A circular economy is the only truly sustainable future for the construction industry

9th January 2018
A circular economy is the only truly sustainable future for the construction industry

The UK construction industry consumes over 400 million tonnes of material every year. It’s not only the largest consumer of natural materials, but also responsible for one-third of all UK waste. It chews up the most resources, and then spits them back out.

Continuing this current system paints a grim future. At present we have 2.8 billion tonnes of waste at a global scale, with more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 (IEMA, 2017). Europe is heavily dependent on imported raw materials and, ultimately, this system of cradle-to-grave thinking is not sustainable.

However, by applying the principles of the circular economy, waste may become a valuable resource and help protect our planet. This is not a new notion; a €1.8 trillion opportunity has been identified by moving to a circular economy (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2005).

Why is it happening?

The construction industry is a traditional one. Based on tendering and procurement, contractors have little incentive to meet anything other than the minimum quality level for the minimum price, with little supply chain integration at inception. The result? Materials become a negative cost from demolition at the end of a building’s lifetime.

To spark a positive change, this process needs to be reformed. One option is to engage with suppliers from the early stages of development; provide a budget and ask them to deliver the highest quality product such as Cradle-to-Cradle certified materials, or materials tested by the BRE.

Here, where all products are designed for disassembly, we can look at buildings as material banks. BIM modelling can facilitate a material tracking platform, and, where manufacturers lease the products so that the materials are still owned by the suppliers, we have a closed loop system (Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, 2017).

This idea has been realised by Zachariasse Consulting and the Haarlemmermeer business park, near Amsterdam, also known as Park 20-20. The result is a dramatic increase in a development’s residual value and has the potential to alter finance and investment returns as we know it. At Stride Treglown, we are already implementing certain principles of the circular economy on two projects, one of which is currently on site in Wales.

A circular economy is the only truly sustainable future for the construction industry and we should pave the way for integrating its principles into future developments.