By Tiina Haaspuro
By following a set criteria for procuring projects and services that champion circular economy principles, efforts can be made to improve the circularity of projects already in the initial phase of construction.
Criteria for circular construction procurement simply means the criteria set for procuring building projects and services that embed circular economy principles that support the implementation of the circular economy in construction. The challenge in the construction sector is a lack of experience and knowledge regarding circular economy criteria. Some operators have already defined circular economy criteria and applied them in construction projects, but information about the criteria and their use is fragmented and would require clarification, which can be confusing and time-consuming. There is a growing need in the field for additional information about functional, reasonable and usable circular economy criteria that could be set in connection with construction projects.
As part of the CIRCuIT project, we've examined potential circular economy criteria applied to construction projects and tested their applicability for different construction projects happening across current and potential future time spans. Many circular economy criteria are suitable for use in connection with procurement of demolition projects, renovation construction and new construction. Here, we've divided the criteria into three groups according to the types of construction projects mentioned above, and additionally into criteria that could be implemented immediately and criteria that could be implemented in the near future: 5–10 years from now.
There is some circular economy criteria that is applicable for all construction projects and can be immediately put into use: the requirement for a separate collection of construction site waste; measuring the amount of CO2 emissions falling below the specified CO2 limit values; the realisation of the degree of recycling and utilisation of demolition and waste materials during the construction site; the use of low-emission equipment; the use of renewable energy or an emission-free construction site; and the verification of the set criteria.
See the lists below for circular economy criteria that have been found to be applicable in the procurement of different types of construction projects.
For demolition projects, circular economy procurement criteria that can be used immediately:
Materials utilisation plan
The percentage target for the reuse of concrete waste
Quality requirements for crushed concrete, testing and delivery to a specific location
Removing the construction parts intact
Minimizing logistical trips to intermediate warehouses
For demolition projects, criteria to be introduced in the near future:
Emission-free construction site
Obligation to reuse demolition waste where applicable
Redirecting construction parts for reuse, e.g. to a specific marketplace or intermediate storage
A carbon footprint
Use materials to be dismantled near the demolition site
Circular economy procurement criteria that can be used immediately in renovation and change target projects:
Utilization of the produced surplus in the contract
EPD of construction products, environmental certificate or other environmental report
Certified ecolabels, such as the Swan label or the EU ecolabel
Detachability of new materials
Use of recyclable products
Facilitating renewable energy solutions
Serviceability and repairability
For overhaul and changes, criteria to be introduced in the near future:
Material recyclability requirement
Use of recycled building products and recycled materials
Obligation to use reused construction parts
Construction for easy dismantling
Updating the data model/material passport
Utilization of locally available materials
For new construction projects, circular economy procurement criteria that can be used immediately:
Swan label, LEED, BREEAM
Long warranty period, long-term durability, long service life
Adaptability, repairability, versatility
Minimization of materials/optimization of structures
Detachability of construction parts
For new construction projects, criteria to be introduced in the near future:
Information modelling down to the material level
Material passports with CO2 information and the most accurate emission classification of structural parts
Using artificial intelligence in planning
Flexibility of design solutions and adaptation to climate change
Self-sufficiency requirements (and possibilities) e.g. in food and energy production
Many of these criteria - which are already possible to implement - require clarification. For example, a unified method and limit values are needed to calculate the carbon footprint. It would be beneficial to have design guidelines for planning the removability of building parts, which would make it easier for multiple parties to implement the criteria requirements. On the other hand, the low demand for used products can make it difficult to guide the reuse of construction products. However, demand will grow, and bringing the supply to the fore can create demand even for products that have hardly been reused before.
Verification of the circular economy criteria is important to ensure that the criteria set for the procurement are actually fulfilled. If circular economy criteria are set, but the implementation is not monitored at all, they cannot be assumed to be effective.
Tiina Haaspuro is Project researcher for CIRCuIT at HSY in the Helsinki region. This article was first published in Finnish on HSY's website here.