Six leading built environment and circular economy organisations have joined forces to launch the Circular Buildings Coalition (CBC), an initiative to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in the construction industry.
The founding members launched the new initiative at an online webinar event earlier this month.
The construction industry consumes roughly half of virgin resources globally, accounts for about a third of the world’s waste and nearly 40% of total carbon emissions.
By embracing circular practices at all stages of a building’s lifecycle – from design and construction to operation and eventual deconstruction and decommissioning – construction could significantly cut its material and carbon footprint.
However, circular construction approaches are far from standardised and still very much niche in the industry.
To help propel circular construction into the mainstream, the CBC aims to assess the current systemic challenges in the industry, develop a knowledge base for overcoming them and use its insights to form recommendations for action.
The CBC will focus on three critical roadblocks that hinder the transition to a circular construction. These can be broadly categorised as issues relating to finance, ownership models and market dynamics.
According to Circle Economy CEO Martijn Lopes Cardozo, real estate financiers still prioritise short-term gains over long-term benefits while developing finance schemes for construction projects.
Buildings may also have different owners over the course of their life cycles, often with conflicting incentives: developers, for example, may be interested in building at the cheapest cost, while residents are motivated to pay the lowest energy bills.
As of now, ownership models that align all stakeholders’ interests with climate and circularity goals are lacking – and as buildings change hands, information on the materials that have been used during construction is often lost.
This impedes future reuse by concealing building materials’ value and recycling potential from the last owner in the chain.
Finally, the market for building materials does not incentivise the use of novel and secondary materials. Reusing materials and using different kinds of materials is seen as risky because developers must adhere to strict safety standards. For this reason, notes Lopes Cardozo, developers often prefer to ‘play it safe’ and use virgin materials.
As noted by Catriona Brady, Director of Strategy & Development at World Green Building Council (WGBC): “We obviously need to create a market that places financial value on materials that we currently consider waste.
“We want to challenge business-as-usual thinking and look into market credentials that would allow circular materials to compete with non-circular.”
Eva Gladek, CEO at Metabolic, added that maintaining materials’ complexity and value while addressing these issues in a systemic way is key to boosting circularity in the construction industry.
She continued: “The required changes go beyond better waste recycling or reusing materials from buildings; they also require forming new collaborative models.
“We need to create self-replicating solutions, such as business models and incentive structures for projects.”
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Richard Boyd, Associate at Arup, added: “The starting point is to accelerate circular models that are competitive and profitable. At the same time, we need to articulate to policymakers how these models are not only economically superior but superior to the environment and society.”
The CBC has committed to the following milestones:
- By March 2023, the Coalition members will publish a diagnosis of the current obstacles to the large-scale implementation of circular economy practices in the construction industry— and will invite all actors within the industry to a public event to co-create solutions.
- In 2023, the Coalition will provide financial support to initiatives that are helping accelerate the transition to a circular built environment.
- In 2023, the Coalition will publish blueprints for best practices that can be replicated by market parties and policymakers, with the aim of spurring the large-scale implementation of circular economy principles.
Roland Hunziker, Director of Built Environment, WBCSD, concluded: “The construction sector needs to see circularity as not a problem but a part of the solution. It helps us achieve a more nature-positive, decarbonised built environment.”
Image credit: MiLow/Shutterstock
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