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By Lizzi Whaley

Zero Waste – At What Cost


I’ve been brewing a theory, backed by evidence, that I’m keen to debunk or validate. My proposition is that achieving Zero construction waste in New Zealand, particularly in ground-up refurbishments for retail and office fitouts, may not be feasible without affecting other aspects of a project.

Of course, there are exceptions. Projects that can repurpose significant amounts of existing materials stand a better chance. But for the majority of full-scale renovations, it’s a different story. As someone deeply invested in sustainability, my team and I have explored avenues of carbon reduction and waste minimisation extensively. We understand the pivotal role played by boardroom decisions in shaping waste management strategies for construction projects. The fact that, 80% of waste choices are made there, shows the influence designers and architects have over material and partnership decisions.

We’ve all seen those hockey stick graphs where reaching a certain percentage of a goal is relatively manageable, but the final stretch is a steep climb. I believe the steep cost in waste reduction likely translates to increased people hours and carbon emissions.

In our experience, achieving a 70% waste diversion and a 45% carbon reduction incurs negligible impact on project budget and timeline. Green Gorilla, for instance, consistently hits that 70% diversion mark. But what about that remaining 30%? What are the real costs in terms of time, resources, and carbon emissions? Especially in sectors like Retail, where materials like MDF board, notoriously difficult to recycle, are heavily utilised.

I’m a staunch advocate for zero waste in the industry. And if you do manage to achieve it, I urge you to share your experiences—warts and all. Let’s lay bare what worked and what didn’t. What were the true costs in terms of budget, resources, and carbon emissions?

For me, sustainability is a holistic endeavor. Carbon and waste are like partners in a dance—they must be addressed together. And the key is continuous improvement. We need to keep pushing the boundaries of what’s achievable in waste and carbon reduction, learning from each other’s successes and failures along the way.

So, here’s our call to action: if you’re a client or project willing to share your zero waste journey and maximised carbon reduction efforts, we’re all ears. At Spaceworks, we’ll design and build your project at competitive rates (as we always do 😊), and we’ll throw in all the extra resources and manpower to reach zero waste at no additional cost.

Let’s join forces to make sustainability not just a goal, but a reality – and lets make it repeatable, its repetition that makes the real difference.

Reach out to see how Spaceworks can elevate your project with innovative sustainability solutions.

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