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Jessica McNaughton: Hi, this is Jessica with Build Green Live Green, CaraGreen’s podcast on sustainable trends in the building industry and today we are here with Juan Morillas who is the founder of Share Your Green Design.

Juan A. Morillas: Hi! How are you? Good to be here with you. Thank you.

Jessica McNaughton: Very good. Thanks for joining us. I’m really excited about you know I came across Share Your Green Design and I started looking at what you guys were doing and I really think you’ve taken a unique position of looking at the green building environment and the whole ecosystem holistically. And kind of holding designers and architects responsible for their role in green design. So that’s really appealing to me because you know we have a lot of you know, sustainable products at CaraGreen and you know trying to make the connection between those products and you know this kind of the whole built ecosystem can be very difficult and you’ve kind of created Share Your Green Design to really hold people accountable and to attach some of these metrics that are really important for basically saving the planet.

Juan A. Morillas: Yeah, Thank you. That’s why we started with this initiative of Share Your Green Design and it started actually. I’m an architect. I’m an associate architect at BDP in the Dalina Studio and I was working on projects and I was thinking myself and always asking questions like “how can we make our designs more sustainable” and I was doing a lot of research you know over since I was studying architecture after uni and there isn’t much information available. There aren’t many case studies. So then I thought why don’t we just, so I know a little bit about this topic. So why don’t I share what I know and I ask other people also to share what they know and hopefully if we are all together on this and as many people as possible then we cannot get something clear because even if you go to, I went to a lot of webinars and during the Covid period was good because there was a lot of platforms and events and you could hear completely opposite approaches and ideas. And then it was who is right, who is wrong? So that’s why we set up Share Your Green Design and from the beginning has been a team work and it’s trying to get people together that are aligned in the ethos to to be transparent and, our approach is we publish the case studies or research or news. We obviously curate it as well. But we don’t judge because there are so many different approaches that I have my own view but that view also shifts. So when we started I have a view now, I have, I think broadened my mind as well and because when we started for a sample something that you pointed out about designers. We had a focus on data and there are still many people that just want to focus on data, embodied carbon, operational carbon, just the numbers and the figures. But it’s much more than that because it’s like the carbon tunnel and talking to people in other countries like because you know if you are talking, for example, to someone in the US or in Europe it’s easier and there are more people doing that. But outside of that you know there are so many countries that don’t have first don’t have the tools they don’t have the time and just they don’t know how to do it. But they are doing really good sustainable design or green design or whatever we want to call it. So we had to capture those even though we didn’t have any data about it. But it’s obvious that they are sustainable because most of them they are just done with natural materials and local materials. So how can that not be sustainable or green? It has to be. So we, that changed, and there is a lot of research about it and we publish it.

Jessica McNaughton: Yeah I understand what you’re saying I think you know I’ve I’ve traveled a lot, having lived in Asia for a while and traveled to a lot of countries over there where you know landscaping is native you know and you know all the built. They’re not importing containers of drywall and things like that, they’re using their own resources to build structures and it’s the most fundamental way of building and it’s how we started when we’ve gotten so far away from it. You know we’re trying to kind of almost close that loop in construction. 

Juan A. Morillas: Indeed.

Jessica McNaughton: So um, one of the things that I’d like to ask you is that there are so many platforms and groups and as you mentioned data sets. It can be very confusing as you know, should I be building to a LEED standard? Should I be building to a WELL standard? Do I source my products from mindful Materials? Where you know, kind of how do you help decipher that whole glut of platforms and services out there to help an owner or an architect or designer know where to start?

Juan A. Morillas: I’m going to say two words that I used at a presentation at the Technicalnica University Of Dublin. And so after I presented Share Your Green Design and a bit of, a few case studies, I said… Well, actually there were three words. One was I think we need more education. We need more data and plenty of common sense. So I think common sense. If I have to tell someone that’s starting on this it would be that. So for example, you mentioned LEED, or in the UK they use a lot of BREEAM or WELL.

Jessica McNaughton: Right.

Juan A. Morillas: So I’ve seen so many buildings, and I’m sure you’ve seen it as well, with all the I don’t want to get you know, I don’t want to refer to any, but many badges and claiming they are the most sustainable buildings. But when you look at them, you don’t need to look in too much detail, they are obviously not sustainable because the approach, even though I’m not saying it wasn’t done correctly, it’s just maybe the focus wasn’t the right one. 

Jessica McNaughton: Right.

Juan A. Morillas: So I have one example I use a lot because I think it’s very clear: when you see a fully glazed building in a hot climate country and it has all the badges and its Gold, Platinum, so on and so forth, that can’t be sustainable even though it might be that all the systems and everything that’s put in place makes that the energy consumption is low. But if you look at embodied carbon to achieve that, the whole life carbon approach, it is not sustainable in my view, in my approach.

Jessica McNaughton: So you said a fully glazed building so because it’s all glass, what is it? Is it the embodied carbon of the glass? Is it the reflective heat or..?

Juan A. Morillas: Yeah, yeah, it’s all together. It’s because if you have, for example, if it’s glass, then the amount of equipment you need to compensate for that solar gain and heat gain, that adds a lot of cost.

Jessica McNaughton: Yes, right. Right.

Juan A. Morillas: Cost, sorry, and more equipment. But also then you need all the films and layers and. sorry I’ve forgotten the name now, but you know all the different layers. So you need double glazing or triple glazing or you need a double facade with something in between to provide the shading and all that helps to get the heat gain out but at what cost? So doesn’t it make more sense, doesn’t it make more sense that if you are in a hot climate country, you build more solid walls and hopefully, ideally thick and then you help with that and it’s something that also…

Jessica McNaughton: Yeah.

Juan A. Morillas: Has been, and I’ve been arguing a lot in the last few years, it’s people have, or not people but the industry, let’s say, have the concept that sustainable design is expensive and I think that’s because all these super high spec or high efficiency or whatever we want to call it, they are expensive but this is because the early approach or the early decisions were not the right ones, therefore you need to spend a lot of money to make them work afterwards. But if you make them work from the beginning and they are designed correctly and they consider where they are located, you don’t have to spend more money afterwards. And therefore it’s more economical to build. So it’s that shift and I think all that is because again, going back to the badges we were talking about earlier, if you’ve done your design and then someone says by the way we want to achieve that” or, but I don’t want to say anyone, and someone says well now we need to add this and we need to add that, and we need to add that, and its adding cost because it’s not you know, going back to what you said at the beginning, they decide about the responsibility that the designers have. I think it’s, I would, I don’t know what percentage but a huge responsibility on the designers. Because if we get it right at the beginning then everything is much easier after. And that means we have to work together and collaboration is key. So it’s not about the architect that’s doing the design and then there is a structural engineer that comes after and the other structure, so it has to be all assessed and discussed at an early stage.

Jessica McNaughton: So, let me ask you this because what you’re describing to me sounds like it might fit nicely with the evolution towards BIM you know, information modeling right? Because it seems like kind of rendering it in an environment you know, might allow you to do a lot of those things easier. Do you see it as being a part of the ethos that you’re looking at and do you see the industry, I mean it’s been around for a while, but do you see sustainability and BIM kind of advancing forward together?

Juan A. Morillas: Um, yeah I think BIM is very important as well. So we’ve been working for the last… I’ve been personally working in BIM for the last seven years or eight. And it helps a lot because you’re able to see, so you are, you’re modeling, you are adding components from the beginning and the other thing we do as well is that you know doing a life cycle assessment from early on, in the early stages as well. So it’s not about doing the design, everything in BIM then when you finish you do a life cycle assessment or whatever

Jessica McNaughton: Right! Yes.

Juan A. Morillas: Because then at the end it’s all done. It’s important to start doing it early so you can do the corrections that you need. And it’s very easy or relatively easy to do those tweaks when you are early so there’s a few graphs. There is one interesting, and it’s the same from a qs point of view. So if you do changes at the beginning, it’s easy to incorporate. As you make the changes further down the line, the cost is much higher. And it’s the same with sustainability or embodied carbon or operational carbon.

Jessica McNaughton: Yeah. So let me ask you, you know so I understand what you’re saying from the system standpoint, is you can walk into a building in downtown Washington DC that has a Fitwel banner, that has a LEED plaque but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you know it was…

Juan A. Morillas: Yeah.

Jessica McNaughton: You know it may have checked all the boxes and got all the credits but it may not be the most sustainable version of that building that could be built. And what you guys are doing is really trying to kind of help people holistically think about the process from the beginning by having all the relevant parties part of the conversation. And I think you almost have to sometimes abandon traditional thinking. So what I’ve seen with some of these LEED projects is people kind of have that baseline building in mind and they try to add onto it to get those credits rather than kind of use less material, one of the most basic things you can do to be sustainable from the outset.

Juan A. Morillas: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. And it’s a really good point because again when you talk about cost and cost is another key driver here because if it’s expensive it’s not going to happen. So we need to find a way that, we have to make it sustainable at the same cost or lower otherwise it gets more difficult. Something that is another good example if we work with the structure because around here, it depends on the study, but between 70, 75, 80 percent of the embodied carbon of a building is in the structure and if you build basements it is then a really huge percentage is on the basement. So let’s say there is no basement so you take 4 or 5 story buildings. Whatever, that doesn’t matter. Then you look at the span between columns. So just by putting the columns together you are reducing the span therefore the slabs can be thinner. And if the slab is thinner that means less concrete therefore less embodied carbon and it’s cheaper. Therefore sustainability is cheaper. But you have to do that when you are doing the initial design because if you design your structure or you don’t even design it and then someone comes after and tries to set up the beams and the columns and there are plenty of transfer beams and it gets complicated then that’s it. So that’s why it has to be viewed holistically.

Jessica McNaughton: Yep, yeah, and I think that that’s a perfect example because you’re thinking well I’m putting more beams in there, that’s more. But when you offset it with what you’re able to do on the slab side, you know with the thickness it makes more sense. And you bring up something important that I um I want to ask you about because you know we’re talking about some of these building certifications and stuff not being you know as sustainable as they strive to be by how they’re implemented, one of the things that really caught on ten-twelve years ago and has since changed, the perception has changed, but was this idea of FSC. So FSC, Forest Stewardship Council, is this certification for wood that required the entire supply chain for wood suppliers all the way down to pulp you know pulp or anything like that to maintain you know chain of custody and prove that you used FSC sources. So even if you go to the store you get some paper towels, they might be FSC or have the FSc logo on them. It became very burdensome for the supply chain and you know a lot of people didn’t think it was necessarily you know as valuable as it was being passed off. And we use suppliers for wood in Finland and they kind of scoff at the idea of FSC because they are already better than FSC,

Juan A. Morillas: Um-hmm.

Jessica McNaughton: The way that they manage their forests and things like that. So I think it almost made it, it almost gave wood a bad name in my opinion for a little while especially architecturally and I’m starting to see that come back. So I’d like to know your thoughts on that because wood is a carbon sink.

Juan A. Morillas: Um-hmm.

Jessica McNaughton: It should be responsibly harvested but in your mind is wood a good construction material when it comes to sustainability?

Juan A. Morillas: Yeah, that’s a really good question. And but just let me say one before that one. So when I said before about LEED or other budgets I’m not saying they are bad. I think it’s good because from, it captures the operational energy which is good but it’s not the full picture so we have to pay attention to many other things. Just in case someone it’s listening and

Jessica McNaughton: So yep, it’s this framework. It’s a very, it’s a good framework. Yes, yes.

Juan A. Morillas: So it’s, we need to do much more than that. And then it wood, that’s ah, I will summarize it with a conversation we had with one member of our team who is a researcher at a university here and he did a study on timber. So with him, publishing a lot of projects with timber and in my mind as an architect and with everything I’ve read and where it’s more or less timber was like it’s a great material so we should use more timber even though I always I’ve attended a few presentations with suppliers, manufacturers and I always asked the question. So we have enough forests. So if we change from concrete steel to timber and it keeps growing and growing and growing and the demand, it’s growing faster than the forest. At what point you know, can the industry, the wood industry cope with that? So anyway, that’s and it’s a difficult question to answer because I don’t think it can cope with the whole. If you think, um, countries like China or India where there is over a billion population I don’t think then timber would be enough. But anyway going back to your question, timber looks like the silver bullet we can use. Then this researcher, he sent me a message one more time and said Juan, look. This research and it was about what happened with timber at the end of life, that all that carbon that is sink, sunk at the end of life, it again goes back to the atmosphere because when the timber rots and everything, it’s all the carbon that was there, locked, then it is not locked anymore. So unless we keep the timber in the circular economy forever, at some point that CO2 will go back to the atmosphere. 

Jessica McNaughton: Right.

Juan A. Morillas: So I’m not saying timber is bad, I love it and I think it’s a really good material. It’s just that again it’s having that open mind and don’t think that it’s a silver bullet and I just add timber and my building is green.

Jessica McNaughton: Right. I agree with that. I think that I am starting to see it come back. I think a lot of it is the aesthetic of it. But we’re starting to see, what I see happening in the wood space is there’s new ways of treating the wood to give it more longevity. So we’re not turning it over so much. So we work with a company called Arbor Wood that uses thermally modified wood and you know now you took something that would have lasted you know, maybe 5 to 7 years and it’s going to last you 25 years outside. So you know these new treat, and they can treat up to 15 different species of wood so something like pine, that’s typically you know used for dimensional lumber or framing timber, you know, kind of, it’s soft so you know you don’t see a lot of it used architecturally but now with these new treatments they can use it in better ways. So um, there’s things that are happening to wood that are giving it more longevity which I think is also a good thing.

Juan A. Morillas: I think you made a good point there as well about timber or wood that wasn’t used in construction much before and now with the new processes they do. They can be used. Also with the, when you, cross-laminated. I’ve seen some research even with I think the birch.

Jessica McNaughton: Um, yes.

Juan A. Morillas: That you can cross-laminate it very and it grows very quickly. So if we can get, going back to the management of the forest, so if those forests can grow faster and we can use it that means the cycle is quicker and it can be used for construction because it’s not you know you need certain strength for the timber as well and there is also some good research going on with bamboo or laminated.

Jessica McNaughton: Yep.

Juan A. Morillas: But I want to address one thing. When you start looking at cross-laminated timbers they use glue. Now those glues..

Jessica McNaughton: Yes.

Juan A. Morillas: There is research that says those glues are bad even for your health. So.

Jessica McNaughton: Yep.

Juan A. Morillas: If you build your household made of CLT you need to be careful with the kind of glues that can be used then. They could have you know nasty chemical products, and I don’t want to say any name now, but we have to be mindful of that. It’s not you know again, it’s not I just build it with timber and the city is all super sustainable. No, there is still a downside to it.

Jessica McNaughton: Right.

Juan A. Morillas: Because also to make it of a solid timber, obviously, it’s better because then you can recycle. It is easier to recycle. If you have all the glues then it makes it a bit more difficult. So it’s just keeping everything to, you know, it’s very difficult actually because there are so many things you have to take into account.

Jessica McNaughton: Mm-hmm.

Juan A. Morillas: You might miss something and you, people believe, or designers believe they are doing the right thing or we believe we are doing the right thing and then you figure out that actually it’s not because of these things.

Jessica McNaughton: Yeah, so I’ve spoken it at a couple universities like a class or something like that and I think it was like two times in a row I got asked the same question: What’s the perfect building material?

Juan A. Morillas: Um-hmm.

Jessica McNaughton: And you know we carry all these different building materials and this one might have recycled content, this one might be made locally but there’s always these tradeoffs. And you just have to choose the one that aligns best with your goals. Whether they’re personal goals or whether they’re operational goals but you know you have to make tradeoffs. Right now we haven’t, we haven’t mastered this. 

Juan A. Morillas: I agree.

Jessica McNaughton: This is not a, you know, we don’t have a master class on sustainable design right now. Yes.

Juan A. Morillas: And I think that’s where common sense comes in place because you have all the options and then which one is it? Well you have to think about it and you know just be sensible about it.

Jessica McNaughton: And mean that you’ve got to be willing to make, to accept the tradeoffs, right? You can’t, you know, or you’re just gonna spin your wheels because we’re just not there yet where you don’t have to make any sort of tradeoff. That leads me to kind of sort of a question as we wind down here. But when I think about buildings the big ticket items are the concrete and the drywall, the framing timber. What is being done in those big items I mean I’ve seen companies trying to make you know, kind of like carbon neutral concrete. But these are functional, huge structural items that you don’t want to mess with in a you know, a 20 story tower in you know, downtown Chicago you don’t want it to be made with eco concrete that’s never been tested or you know how far are we away from taking those big big carbon products, you know those foundational building materials and finding better alternatives?

Juan A. Morillas: Yeah I think concrete definitely and steel. So there is a reason why concrete is the most widely used material in the world and it’s because it’s a really good material. Now, yeah, there are obviously there, it has the, the main issue is the cement. That’s where the main problem is. 

Jessica McNaughton: Mm-hmm.

Juan A. Morillas: So I’m following a few companies that are doing a lot of work and research on that. Trying to, especially working with replacement, cement replacements.

Jessica McNaughton: Yep.

Juan A. Morillas: Because as I said earlier you know the concrete has been used since the Romans or before using different additives or different components. But as you, because it’s, you have a few things that can be found anywhere. You mix them together and it’s a super strong material. So if we can use less of it, because concrete, I think trying to negate reality is not helpful either. 

Jessica McNaughton: Right.

Juan A. Morillas: So we are going to, my view is, we are going to continue using concrete. And as I said earlier, there are many countries there. So if you think about it, this is just a reflection that I would like to make. If you look at the, let’s call it the western world, I don’t know how to word it, but you know or the most developed, the more developed countries, it might be, I don’t know, one billion so which is 15% of the population. What about the other 6 billion or 6.5 or 7?

Jessica McNaughton: Yeah. Um-hmm.

Juan A. Morillas: There is going to be a lot of concrete required not only for buildings but infrastructure and everything else. 

Jessica McNaughton: Yeah.

Juan A. Morillas: So if we want to be realistic and we really want to tackle, I think we need to find replacements for that and a lot of research on the way. So like for example, at the moment. It’s GGBS being used a lot and you can replace up to 50% cement content now.

Jessica McNaughton: Yeah. Okay.

Juan A. Morillas: Again that was one of the silver bullets. I was so happy that we were using a lot of GGBS in all our projects until a few weeks ago.

Jessica McNaughton: Okay, yeah.

Juan A. Morillas: I attended a webinar presentation and someone said yeah, that’s right, there is less cement but that GGBS that you’re using now on your structures, it was being used before for something else. It’s a by-product but it wasn’t put in landfill. Now, the construction industry is taking it. But then the other industry that was using it before they have to use something else. So therefore, from a holistic point of view, it’s you know…

Jessica McNaughton: Um, ah. Oh, yeah Yeah.

Juan A. Morillas: So, and that’s again like, again here we are, so no silver bullets. So but it just keeps you know, again, it’s trying to do what is best and I think you made the point before this. Try to use the minimal amount of materials.

Jessica McNaughton: Yes.

Juan A. Morillas: And I would say another keyword or concept is efficiency. So if we can build the walls or slabs or anything with the least layers as possible and as thin as possible and they are lighter, therefore the structure can be lighter and what we said earlier about the span and all that. All those kind of things that are designed before we get into the materials, that’s a huge step forward. Then of course we need to add the best materials but I’ve been on the other side where you have a design and then someone says now make it sustainable just by adding the right materials. So the magic material doesn’t exist.

Jessica McNaughton: Right? That’s annoying.

Juan A. Morillas: So if you do really good work, you can save five, ten percent maximum but that’s it. Of carbon emissions.

Jessica McNaughton: So yeah, so one of the things that I like to say about CaraGreen’s materials, we try to you know curate this collection of products that have a good sustainability, not a perfect sustainability backstory. But you know, our products tend to be interior finishes so when people use them I like to represent the products as telling the story of the building. So much can be engineered into the building and then if you choose these finishes that kind of let you tell that story in a tangible way, so you’re touching and pointing at some of these materials, that kind of lets you convey the whole story of the building. That’s more of you know what our materials do or help do but you know there’s downsides you know to almost every building material that’s out there that I know of right now.

Juan A. Morillas: But there are ways to find that because with the EPDs, for example, it’s relatively easy. Although reading an EPD is not the easiest thing you can do. So if you… 

Jessica McNaughton: Um, yeah. Nor the most fun thing you can do. 

Juan A. Morillas: Sorry, say it again?

Jessica McNaughton: Nor is it the most fun thing to do.

Juan A. Morillas: Oh no, no, no exactly. So, but there are some platforms and websites now that are helping to make, to digest, or that make it easier. But what when working at the BDP as I said earlier on a few projects last year and the year before and this year, when we do look at finishes, for example, we have 2 or 3 products or facades as well 

Jessica McNaughton: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Juan A. Morillas: And we look at the EPDs and then we can compare. And if there are two products that the performance is similar,

Jessica McNaughton: Yep.

Juan A. Morillas: And the embodied carbon is lower, we go for the one with the lower embodied carbon 

Jessica McNaughton: Yep.

Juan A. Morillas: And the cost doesn’t have to be higher.

Jessica McNaughton: Yep.

Juan A. Morillas: That’s good because then if we all do that, it’s forcing somehow the industry to get better at it and cut the embodied carbon.

Jessica McNaughton: I agree and I think that 2050 Materials is actually doing a very good job…

Juan A. Morillas: Indeed.

Jessica McNaughton: Of creating a platform where it’s just in your face visible which I think is fantastic. 

Juan A. Morillas: It is, indeed.

Jessica McNaughton: Um, so just to kind of wrap up here, Share Your Green Design is kind of you know, building out understanding this ecosystem and it sounds like you know, you’re kind of pulling the string on the sweater and it, you know unravels a little bit, you find something new and um, but that’s what needs to happen.

Juan A. Morillas: Yeah, yeah.

Jessica McNaughton: So thank you for doing that and I think that, you know, kind of some key takeaways that I have here, you know, we have to engineer less material into our buildings and have them still be functional, stable buildings. But I think we can engineer you know, engineering is really a key step in this, and then the other secret weapon here is common sense.

Juan A. Morillas: Yeah, haha, thank you.  So the last initiative or project we are working on is a documentary because again, we were thinking how we can tell it. So it’s all about sending the message out and disseminating knowledge and we thought what is, what would be the best way to also reach the wider public because that’s, sorry, you were going to wrap up and I’m adding one more but there’s one…

Jessica McNaughton: It’s fine, it’s fine.

Juan A. Morillas: There is one more thing that I think is important and it’s what is the wider public perception of sustainability or sustainable design or green design? And I think it’s key because if we have an educated population they will demand that sustainable design. And that’s also what we are trying to achieve because what I found when we started with Share Your Green Design is that we are mainly architects, engineers but there are graphic designers and marketing people and solicitors. They have a different view so when I was talking about the video and what we wanted to do they said Juan, that’s boring, no one cares about that. Said, you know, architects and engineers care but they realized that other people don’t really look at that. So we are trying to keep that level of detail for professionals, but also try to bring other people in too so they can get the message. And that’s why we thought the documentary would be a good way because visually, so it’s, obviously you can understand it quicker. And the first building we chose for that is Can Lis. It’s a house in Mallorca by Jørn Utzon, the architect of the Sydney Opera House that after resigning from the Sydney Opera house he moved to Mallorca and he built a house with local stone. And that he, in the 70’s and so, he went to Mallorca look around understood the climate the weather, the local resources and he saw that you know they just, everybody was building with stone 80 by 40 by 40 so he built his house with those 80 by 40 by 40 blocks. And he made that fantastic masterpiece out of local stone. So our thing, the reason we chose it was, well is where we are not, you know if Jørn Utzon, who is a master and he was able to do it in the 70’s, why can’t the rest of us do it. It’s just again, common sense and to be mindful of where we are because not all the locations are the same and so yeah.

Jessica McNaughton: Well, will you let us know when the documentary is coming out? 

Juan A. Morillas: Yeah, oh definitely. There is a trailer already on our Youtube channel so I’ll send you the link after but it’s already there. It’s looking good. 

Jessica McNaughton: Okay, okay, and is it, and your Youtube is Share Your Green Design?

Juan A. Morillas: Yes, it’s the same. Yeah, sure is.

Jessica McNaughton: Okay. And that’s your website as well, shareyourgreendesign.com

Juan A. Morillas: Yeah, website, Linkedin, Instagram, Twitter and we also have a WeChat account in China.

Jessica McNaughton: Um, great. Okay, yeah,

Juan A. Morillas: Because all the others don’t work in China. 

Jessica McNaughton: Well, thank you, Juan, for being on Build Green Live Green.

Juan A. Morillas: Thank you very much for the invitation. Thank you.

Jessica McNaughton: This is Jessica with Build Green Live Green.


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