By Frederik Fenger Petersen
Circular Economy is slowly finding its way into political arenas around the world. The EU has agreed on a Circular Economy Action Plan and cities as well as nations are starting to formulate visions, create strategies, develop policies and set goals on circular economy and circular construction. Within the last couple of years the Parliament of Denmark established an advisory board on circular economy which in 2017 resulted in 27 concrete recommendations for Denmark to implement. On the city-level, London has introduced a mandatory circular economy statement for all major developments, which requires developers to outline how they will integrate circular construction principles into their building projects. These examples show a willingness to adapt to the circular mindset in our cities and in the built environment. Still, circular construction is a relatively new concept and neither governments nor cities have a huge amount of experience yet on how to implement it in practice. The aim of CIRCuIT is to combine knowledge and experience from partners across all aspects of the value chain, and to use project findings to create stepping stones for cities as they start implementing circular economy principles and setting demands in the built environment for a sustainable future.
Integrating the circular agenda in city policies
CIRCuIT is defined as being a demonstrator project. This means that we are trying to get out there and prove that what we are trying to achieve through the CIRCuIT project is not only profitable but also sustainable. We aim to demonstrate how to build for disassembly, how to reuse building materials and how to transform rather than demolish buildings.
But the greatest and most brilliant of circular construction ideas can come to a grinding halt if they’re not enabled by our policy-making processes. So how do we prepare the decision-makers of our cities for a circular future?
With cities themselves being some of the largest property developers, there is inherent potential in improving the understanding and practice of circularity within city administrations. Based on CIRCuIT’s findings, we will develop a set of replicable criteria for use in public construction project tenders, which cities will then be able to pick and choose from and integrate them into their existing tenders. Here circular economic analysis such as Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Lifecycle Analysis (LCA) will be the overarching principles used to develop these criteria.
Setting specific demands on tenders is of course only possible if the cities themselves are the property developers. So, what can be done to persuade private property developers to make use of these circular principles as well? According to national and EU law there are clear limits to what can be demanded from private property developers in planning and building permits. This, therefore, means that a lot of what needs to be done to reach a higher level of circularity has to be done on a voluntary basis. Desk officers often lack knowledge of how they can suggest a circular economy solution to developers, which is why CIRCuIT will create tangible instruments and tools for city officials to use in the dialogue with developers to inspire this circular approach. These tools will have many facets and include best practice examples backed by business cases; they will showcase how, often, not much has to be changed in a project in order to increase circularity while still keeping the overall project profitable.
These showcases and subsequent changes to decision-making processes will hopefully be a contributing factor in shifting the balance from circular construction being seen as a niche approach to its becoming the mainstream viable solution. It is our hope that CIRCuIT will create a solid, circular foundation for cities around the world to build on; and which cities around the world can look to for inspiration and insights into how to set demands for circular construction practices in their own political processes.