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A guide to procurement for circular construction projects

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

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:

  • Demolition mapping

  • 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

  • Carbon footprint

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

  • Transformation flexibility

  • 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.

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