The Circular Economy
In the construction sector we operate largely within a linear economy model, which assumes resources are abundant and we can make, use and dispose of them without consequences. Currently over 90% of the raw materials used globally are not cycled back into the economy, which is putting an unacceptable strain upon the earths natural resources and climate. As such many clients, policy makers and main contractors are now grappling with how best to ensure that resources to flow in a circular way.
A circular economy model seeks to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, minimising the amount used, extending their lifespan, maximising reuse and eventually returning materials for new use. It is essentially about doing ‘more with less’ and designing and manufacturing products to last longer, and making them in a way to allow easier re-use, repair and remanufacture.
Source: Sustainable Brands
Culturally, we’ve begun to embrace and adopt recycling as a solution but too often ‘recyclable’ materials are not in fact being recycled and as a result, these materials are still winding up in landfills. Even products that do make it through the recycling process often wind up being down-cycled due to loss of quality or value in the next-generation product. These materials are only recyclable once, maybe twice, and then they, too, wind up in landfills.
Source: EASME - Executive Agency for SMEs
Transitioning to a more circular approach will take time and can be considered in 3 broad phases:
- Firstly, by achieving further reductions in waste going to landfill and using resources more efficiently. (This includes the implementation of lean construction principles for example)
- Secondly, by improving rates of re-use or recycling of resources which includes putting in place the best possible solutions for construction waste streams.
- Thirdly, by engaging across the supply chain to design buildings, products and services that are specifically designed to enable a circular economy. This requires systems thinking and broadening the design brief to think through ‘what’s next?’;in other words what happens to a product after use?
Whilst there is an increasing amount of theory signalling how the construction sector can adopt more circular practices, there are limited examples of this happening in practice. UK Green Building Council is running a series of live experiments until March 2020, testing the application of circular principles on real estate assets and construction projects. The aim is to facilitate collaborative approaches to overcome common obstacles and to share findings with industry.
Measuring progress towards a circular economy is also an area requiring more attention. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Granta Design have looked at the circularity of materials in businesses and developed a circularity index. The Supply Chain School have built upon this work and created a construction focused measurement tool together with associated guidance, training and case studies to demonstrate how users can assess and promote more circular construction products.
For more information...
Click here to view our module on Circular Economy Indicators...
Click here to view the Metrics Tool...
Click here for case studies and guidance on how to use the Tool...