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Tools for promoting circular construction in cities

By Tiina Haaspuro

Cities can promote circular and regenerative construction practices by combining circular economy solutions with various administrative tools and control measures.

Measures include tightening building regulations, providing financial incentives, and improving information sharing and learnings around circular construction practices. Various circular economy goals can be set in the bidding phase of construction projects and/or in land competitions. This article provides examples of solutions that promote the circular economy for construction which have been identified as practical and possible to use in cities within Finland's current regulatory environment, and could be feasibly replicable in other cities. The existing vision and strategy defined by Finnish cities for promoting circular construction paints a clear message about the importance of the issue to the industry and encourages operators to use new solutions and operating models.

Here are various practical measures that cities could implement for building projects:

  • A requirement to evaluate a project's circular economy measures or conduct a Life Cycle Assessment before a new building permit is issued

  • Prioritise right to builds for projects or sites where certain environmental criteria are met, such as preservation of an existing building, large-scale reuse or use of recycled building parts and materials, or a smaller carbon footprint

  • Require operators to report information that promotes the monitoring of the circular economy (for example material quantity data, waste data, proportion of reused or recycled material)

In directing materials and building parts for reuse, requirements attached to permits or the contract during the bidding stage can be used, such as a requirement to use recycled material and/or used building parts in new buildings (for example, a certain percentage) or a requirement to recycle or redirect a certain percentage of demolition material in a demolition contract. The use of certain non environmentally friendly materials can be prohibited and, whereas financial compensation could be granted for achieving a reuse or recycling goal. Requiring pre-demolition audit surveys in demolition projects would also contribute to the opportunities for directing the reuse of materials.

To extend the life cycles of buildings in cities, it can be agreed that buildings intended for short-term use are required to be built from ready-made modules or elements, so that they can be moved and reused more easily. Degradability goals can also be set for such buildings and/or certain building parts, such as the possibility of being disassembled so that the parts can be reused as they are.

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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