and our concerns are not being taken seriously. No one is perfect. Just do it, and keep at it.

What change do you want from industry, planners, politicians – from all of us?
Everyone should be allowed to change within their framework. The other day, someone said to me that I can’t expect everyone to be intrinsically motivated. I see that differently. Should it not be a matter of course for us all to protect this planet and thus all of us, and to preserve a place that is worth living in?
As the climate catastrophe becomes increasingly rapid, we are encouraged to radically question our thinking and actions and to readjust our focus. That all sounds very abstract now, but there is a list of things that each of the above protagonists could change. Personal responsibility: up – following traditional rules: down.

Are younger offices more open to concepts like Concular than established ones?
We have perceived enormous interest and openness across all generations that has been missing for some time. The urgency seems to have become greater over the last three years. There is now a great sense of anger, along with the will to change. Unfortunately, the fear of departing from the triedand- tested path is sometimes even greater than the fear of the consequences of existing systems and structures.

How do you assess the potential of renewable raw materials?
I think it is wrong to believe that timber construction will save us. There is not one solution for everything. Build less and more simply, critically examine demolition and make use of what is already there. These are all just as important levers as the use of renewable raw materials and the separable re-installation of all these materials. If that does not happen, we will once again create a one-way road to landfill with our resources. Please not again.

Interview: Ute Latze