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Construction company seeks to revolutionize industry after developing world's first building made of 100% recycled concrete: 'An innovation in sustainable building that has never before been achieved'

"It is the result of an unprecedented level of collaboration."

"It is the result of an unprecedented level of collaboration."

Photo Credit: Holcim

A housing complex in Paris is pushing the boundaries of sustainable construction after developers proved their 100% recycled concrete was up to the task. 

As detailed by Fast Company, French social housing developer Seqens collaborated with Swiss building materials company Holcim to construct the 220-unit Recygénie complex. The project is the first ever to use entirely recycled concrete.

To do this, Holcim had to show French authorities that its product was high-quality, safe, and effective. Generally, buildings in France allow only a small percentage of recycled materials.  

"The construction industry is very conservative," said Edelio Bermejo, Holcim's head of research and development, innovation, and intellectual property, in an interview with Fast Company. "Every time you want to implement something new, it has to be incremental. We want to drastically accelerate that — this is the decade to decarbonize the industry. We don't have much time."

According to the UN Environment Programme, the buildings and construction sector generates 37% of global pollution, making the industry "by far" the biggest generator of planet-warming gases. The energy it takes to manufacture materials is a significant part of the problem. Cement alone, for example, is widely reported to account for around 8% of carbon pollution worldwide.

Ancient building techniques and materials, like earthen blocks and cob, are some promising solutions helping to clean up the industry, as well as provide people with affordable, weatherized, and climate-resilient homes that can withstand extreme weather linked to rising temperatures.

However, using recycled materials also reduces waste from the sector, as well as pollution from production and the transportation of resources. 

Holcim explains on its website that it used its ECOCycle technology to transform construction and demolition waste into fully recycled concrete for Recygénie, the winner of Fast Company's 2024 World Changing Ideas general excellence award

The company says its proprietary process, developed by its innovation center for the Paris project, saved more than 6,000 tons of natural resources, including 3,000 tons of materials that would have otherwise been taken from quarries. 

Fast Company noted that the ECOCycle method doesn't work without large volumes of demolition waste, meaning that people shouldn't expect fully recycled concrete buildings to be widely available anytime soon. Yet anticipated changes in European regulations could pave the way for more sustainable projects in the future. 

"Delivering an innovation in sustainable building that has never before been achieved in partnership with Holcim is a major step for Seqens," Seqens' managing director, Stéphane Dauphin, said in a statement published by Holcim. "It is the result of an unprecedented level of collaboration." 

Construction on the Recygénie complex wrapped up last December, and occupants are expected to begin moving in this fall, per Fast Company

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