In the second instalment of our Environmental Blog series, we hear from Charlie Law on 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.
Tell us what the Circular Economy is 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 in the UK construction, demolition and excavation account 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 to the sector.
What does Circular Construction look like?
My interpretation of the Circular Economy in Construction is shown in the infographic. In order to achieve circularity, we need to consider several areas including:
Service Life Optimisation including a longer life for some components such as the building skin and ensuring easy reuse or recycling for others such as floor finishes which can change with fashion trends quickly
Designing for Maintenance ensuring that items that will require maintenance are easily accessible. The maintenance of these components could form part of a service contract
Resource Efficiency but not at the expense of a longer product life
Designing for flexibility, deconstruction and disassembly allowing for parts of the building to be removed and remodelled during the building’s life. But also, for full deconstruction and disassembly at the end of life for both the building and individual components
We also need to ensure that wherever possible we use raw materials from renewable sources and get the best possible utilisation from the materials. For example, ensuring that timber components are remanufactured into other products before allowing this to move outside of “the circle” to say biomass.
Finally, we need to look at how products are managed over their lifetime by ensuring suitable business models are in place to maintain and bring the products and components back into the loop at the end of their service life such as through leasing and service contracts.
What are some good examples of the Circular Economy that you are seeing now?
More and more manufactures are adopting a circular approach, although currently these tend to be focused 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 are designing office furniture to allow for better maintenance and remanufacture and Phillips are beginning to provide service contracts for lighting.
However, they are still in the main focused on linear business models where the items are sold into the marketplace and then not tracked through their life, resulting in them getting lost in the system. There is real opportunity in looking at solutions for longer life products such as steel, M&E, cladding etc.
What are the barriers to the uptake of the Circular Economy Principles?
Currently clients tend to have a lack of understanding on how the new business models could be adopted for construction and there is still a desire to own all the materials in a building they are commissioning.
All commissioning clients need to own is the space the building provides, everything else should be owned by the manufacturer and the use of it provided to the client through a lease or service contract.
The new business model solutions are not readily available in the market currently which is significantly reducing the creating of a circular economy opportunity. 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: https://www.supplychainschool.co.uk/uk/sustainability/construction/support/e-learning-modules.aspx 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: https://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/content/circular-economy-opportunities-construction-sector-2017