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The circular economy at the very heart of construction

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“Nothing is lost, everything is transformed”. The circular economy applied to real estate means re-using and developing buildings, infrastructures and neighbourhoods without drying up natural resources, polluting the environment or damaging our ecosystems. The aim of the circular economy is also to use raw materials sensibly, re-purpose and recycle waste. It is, more than ever, a part of property development’s business model.

A change to the standard

The circular approach considers buildings in terms of raw materials, waste and resources. The sustainability of a building and what it can offer are at the core of the whole process. The challenge is to make the most out of these construction components, in terms of durability and space. The aim is also to recycle them in an economically responsible way in order to limit their impact on the environment. The approach covers all stages in the life cycle of materials: eco-design, environmental impact, on-site waste sorting and recycling in the deconstruction phase. Bio-sourced materials such as wood structures, wood or hemp wool insulation have a central place in such projects.

A virtuous circle

Circularity relies on the commitment of all players in the construction process: contractors, project managers, manufacturers of construction materials, various worksite contributors and waste disposal specialists. Property management also contributes to this virtuous circle by re-using maintenance equipment such as heaters and furniture, for example. The salvaging of components can also be a source of income via recycling.

The challenges of European construction

  • 50%
    of raw material extractions could be avoided
  • 35%
    of the overall waste production of 80% of buildings’ emissions could be avoided

A European action plan

The plan, issued in March 2020 by the European Commission, includes guidelines for the construction sector that are due to be rolled out by 2021 in a “global strategy for a sustainably built environment”. Among other measures there is the revision of regulations concerning construction materials, that includes the possibility to lay down requirements for the proportion of recycled materials, digital prints for buildings or the use of the Level(s) assessment framework aimed at analysing materials’ life cycle in public markets. 

Circular buildings have a bright future ahead, as long as certain issues are correctly addressed, such as the organisation of collection and recycling procedures and the level of commitment of project management.