Circular Economy – what’s standing in our way?
Author: Alexandra Jonca
Circular Economy – what’s standing in our way?
Few concepts garner as much attention in sustainability spheres as the circular economy. Yet, despite the fast rise of this topic up the business and political agenda, barriers remain that prevent widespread uptake of circular principles across the built environment. This blog explores some of the roadblocks UKGBC and the CIRCuIT project have identified, and how we have begun to address them.
Challenge: Demolition vs. refurbishment
The construction status quo remains skewed towards demolishing buildings, instead of turning to adaptive refurbishment and reuse. The perceived obsolescence of buildings is often premature and in Britain we lose over 50,000 buildings every year. UKGBC is working with CIRCuIT to develop an evidence-based, systematic methodology that will enable project managers to quickly understand if a building is truly obsolete, or if it has transformative potential. This methodology will lead to the development of replicable design strategies, principles and policies that encourage transformation over demolition.
UKGBC recently conducted interviews with developers and project managers within our membership to better understand what influences their decisions to demolish or refurbish buildings. These interviews follow on from a workshop UKGBC hosted during London Circular Economy Week 2020 and will directly feed into the CIRCuIT methodology. A working group of the UKGBC Circular Economy Forum is also exploring methods to enable reuse and refurbishment through designing for adaptation, flexibility and deconstruction. Such strategies hold huge potential to reduce waste and to ensure assets are used optimally throughout their lifecycles.
Challenge 2: Infrastructure and tools for material reuse
Enabling the reuse of building materials and products across construction sites requires integrated logistical solutions. Digital material exchange tools, where materials can be listed online and exchanged with another party for re-use, are prolific but underutilised. CIRCuIT partner cities are conducting user needs analyses to support the development of a method by which existing exchange tools might be integrated, or further developed, to see greater uptake. A UKGBC Circular Economy Forum working group is also delving into the topic of material reuse. They are looking at how limited reuse infrastructure can be addressed, both barriers, for example through the availability of storage space for materials in-between usage. The groups are also looking at issues around insurance and warranty, as well as opportunities for increasing integration of material passports and BIM into UK projects.
Challenge 3: Lack of consistent indicators
We currently lack readily applicable metrics and indicators that allow an owner or occupier to verify and market a building as circular. Without a robust method to monitor and benchmark circularity efforts, it is impossible to determine the scale at which circular transformation is occurring. Over the last few months, CIRCuIT has been developing indicators related to urban mining, the lifespan of materials, and circular design. These are being formed with specific user and data needs in mind and will be tested in a series of workshops over the coming months. Another of the UKGBC Circular Economy Forum working groups is also working on this topic, undertaking a gap analysis of industry design tools and standards to explore the possibility of developing new or adapted indicators for measuring circularity throughout the value chain.
The time to address these challenges which are preventing the progression of circularity in the built environment is now. Circular principles must play a key role in reaching our collective carbon emissions targets, enabling us to think more holistically in our transition to net zero carbon. As we begin to rebuild from the devastating impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, embracing circular solutions will prove pivotal in driving financial and environmental opportunity to design out waste, enhance asset productivity and help us to build back better.
UKGBC is working with CIRCuIT to increase knowledge, and the practical implementation of, circular principles across the built environment. This builds on our existing resources and projects, including:
· Circular Economy Guidance for Construction Clients and Implementation Packs for reuse and products as a service.
· Circular Economy Policy Asks, which include proposals for government to tackle regulatory and institutional barriers preventing the uptake of circular principles.
· UKGBC’s Circular Economy Forum, which convenes quarterly, bringing together our members to share learnings, challenges and solutions on live projects. Working groups have emerged from the forum to tackle specific barriers to circular buildings, complementing the work undertaken with our CIRCuIT partners.
How can you get involved?
To stay up-to-date or for further information on CIRCuIT, sign up to our quarterly newsletter here. If you’ve got an idea for a great demonstrator in one of the partner cities, or have any questions please get in touch at email@example.com.
For all UKGBC’s latest circular economy updates, including outputs from our forum, events, activities and opportunities to get involved, sign up to our mailing list. If you are a UKGBC member looking to contribute your experience in implementing circular principles on construction projects via our Circular Economy Forum, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
References  https://www.circuit-project.eu/post/the-most-sustainable-building-is-the-one-you-don-t-build  https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/introducing-retrofirst-a-new-aj-campaign-championing-reuse-in-the-built-environment