Circular Economy in the Built Environment

In the second instalment of our Environmental Blog series, Charlie Law covers the opportunities and barriers for a Circular Economy in the Built Environment. Charlie was one of the original contributors to the Environmental Manual and founder of Sustainable Construction Solutions, a Circular Economy and Responsible sourcing consultancy.

What is the Circular Economy and why it is so important to the construction sector?

The Circular Economy goes beyond the current take-make-waste industrial model to create business models that design out waste, keeping products and materials in use.

The Built Environment sector is responsible for some of the largest material flows across the globe. The UK Green Business Council estimates that UK construction, demolition and excavation accounts for 60% of both materials use and waste generation. With the cost of building materials continuing to increase, coupled with increasing costs to manage and dispose of waste, the transition to a Circular Economy creates a significant commercial opportunity.

What does Circular Construction look like?

To achieve circularity to consider these areas:

Service Life Optimisation

This includes a longer life for some components i.e. building skin, floor finishes etc which can change with trends.

Designing for Maintenance

To ensure items that require maintenance are easily accessible.

Resource Efficiency

Create efficiencies but not at the expense of longer product life.

Designing for flexibility, deconstruction and disassembly

Allow the removal and remodelling of parts of the building during the building’s life. In doing so, give consideration to full deconstruction and disassembly at the end of life. Importantly, this stands for both building and individual components.

Where possible, ensure the use of raw materials from renewable sources and get the best possible utilisation from the materials. For example, ensuring we remanufacture timber components into other products before allowing this to move outside of “the circle”.

Finally, look at how to manage products over their lifetime. Focus on ensuring suitable business models to maintain and bring products and components back into the loop at the end of their service life. Businesses can do this through leasing and service contracts, for example.

The CIP Environmental Manual contains guidance and an explanation of the Circular Economy and is available as a Hardcopy and CDROM, and online at .

Good examples of the Circular Economy 

More and more manufactures are adopting a circular approach. Currently, these tend to focus on shorter life products such as carpet tiles, office furniture and ceiling tiles. Desso, Interface and Shaw all have take-back schemes in place for carpet tiles. Herman Miller is designing office furniture to allow for better maintenance and remanufacture. Phillips is beginning to provide service contracts for lighting.

However, they are still, in the main, focused on linear business models. In other words, items are sold into the marketplace and then not tracked through their life. There is a real opportunity in looking at solutions for longer life products such as steel, M&E, cladding etc.

Barriers to the uptake of the Circular Economy Principles 

There tends to be a lack of understanding of how the new business models could be adopted for construction. There is still a desire to own all the materials in a building. All commissioning clients need to own is the space the building provides, everything else should be owned by the manufacturer through a lease or service contract.

The new business model solutions are not readily available in the market currently which is significantly reducing the adoption of a circular economy. There needs to be a shift in the way buildings are procured with manufacturers taking a prominent role in the supply chain.

Where can companies get support on adopting Circular Economy principles?

The Supply Chain Sustainability School has some free e-learning resource online: and also runs workshops on implementing the circular economy. Partners of the school can host a workshop for their supply chain to attend free of charge.

Companies in Scotland can access help through zero waste Scotland: