Community-Based Strategies for Dematerialization

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* PhD Thesis: Building Materials in a Green Economy: Community-based Strategies for Dematerialization. Brian Milani. OISE-UT AECDCP / U. of T. Institute for Environmental Studies


A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy; Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and the Institute for Environmental Studies of the University of Toronto. Supervisor: Prof. E. O’Sullivan.


"The building industry can be a strategic fulcrum for green economic conversion in society as a whole. Not only is it decentralized, present in every community, but the built environment constitutes everyone’s personal habitat and has a direct bearing on all people’s well-being. Equally significant, it is responsible for perhaps forty percent of the economy’s materials and energy throughput, and so changes in building have great potential impacts in extraction, manufacturing and waste management.

Creating a green economy is not just about encouraging environmental protection, but about establishing closed-loop ecological alternatives in every sector that substantively contribute to both dematerialization and detoxification of the economy. Besides creating cyclical material flows, green development is also geared to increasing production of service (i.e. directly meeting human and environmental need) rather than material output. What would the role of building materials be in an ecological construction industry geared to service and cyclical flows?

This dissertation surveys the many dimensions involved in transforming materials use in building to create a closed-loop service-oriented building industry. The thesis includes chapters on, respectively, the evaluation, production, consumption, recycling, and regulation of building materials. It attempts to explore potentials in these areas by simultaneously reviewing the practical initiatives already taking place in green building—including life-cycle analysis, green building assessment, eco-labelling, ecoindustrial development, clean production, design-for-disassembly, deconstruction services, natural building and alternative materials, product stewardship, extended producer responsibility, building code reform, green procurement, collective consumerism, and green market creation. How can these many fronts be combined and coordinated to comprehensively green the building industry and create healthy sustainable communities?

Besides surveying key developments in these crucial areas, the thesis attempts to clarify priorities for green development that cohesively link these realms in community economic development strategy. The central role of information, knowledge and education is highlighted."


1. The Problem: Materials Use and Sustainability

2. The Value Revolution: Information & Service in the Building Industry: What is a Green Material? [Evaluation]

3. Materials in Green Industrial Strategy [Production]

4. Recycling, Reuse and Deconstruction [Recycling]

5. Alternative Materials & Natural Building

6. Green Consumerism, Local Markets and Bioregionality [Consumption]

7. New Rules and Regulation: EPR, Service, Society & the State [Regulation]

8. Conclusion: Building Materials in a Post-Materialist Transition