9. Bergen Hubert on the path to circularity in the built environment

Built Environment Manager at Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute

Welcome to The Multi-usiverse. Alongside your guide, Garr Punnett, explore worlds of opportunity within the use of physical resources across companies and organizations. Consider this a field guide in scaling reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recirculation. We’ll learn from guests who have ventured down this path and carved their way. Our aim is to discuss the successes, opportunities, and challenges of scaling a connected, circular economy. On this episode we’re joined by Bergen Hubert, Built Environment Manager at Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

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Audio Transcript:

Garr Punnett (00:16)

Hey, everybody, welcome back to the Multiusiverse podcast. I’m your host, Garr Punnett. It’s rare that a guest will actually not only inform the audience, but change the actual show structure. Here at the Multiusiverse podcast, we’re all about informing what the path is towards circularity. And I think this was now informed now by Bergen, who we just had on as a guest and who made it pretty clear that the future actually for us is not really understanding what’s the past in terms of recycling or what the future looks like in terms of complete circularity. But it’s the path on how we get there. And that’s going to be really the next focus for most of our episodes going forward is connecting the dots and creating that path. Enjoy. Bergen’s episode. She’s the manager for the Built Environment of America’s for Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute. She was amazing. Again, I don’t think we have a bad guest in the bunch ever. They are always informative and entertaining. Please let me know. Look forward to hearing your comments. Enjoy. Thank you for joining us, Bergen. We’ve got Bergen Hubert on today. She is the manager of the Built Environment for the Americas at Cradle to Cradle Product Innovations Institute.

Garr Punnett (01:36)

Thank you so much for joining.

Bergen Hubert (01:38)

Hey, thanks for having me. Long time coming. I know that we had to pause for the holidays, take a little bit of a breather, but I’m happy to be on and ringing in 2022 with you guys.

Garr Punnett (01:51)

Well, it was worth the wait. We’re going to start off just kicking this right into do you have a favorite Cradle to Cradle certified product or project that you’ve worked on so far? And then we can sort of then dive into what that has meant and why that’s so important.

Bergen Hubert (02:12)

Yeah, absolutely. This is not a blog. I swear. I’m actually drinking from it right now. This is the Dopper Water bottle. For those of you tuning into the video, you can see it here. I think that we take for granted the Reusable water bottle. I feel like it was like the first circular venture where we were like, oh, my gosh, these plastic water bottles, we have to come up with a useful bottle. But I think foundational to our certification, we kind of went backwards, right? We were saying, okay, great, three usable water bottle, but is it made of safe materials? Is it made responsibly? So I think it’s such a flagship and crowding example of the Cradle certified model in practice. So I have to be biased. And I love the Dopper water bottle, and hopefully we can send you some links to that. But as you mentioned, I specifically work in the built environment space, so I don’t get to work on lovely projects like the Doppper water bottle. We also certify Gosh L’Oreal cosmetics and a wide range of consumer products like Blue Land cleaning supplies, which some of you may be familiar with.

Bergen Hubert (03:24)

Yeah, I actually have my set here, but I work in kind of more of the commercial building space, anything that goes into a building. So flooring, furniture, super sexy ceiling tiles, like super sexy acoustic paneling. Yes, exactly. And a lot of people would think it’s sexy, and a lot of people do thank God for building designers who can see the potential there. So, yeah, I think that there is a lot of excitement in the building supply world and so much impact. I think that’s what the sexy part of my job and the projects I work on is that the built environment space is just responsible for so much material use waste, unfortunately, an environmental impact. So I think the sexy part is the fact that I do get to have such a great impact on the world we live in today.

Garr Punnett (04:21)

I love that. What makes something like, how do you guys start the deep dive into a product and what does that sort of take? And I was reading that intensive was used in terms of terminology, but I’m sure there’s a way that you all make this a little less intimidating as you start unpacking what goes into materials.

Bergen Hubert (04:42)

Yeah, good question. I think that we used to joke, I used to work for one of our assessors, so we’re a third party certification that goes through a group of trained consultants or material specialists, who then send it to the Institute for final approval and making sure that it meets the standard criteria. When I used to work at one of those firms, we used to joke that cradle to cradle is the Cadillac of certification. So maybe those of you in the US listening will kind of understand that reference, that it’s kind of the creme de la creme. Maybe some people can’t afford it or achieve it. And I think that we started to unpack and kind of debunk that misnomer over time. But in some ways, it still lists the Cadillac of certification where it is multi attribute. I think that it covers all aspects of sustainable manufacturing design, which that includes material health, so that’s all of the materials, the constituents, the chemistry, the polymers, the homogeneous materials like wood or plastic, everything that goes into making the water bottle or the carpet tile, making sure that it’s fundamentally safe for humans in the environment.

Bergen Hubert (05:59)

So that’s the first attribute. The second is product circularity, which I think will probably spend a lot of our time talking about today. That means is it designed for its next use phase? Is it recyclable compostable? Can it be refurbished or re manufactured? That’s the second attribute. And then the other three are kind of about how the product is made. Is it done responsibly? Is it done using renewable energy? Is it done using clean air and climate protection? So it’s clean air, climate protection, water and soil stewardship, and social fairness, which also includes social equity and responsible manufacturing practices. So very holistic. So back to that kind of crendy lacrome certification covering all attributes of sustainability. But what we do is we look at all of those attributes from a holistic, no trade offs perspective, that all of it is intertwined. And you kind of asked me how we do that. We work again with those trained consultants and we establish kind of the rules behind it.

Garr Punnett (07:18)

No, I love sort of the peak behind a little bit on the curtain on that. I think what’s really interesting to hear you talk about is the perception that you all have a little bit. I wouldn’t necessarily share that. I think cost is so much of a factor of what goes into making sure that this is properly certified. Without proper certification, you get green washing, you get sort of a destructive marketing cycle. Why is it why is that so important? How do you guys maintain the standard? Because that’s really what it’s about, is maintaining the standard, maintaining the bar. Because as soon as you start decreasing the bar a little bit, we get back to right where we’re the problem that we’re in. So I mean, can you talk a little bit about how you all maybe address that with clients who might have sticker shock or address that with organizations? I mean, how have you all maintained that, hey, this is necessary because this is what we’re fighting against.

Bergen Hubert (08:19)

Yeah, great point, Gar. I think that it is an investment. Right. In the sense where we hope that it does affect the triple bottom line in the sense where you do discover manufacturing, efficiencies, less waste. Also that social impact and an environmental impact. What are you having? Are you having a positive impact on the world and not a negative one? Can you put a price tag on that? So absolutely all fair points. And we are also a tiered approach. So we’re a continuous improvement model, which I think is absolutely necessary in all aspects of what we’re trying to achieve here across all sectors, across all aspects of sustainability. We have to have kind of these incremental benchmarking model to get us to where we need to be. So, for example, in all five of those categories I described, you can achieve bronze through platinum level certification, where you can prioritize. You can kind of meet the market where it currently is. You know, if innovation needs to happen in material health, product circularity, clean airline production, social fairness, you can take the time to do that while kind of establishing kind of these benchmark goals over time.

Bergen Hubert (09:35)

So I think that the way that is set up also kind of incentivizes continuous improvement, but allows for the necessary time and investment it takes to reach those goals. So I think that model should be applied in many and I think it is in a lot of different ways and sustainable, not just product design, for example. But I think the way that we’re looking at climate change and the way we’re establishing kind of these incremental goals, zero by 2020, for example, how can we successfully achieve that over time? Some would argue we’re not doing it fast enough. But I think, again, you mentioned kind of the rigor of our standard. I think that we have set very rigorous goals, and we do believe that it is a leadership standard. And again, getting back to the Cadillac analysis analogy, I think that also is where that’s coming from. It really is a leadership standard.

Garr Punnett (10:31)

Yeah. I so track with, I think what you mentioned to earlier in that, which is once you start to really dive into almost the lifecycle, the product analysis, really thinking through the material composition of a product, you start to see other parts of the business or other parts of the manufacturing that maybe had kind of been hidden for a while. And I so track with that because we found that to it, Rheaply, where we go in for one thing and then discover, oh, there’s a whole other opportunity once you start to really think your circularity rethink how your actually your linear operations work, that there’s some magic in that where you don’t necessarily see it until it’s right in front of you or someone like Cradle to Cradle, or maybe even Rheaply actually sees two different dots that haven’t been connected at an organization and say, hey, have you all ever thought about this? And then all of a sudden now there’s a new learning and some new efficiency and organization, and that’s really what circularity can bring.

Bergen Hubert (11:37)

Absolutely. It’s the interconnectivity of these different attributes and it could be applied, like you said, with kind of holistic, sustainable design, but also just like an organizational level. Right. That HR isn’t talking to design or design isn’t talking to manufacturing or something like the Cradle to Cradle certification framework. It really does force the hand for a lack of better words for those organizations internally to talk to one another, to really look at this problem holistically. And that also includes, I think, your background and my background in that I studied environmental science, and I’m learning more than ever about marketing communications than I ever thought I would ever have to. And I know some of your background Tucar. And to think that sustainability is such an interdisciplinary venture, and I think circularity is just even more so. Right. That even logistics I could keep going on all these different facets. Right.

Garr Punnett (12:51)

The success of it only comes from being more collaborative and learning more from other people getting in the conversation. And that’s almost the coolest part is that has put me in contact with you and with others in our industry where we’re all trying to figure this out and we’re all very collaborative, I think, in terms of an industry on, hey, what’s been working? How isn’t this working for you? Or what’s the next sort of thing that we all should think about in terms of sort of you all setting those standards. You mentioned that you’re sort of always on the forefront of being more rigorous. What does that mean to update Cradle to Cradle? I saw that you all came out with 4.0 somewhat recently. What does that mean? What goes into either deciding, hey, 3.0 is not good enough, or what does it mean then to really start to unpack even 3.0 and make a 4.0?

Bergen Hubert (13:45)

Yeah, great segue from collaboration to updating a cross sector product certification standard. I mean, Cradle to Cradle certified. The idea is that it is one standard for all products and materials. So that, again, that’s not easy at all. It’s not easy. And I think there are other like standards in specific industries, fashion and text sales or personal care and beauty or the built environment, for example. So we felt that they’re going back to those original cradle to cradle design principles and the philosophy that we should be able to design everything with nature in mind, that everything is a resource for something else, that we can still kind of mimic the diversity of the natural world and that things can be reintroduced back into whether they’re technical or biological cycles. So to your original question, what is it like to update a standard? So within our organization, we kind of have two kind of expert teams. One is the certification team, and one is kind of this market transformation or engagement team. And it takes both. Right. You have to listen to the market. Where are we currently in these innovations? Right? Yes, it’s a leadership standard, but it has to be feasible and achievable.

Bergen Hubert (15:15)

Right. We want to set the goal post far and wide, but it has to be attainable. Right. So in that update process, all of that was considered from a market perspective. But man, the technical part, I Luckily don’t sit on that team much anymore when I was at an assessor. But it is a multi stakeholder approach where we have multiple public comedy periods. We have standard steering committees. It took about to be honest, it took about four and a half to five years in total to make us really the standard for the future. That was really what we wanted. We wanted this 4.0 to stand the test of time, and we can iterate as necessary, but it really needed to take us to a circular future. And so we really were careful about that process and being very collaborative. And now you have the version 4.0 standard.

Garr Punnett (16:21)

What does it take then to probably source input from enterprise manufacturers, people that have, Unfortunately, unfortunately, a vested interest in slow change or no change at all or who might be open to, again, just that incremental change where it’s understanding that, okay, in order to reach our consumers in 2030, we need to get to this type of zero waste goal, cradle to cradle. Like what was that in terms of sourcing and what is that like to work with organizations?

Bergen Hubert (17:00)

Yeah. I think that we are very lucky that the community of Cradle to Cradle is also kind of leading and kind of taking it to the next step. We have manufacturers who have been on board for 15 plus years who have really embedded this into every part of their design manufacturer business where it’s not a tough sell. Right. They’re on that journey with us and luckily they have some industry influence. And I think that it is kind of a names game. We know this car where if So and so is doing it, then So and so is going to do it. So we are lucky that we have some really influential and key partners who have signed onto this philosophy in the very beginning. And I want to thank them if they’re listening and they know who they are. And I think we’re looking for those next really influential companies to join us. Right. And I think version four use that opportunity. And I think with anything in sustainability. And I have to say COVID was a big accelerator for this. I think it was a big wake up call for a lot of industries that said, you know, we’re working towards it and maybe those benchmarks have changed and those goal posts have come down a little bit and they’re looking for market tested frameworks and solutions to get them.

Bergen Hubert (18:42)

Like you said, their customers are saying, but wait a second, are you doing these things now? Do you have goals in place? And I think that with that pressure, I think with competition, I think with consumer asks. And I think with just the overall change in perception due to covet and with the climate urgency, I think now is the time. And it really has been a joy to work with our legacy or kind of founding Crater Cradle members. But it is accelerating so fast in sectors like electronics, automotive, packaging and print is a big one. Built environment. Speaking about my own sector here, has really also been a leader in this Cradle to Cradle a philosophy. One of our founders is a well known American architect, Bill McDonough. And I would say still about 70% of our certifications are within the built environment globally and really seeing high acceleration in other categories, which really is exciting and having those kind of big players on board.

Garr Punnett (19:57)

It’s to your point, on the busy last two years, I think it was for us as well, a point where it felt as though a lot of the industries we were working with got to take a breather, take a pause on something, some influential stakeholder somewhere, got more time or got more productive at home and decided, oh, I’m going to take this on and embark on a sort of a new mission. It was really interesting how I’m very grateful that Rheaply in particular has been able to grow in the last two years because it really speaks to again, this wave that’s coming of problem solving and time running out. And I think hopefully what that means for is 2022 is going to be even more successful than the past two years. What have you seen? You are often presenting, often leading and guiding. How have you seen the conversation shift, or at least in some of the metrics that I have anecdotally is there are sometimes there are questions that I’ll get which I haven’t gotten before. And it’s like, oh, that’s really cool. Like, why is this something shifting in just an understanding of a high schooler or understanding of even just an associate?

Garr Punnett (21:23)

What has that been like? What have you seen anecdotally in terms of the conversation shifting?

Bergen Hubert (21:28)

Yeah, absolutely. And it kind of relates back to your last thought around. I don’t think sustainability professionals have gotten a break, which is fantastic. I’ve seen gosh within large firms creating new positions around sustainability where it’s not just somebody that something that the marketing team does on the side.

Garr Punnett (21:53)

We had competition for a circular economy specialist mind flowing. That was fantastic.

Bergen Hubert (22:01)

It is fantastic. It absolutely is. And I think back to your question, it’s accelerating so fast and it’s hard to keep up. Right. People ask me, they come to me and they probably come to you gosh, what should I be reading? What should I be digesting? And I’m like, you tell me you are world beyond me. It’s hard to keep up with, you know, where this movement is taking us. And the biggest change for me is I’m seeing just the education gap really. It’s almost expanding in the middle where I feel like most we’re in a bubble, by the way, you and I go and I guess maybe some of the listeners, which I hope we can get outside of the bubble.

Garr Punnett (22:48)


Bergen Hubert (22:50)

I have people in my life who they’ll look at me and they’ll pick up something and say, is this recyclable? And I’ll be like, no, you can actually look here that this is a complex assembly. This is made of plastic and glass and rubber. No, you can’t just throw it in the recycling bin. I love that you want to recycle it, but you have to disassemble it or you have to see if they’ll take it back from you. Like, no, you can’t just throw that in their snake ring bin. What I’m getting at here is that you have everybody asking for more. Right. Than just what is recycling? How do I compost? Should I take a Sustainability 101 course in my University class or University studies? But now they’re asking for somewhere to kind of go next. And I think that you and I could sit here all day and talk about kind of the systematic challenges of taking back resources or in your case, in Reef Lee’s case, asset management or waste control. But I think that there is so much in the middle that we need to be talking about what is a circular product?

Bergen Hubert (24:02)

What is the circular economy? I know about capitalism, but I don’t know what is the circular economy. How am I contributing to this extractive economy? Personally, I think that when I was little, in my early science classes in elementary school, we learned about I remember this graphic, and maybe it stuck with me more because I’m an environmentalist. But I remember this heap of trash that stretched all the way to the moon, and it was something about how really making it personal that when you throw something away, it doesn’t just disappear. And we had this mound of trash that reached all the way to the moon or five times around the globe, and that really stuck with me personally. And I think that as experts in the field, let’s just call us that when working in this field for some time, we need to do a better job about talking about some of these solutions in some more personal and accountable way, because I think we did a good job back then and there’s so much that we could do now to get us there. I think this is with the climate change debate, too. I think that we could do a better I think climate change needs kind of a PR rework.

Bergen Hubert (25:21)

But that’s just my opinion.

Garr Punnett (25:23)

No, it is interesting on that front because this is probably very topical, but Don’t Look Up got so much attention. And it’s been sort of a mixed bag of attention. And it’s been really interesting. I haven’t commented. I haven’t done anything, nor do I guess maybe I have a comment, but it’s been really interesting to watch. I can think of ten professionals on LinkedIn right now who I’ve seen comment on Don’t Look Up or friends who have asked me what I thought of it and how it’s satirical around climate change or lack thereof. And it’s been fascinating to see that it’s something that hit the Mark. And then many people responded negatively saying like, oh, it hit the Mark too much or it didn’t hit it enough or whatever. And it’s like, Whoa, Whoa. But do you not understand that a movie was just made about climate change and that’s a win? That in itself is something that was the number one movie on Netflix and a bunch of stars signed on and millions of people watched it. That’s a win. Can we just take that victory?

Bergen Hubert (26:31)

And I think the irony for me and we can maybe get off the top because I agree. I saw it, of course. And the irony for me is that just what you said, that we’re here debating about the success or the tone of the movie. And that’s literally what the movie was about. Right. That no one’s listening to the facts. The whole point is there is an urgent disaster, and here we are arguing about was it satirical? Was it a hit? Was it the right tone? And it’s almost comical. Right. And back to your original question, like, what am I seeing? It’s big gap. I see a big gap. I see people that still aren’t there. And that could be the consumer base, that could be companies, that could be institutions, that could be governments, whatever it is that are not there, there’s hopefully not a lot of those left. And then there’s a lot of people in the middle who want to do something. The ones that saw don’t look up, that got it, that agree that went to the climate rallies or understand maybe a little bit about some circular solutions that want to do more.

Bergen Hubert (27:50)

And again, that could be consumers, that could be companies. And I just think that is the real focus here. And I hear more and more. What can I do now?

Garr Punnett (28:03)

Yeah, it’s the day to day relevance that I think is going to be that next step. And the bubble expansion of what can I do in my everyday career, every day that can help my organization, can help my consumption, whatever it is. Yes, I think that’s going to be the key in 2022. Then what are you going to see? What do you expect? What do you look forward to? We get to do this as the inaugural episode this year after 2022. But what is the look forward for you all?

Bergen Hubert (28:39)

Yeah, good question. More scope expansion, reaching more people within our certification. We also look at manufacturing processes from social equity, from a human rights perspective within our certification. So ensuring that there’s no child labor, that people are being fair to, being paid fair and equitably. But to that point, I would like to see our certification and sustainable practices and the availability of sustainable and healthy materials be available to everyone, no matter what the circumstance or where they are in the world. So I think that expanding our certification for my personal goal is to reach more people, regardless of social status or where they are in the world. I think that for a lot of people, people think sustainability is only for maybe the rich or the few. And I think that for the work that weekly is doing and with our certification, we have the ability to really change supply chains and manufacturing processes and really also curb gosh waste disproportionately affects people in lower income areas. Also exposure to toxic chemicals. The list goes on and on. It really Cascades. So for me, 2022, I have high aspirations to really make sure that we’re practicing what we preach in that it’s not just for the few, but it’s for everyone.

Bergen Hubert (30:33)

We can come up with these frameworks or these organizations and come up with these initiatives, but how are we going to implement them in the most important places? So that’s kind of my personal goal. And where I see 2022 going, what about you? What about briefly what is on the docket for what is kind of like your goal setting for 2022?

Garr Punnett (30:53)

I appreciate the question. Yeah. For us it is about expanding the reach of the product very similarly here. We need to do more. We need to be more. We need to ask more questions. We need to learn more. I would say 2022 for us is going to be more of an expansion into materials and asking more questions about the built environment which will likely put you and I in more conversations, hopefully. But for us it’s going to be every time we talk to an organization we learn something new, we learn something new. These are complex systems of sort of interconnected individuals as well as entire supply chains. And that’s always the bottleneck is learning more. And the more we can get in, the more we can get involved and collaborate, the more sort of the better outcomes we’ve seen and the more that we’ve been able to do. And so that’s what I’m really looking forward to.

Bergen Hubert (31:52)

Do you know what? This might sound superficial, but I think about this quite a lot. I just wish we would go viral, right? Maybe not. Maybe Cradle to Cradle selfishly, I wish cradle certified products would go viral, right. Going back to kind of your cultural reference of the latest Netflix movie, it’s just like I want the right things to become a priority to all of us and I love that expanding of the bubble that you mentioned, but I just wish one of us would go viral. I know that sounds superficial, but we’re shooting the right message here. And I think that if TikTok can go viral, so can circular products and healthy materials.

Garr Punnett (32:43)

If NFTs can take it. Something in there has got to be circularity, focused, sustainability focused. Yeah, absolutely. With you 100%. Well, then hopefully the 2022, maybe something like that will take off. Well, Bergen, thank you so much for taking the time today. It has already flown by as I knew it would. And you’ve been so informative and thank you so much again for sort of inspiring our audience and informing our audience.

Bergen Hubert (33:12)

Thanks for having me, Garr. I hope this is part one of many and maybe someday Cradle to Cradle can put on a podcast and you can be our inaugural guest.

Garr Punnett (33:24)

Yes, that’d be amazing. Excellent. Thanks, Bergen.

Bergen Hubert (33:28)

Take care. Bye.

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