Implementing Circular Economy into the Construction sector

By Mattias Jönsson

20 August, 2021

Circular Economy into Construction

Technology and modern advancement are taking over almost every aspect of our lives. Improved innovations are replacing the older ways of carrying out processes and many incentives are starting to appear in many industries, especially in the construction sector. The construction sector accounts for one of the world’s biggest consumers of raw materials and energy, so there is a dire need to consider implementing a circular economy.

Talking about just the EU, you’ll see that the construction is responsible for around 40% of carbon dioxide emissions and one-third of the overall wastes. A shift from a linear to a circular economy would result in significant environmental improvements. Furthermore, the implementation of innovative business models, processes and so on is not just good for the environment, it can also be expected to have much higher growth rate than the rest.

The Need for Circular Economy in the Construction sector: What is Being Done?

There is no doubt in the fact that practicing circular economy will not only bring better sustainability but also newer opportunities for the construction business. Either you join the development or risk that your growth will decline.

Better Ecological, Social, and Economic Outcomes

The need for new buildings, including the houses we live in, offices where we work, and the road we travel on, everything requires resources. Resources in the form of electricity, water, concrete, steel, and so on. As said above, the EU accounts for one-third of total energy consumption in the construction sector, and approximately 40% of that construction waste is being reused or recycled.

This 40% recycled waste is used in second-grade construction and not in new buildings. This is the reason why European countries focus on bringing strategies to implement circular construction. The goal is to minimize or eliminate pollution and waste by increasing efficiency and thereby keeping the materials and products in use.

Not only just ecological, but social and economic gains are quite significant while practicing a circular economy. For example, new innovative business models brings various economic benefits such as new markets or products. And to be able to fully transition into a circular economy often requires transparency which is also very positive and necessery to ensure good social conditions.

Approaches to Fit New Market Model

The circular economy is not something that could be implemented easily. It might requires partnerships between new and old architects to bring an entirely new ecosystem. Some of the following approaches are being practiced:

Diversified Green Building Design

An international engineering firm is designing a diverse green building on the city scale to make the urban environments feel more natural. The newer architectural practice of producing up-cycled building materials up to the demands of circular products is also paving the way towards more sustainability.

New Partnerships are Being Held

Leading Recycling businesses are forging partnerships with closed materials recycling groups. 800 companies are currently in this loop.

Use of Tech to Track Energy Usage

A German company is now monitoring buildings and identifying defect faults at the initial stage to increase their lifespan while using IoT technology. Moreover, a US-based company is precisely tracking and steering the energy usage in buildings in order to bring energy savings up to 50%.

Rise in Profit Margins and Market Volumes

The circular economy is going to bring profit pools and revenue with an expected growth of up to 30% per year.  The newer business models will have better scope than others. The recycled materials will have the largest share because of the market size. The recycled material is currently making up to 70% of the circular construction market.

Furthermore, with the increasing digitization taking place, the circular business models are being fueled for significant growth. Business models that are linked to operations are estimated to grow by 18% in the EU and 13% globally. Over the next four years, the largest CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) will be 27% worldwide while 33% in Europe.

Ways to Implement Circular Economy into the Construction sector

Implementation of a circular economy requires everyone to be involved. Everyone that is related to the construction sector, whether they are building users or contractors/builders, design team or manufacturers of construction products, investors, or regulatory authorities, all are equally important when practicing the principles of the circular economy. Scroll down your screens to know ways in which circular economy could be implemented.

1.     Role of Building Users, Owners, and Facility Managers

Improving Durability

Building users and owners could minimize the total cost of ownership over a longer period. This means reducing the cost per square meter and using tools that enhance the building’s value. To further promote the durability of the building, incentives could be delivered as per performance-based contracts indicating that the building is used optimally.

Moreover, appropriate maintenance should not be neglected to minimize running costs. The maintenance and repair of the building will ensure that the new resources aren’t used frequently, and less waste is produced. 

Enhancing Adaptability

Facility managers, while making use of adequate tools, could minimize the financial costs. These tools must support repair, monitoring, maintenance, adaption, and running costs of the building. Furthermore, the building should be able to adapt if it extends the lifetime and that too at a reasonable cost. For instance, one could transform an unused office building into an apartment. This adaptability can result in cheaper financing and loan insurance.

Building logbooks containing necessary information could be used in order to help facility managers, users, and owners to make modifications to the building. Moreover, if reversible building designs are used, it could be used flexibly to adapt to the construction space and make it functional for the changed purpose of the building.

Waste Reduction and Waste Management

It involves the use of minimal natural resources during a building’s lifetime. This could be achieved by contractual arrangements with the providers to return non-used items. Also, the products should be used to the maximum point; repairing should be preferred over changing that product.

2.     Role of Design Teams (Architecture of Building And Engineering)

When designing the buildings and materials, it is crucial to have the necessary information for the circular economy. The designers should be well-familiar with the strategies and requirements, the concept of increasing the use of recycled materials, future reuse potential, transformation capacity, and reversible building design in order to make the circular economy functional.

Designers should make use of the life cycle approach when designing newer buildings. They should promote adaptability and reversibility of the building, such as wider resilience issues, climate change adaption, etc.; the proposed building design should be assessed for sustainability. The materials, system, and products, all of these, should be assessed technically and economically for its life span. 

Furthermore, such materials should be incorporated into the designing plan that is easy to recycle and reuse. A variety of circular economical aspects should be considered, such as the weight of the material to manage upon its demolition. A great tool to help with the information needed is Prodikt.

3.     Role of Builders and Contractors

To practice circular economy, the contractors and builders should use such construction techniques that support the resilience of the materials and durability of the building. They should be focused on key performance indicators, including whole life costing and benefits, to promote the adaptability of buildings.

A pre-demolition audit prior to any renovation will help considering recycled materials as well as those that are hazardous waste. Builders should check out products datasheets, purchase documents, and the availability of the recycled materials in that particular area.

4.     Role of Insurance Providers, Developers, and Investors

While making investment decisions, lifecycle costing should be promoted. The whole costing analysis should include a reversible design to increase the revenue streams. The future risks of the cost of waste management and building demolition should be capitalized on. The residual value of the building should be considered to get savings and money flows, and mortgages.

5.     Role of Regulatory Authorities

The legislative framework should adopt an integrated vision to ensure reversibility and resource recovery. The authorities should focus on energy efficiency by joining new technologies to promote the recycling of the complements without having a life impact on the building.  Such policies should be reinforced that ensures high-quality recycling of materials used in construction.                      

The Bottom Line

Implementing a circular economy in the construction sector is not a one-man show. It is the responsibility of each and every group of people that are related to the field of construction. Going towards recycling strategies is the key towards a better circular economy. Below you can find different models for how to do circular construction business:

10 Various Models for Circular construction business

  1. Green building design, which makes use of advisory and consulting services to reduce construction site’s or building’s footprint.
  2. Advanced design software and databases usage for simulation, planning, and dimensioning.
  3. Renewable construction material, to produce and then supply materials for construction that are made up of renewable resources.
  4. Recycled construction material to produce and then supply materials for construction that are made up of recycled materials.
  5. Resource-efficient construction makes use of 3D printing, reusable framework, prefabrication, etc., to reduce material usage.
  6. Excess material recycling deals with waste reduction by recycling the key materials used in construction.
  7. Energy-efficient services involve building operations through the use of software solutions to increase energy efficiency.
  8. Space-sharing services, this model allows utilization of space and flexibility by digital platforms and AaS.
  9. Life extension for buildings, using predictive maintenance, the life of buildings could be extended.
  10. End of life-material up-cycling allows up-cycling of the construction material when it is demolished.

If you would like to initiate a dialogue with us regarding the topic or would like to take part of the presentation after the master class, please contact us.