When planning a new build, retrofit or refurb project, taking a circular approach is increasingly important to achieving Net Zero targets, sitting alongside energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. But how achievable is this?

Mace’s insights report, ‘Closing the Circle’, explores the necessity for a circular economy within the built environment and the actions needed to realise it.

Imperative to preserve raw materials.

Globally, the built environment uses 50% of raw materials, accounts for 60% of materials waste and 40% of carbon emissions. In the UK the sector generates over 62% of the country’s waste. Instead of the current linear way of working (take, make, dispose), adopting circularity means recycling or reusing materials and components within the industry and keeping the manufacturing of new raw materials to a minimum, thus reducing embodied carbon.

Structural and behavioural change.

More stringent environmental regulation and requirements are starting to be placed on developments and investors are increasing pressure for a greener path. On a practical level, a circular model should be more resource efficient and provide better resilience against external shocks such as supply chain disruptions and unanticipated price spikes.

Although materials science R&D and case studies show circularity gaining pace, a structural and behavioural system change is needed across the entire value chain. Lack of information, infrastructure and incentives are all barriers for which industry, academia and policy makers must find joint solutions.

Amongst the key challenges are:

  • Infrastructure requirements: materials stores, recycling plants and an online marketplace for trading of salvaged materials.
  • Policy incentives: circularity requirements built into local government planning policy (as the GLA has done), financial incentives such as to VAT policy which currently disincentivises reuse.
  • Trusted information: warranties on reused products, materials passports, unified accreditation system for quality assurance, and consistency in how we measure and report on carbon.
  • Knowledge and materials availability: with time and resources needed to understand how a building was put together years so it can be disassembled or adapted, and materials and components to be designed for reuse from the outset.

London is in a good position to be a global leader in circularity not least due to its progressive planning policy and geographically compact construction activity. 90.2% of London’s waste from demolition and construction is already recovered but very little gets back into the supply chain for reuse in the built environment.

So, what next?

Ultimately a rethink is needed in the way we use resources and embrace new business models with a shared commitment to transform the industry. Not just in London.

Read more on p.52 of UKSPA’s latest Breakthrough magazine. And you can read our full

‘Closing the Circle’ insights report insights report on the Mace website, alongside a case study on the reuse of carbon intensive construction materials. Further reports will look at circularity of building operations.

Rob Lemming, Managing Director of Public Sector & Life Sciences for Mace Construct