My November 2021 Updates
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
I want to take a moment to recap everything building material reuse related that I’ve been up to in the past few months.
First, since earlier this year, I have been volunteering for the non-profit Build Reuse to help put the organization’s annual conference together. This year’s virtual conference was made up of 46 sessions and covered an ambitiously diverse range of topics from deconstruction case studies to life cycle analysis software, and from small-scale residential projects to Google’s massive Spruce Goose office building. Conferences speaker joined from all over the US and parts of Europe, and included reuse-related business owners, sustainability consultants, policy experts, architects, researchers in academia, and general contractors. All in all, we had about 300 attendees tune in. It was amazing watching it come together, and I attended as many sessions as I had time for. Seeing that so many individuals are doing such great work in this field left me with a renewed sense of hope and motivation.
As an extension of the general knowledge-sharing, the event is powerful for its ability to bring this diverse range of conference attendees together for post-conference cross-collaboration. This year’s conference organizers, myself included, have already started talking about next year’s conference. I am excited about continuing to make it an event that ties this wonderful community together and helps catalyze real projects.
Interestingly, I think my biggest takeaway came not from the content of the sessions, but from the work that went on behind the scenes. Build Reuse is an organization that currently has 315 members, including 11 board members. In addition to hosting the annual conference, Build Reuse has several working groups that examine major challenges to reuse at a national level, a national registry of deconstruction trainers that it is working to update, and much more that it wants to be doing.
Yet except for one part-time staff member who was hired in the last portion of the conference organizing process, the organization is entirely run by volunteers in whatever time they can free up outside of their busy reuse-related day jobs. This was very much apparent within the conference-organizing committee— committee members tuned into meetings, caught up on emails, and otherwise pitched in when they could, but as day jobs got busier, multiple contributors had to drop out. This is a common theme across reuse initiatives— there is never quite enough time (and in many cases, not quite enough funding to hire additional support). I’ve found that as a result, the people in this field are driven, resourceful, optimistic, and humble— great people to be around.
I have recently joined one of the aforementioned Build Reuse working groups, and in particular one that has a focus on developing tools and resources to further deconstruction and building material reuse data, policy, and advocacy. This group has six co-chairs, but three of those six co-chairs are busy enough that I can only hope to see them at future meetings. Once we settle on exact goals and target deliverables, the plan is to onboard additional Build Reuse members to support this effort.
As the conference reminded me, there is so much going on in this space that it is impossible for any one person to keep mental track of it all. I am certain that many people would benefit from a platform that concisely summarizes key points from all of these happenings, and that is what I personally am hoping to build through this working group. It’s a daunting task (and again I worry about time), but I am excited to push this initiative forward.
Third, the NYC-building-material-reuse-policy-advocacy-group (we really need a better name) I have been a part of since May has continued to meet in person monthly to touch base (stay tuned for more on this).
More passively, I have been attending weekly meetings run by a team in Ithaca, NY, that is chugging onward in the process of drafting and proposing a citywide deconstruction ordinance. I was invited to join these weekly meetings by Cornell Assistant Professor Felix Heisel in September, and since then have been continuously impressed by all that this group (called CR0WD) has accomplished. Since its inception only about a year ago, CR0WD has developed a working draft of a deconstruction ordinance, a salvage assessment survey for on-site project walkthroughs pre-deconstruction, an outreach video, and a resource guide for the benefit of other reuse groups; hosted meetings with various stakeholders for input on the ordinance; presented at multiple conferences; conducted ongoing case study research in the Ithaca area; and so on.
And lastly, I have lately been attempting to push for embodied carbon services within the sustainability consulting company that I work at .
As is the case with many sustainability consulting companies today, my company tends to focus a lot on the emissions tied with the energy use of buildings and not at all on the emissions attributed to building materials. To generate more awareness about the latter, I have so far convinced my team to start offering life cycle analysis services to clients for their LEED projects and hosted an internal Lunch-and-Learn presentation about embodied carbon and reuse. Although I am still figuring out the specifics, I really do believe that sustainability consultants— whose job it is to understand industry trends, help project teams set ambitious goals, and coordinate project teams to make those goals a reality— have a large role to play in cutting down embodied carbon locally, nationally, and eventually globally.
Oh, and I did another reuse store visit while visiting a friend outside of NYC :)
So that’s more or less what I’ve been up to. I wanted to explain it here because it’s a lot to say out loud when my friends and family casually ask.
I am already more integrated in the reuse community than I thought possible. And with the constant conversations and exposure to new ideas I have slowly begun to find synergies, making use of my growing network to cross-pollinate ideas and resources. I’ve connected individuals I met on my trip to the Bay Area with individuals in Ithaca’s CR0WD network, shared some insights from CR0WD meetings with the NYC policy group, and am now thinking through each of these experiences to inform my part in the Build Reuse working group.
How can we collectively develop a world in which material reuse is a sensible thing to do? I feel lucky to have found such a fascinating challenge, and such good company to mull it over with.
 “Embodied carbon” refers to the emissions associated with building materials and the construction process. In contrast, “operational carbon” refers to the emissions associated with building energy use (emissions after the building has been constructed).
 I got to visit Second Chance in Baltimore, MD, mid-November! Shoutout to Sharon Dang for whisking me there basically as soon as I arrived in the city hahaha.