Coming soon to Brittany – the first entirely circular school

Posted on 26 May 2017.

The construction industry in France generates more waste than most other sectors. Sainte-Hélène in Brittany had an innovative idea – to build an eco-designed school so that all the materials could be recycled – endlessly!

In the small town of Sainte-Hélène in Morbihan, the primary school had had its day. Old prefabricated buildings, poor insulation, toxic substances... the establishment no longer met the required standards. The town came up with an innovative solution – it decided to build a school entirely designed on circular economy principles. And it is being built right now!

A circular school is a "zero-waste" school. Eco-designed, it takes the whole of its life cycle into consideration. It is based on being able to reuse or recycle any of the building’s components at any time. All the materials therefore have to be non-toxic, easily removable and endlessly recyclable.

If the school ever has to be taken down, or if something has to be replaced, the materials can be recovered by other players in the local area in a virtuous circular economy loop. The school is in some respects a store of materials that can be reused - with a knock-on positive impact on the environment.

In France, 40 million metric tons of waste are generated annually by the construction industry, 90% of which is produced during demolition or rehabilitation work. With its future school, Sainte-Hélène - labeled since 2015 "zero-waste, zero wastage territory" - paves the way for responsible construction and a reduction in construction waste.

An economically viable project

The municipality also hoped to prove that a circular project could be economically viable. And they did! The budget allocated (€2 million) is similar to that of a conventional construction.

Still unique in France, the project benefited from a large amount of support. Cradle to cradle, it won the “100 projects for the climate” award launched by the Ministry of the Environment during COP 21. It is also one of the eight pilot projects selected by Brittany to deploy the circular economy in the region.

Sainte-Hélène wanted the project to be collaborative. Since January 2016, the town hall has regularly organized workshops and meetings in which there is a cheerful mix of residents, professionals, teachers, parents and... children! Even better proof of their involvement, the local people helped finance the construction of the school through a crowdfunding campaign.

The school is expected to open in 2018, will inspire schoolchildren for the future - and serve as an example for other towns all over the region...