The ReSOLVE framework offers all business types a methodology to incorporate circular strategies and growth initiatives. Its six elements, as listed in table 1, also apply to the build environment. They can be applied to products, buildings, localities, councils, cities, regions, or, in the wider context, even to the national economies.
Transitioning towards a Circular Economy in built the environment
While the circular economy paradigm offers a new alternative approach to economic growth, strong leadership with a coherent vision based on well-informed research is required to create a roadmap that can translate the high-level principles to sector specific processes of the built environment.
There is a need for close cooperation between policy makers and the industry, with scaling up of a cross-sector collaboration, particularly within the construction and infrastructure sector.
Some actions required to move towards a circular built environment system include:
- introducing policy mechanisms to support the transition;
- introducing financial mechanisms to support retrofit, refurbishment and renovation of old building stock, while investing in mixed-used buildings;
- improving cross-sector communication and collaboration during design, delivery and operation stages of building;
- recognising the enormous potential of smart urban planning;
- focussing on production and usage of building materials that can be easily recycled, that consume lesser energy in the recycling process and have longer operational lifecycle;
- increasing the public transit network and promoting transport-oriented development;
- embracing new business models that facilitate keeping products and materials in cycle, by remanufacturing, refurbishing and recycling.
Definitions & guidance
Adoption of circular economy principles requires clarity of definitions to allow effective communication between various industry stakeholders and expansion of processes to guide adopters through the different implementation stages.
The EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy launched in December 2015, outlined a set of specific actions and generic obstacles to support the EU’s transition to a circular economy.
In 2017, the EU Commission has introduced Level(s), a voluntary framework of core sustainability indicators for office and residential buildings. Sustainable buildings that use less energy and materials are considered an important goal on the journey to circular economy adoption in Europe. The framework promotes life cycle thinking at a whole building level, with an aim to support the adopters from design stage through to operation and occupation of a building.
To assist companies in their transition towards the adoption of circular economy principles the voluntary standard BS 8001 has also been developed. It provides guidance on “how to implement the principles of the circular economy within an organization to create value through process, product, service or business model innovation”.
BS 8001 defines six principles of circular economy that to drive business activity and strategic thinking towards: innovation, stewardship, collaboration and value optimisation, while applying transparency and system thinking.
BSRIA is a partner of the UK GBC circular economy program, which in April 2019 launched a guidance document that aims to provide support to developers and the supply chain in specifying and delivering commercial buildings in line with circular economy principles.
In the Netherlands, Amsterdam is accelerating its transition to become one of the world’s first circular economy cities. Practical steps to aid this shift are proposed in works such as – ‘Towards the Amsterdam Circular Economy’ and the ‘City Circle Scan’.
Following guidance, policy at national and regional level is required to drive investment to support the transition to a circular economy and encourage stakeholder participation.
Flexibility and innovative thinking are also required to develop and establish new business models that will harvest commercial potential that circular economy offers.
Challenges & the path forward
The built environment sector is fragmented with multiple stakeholders, has long lead times, involve substantial investments and has a legacy of being risk averse. Some key challenges that can be foreseen in adopting a circular economy include: increase in capital costs, creation of standardised assets, occupant safety concerns with use of recycled materials, and gaps in continuity of ownership and control. Conversely, these same challenges also provide the greatest opportunities for the built environment sector in the circular economy.
While a complete shift towards a circular economy in the built environment will no doubt be lengthy, policy interventions, emergence of new innovative business models, innovative technology, definition of metrics, alongside a cultural shift towards preservation of natural resources are likely to keep fuelling the transition towards a circular economy in the coming years.
BSRIA is exploring the potential to transition towards circular economy approach from current industry practices in areas such as modular and off-site construction. While we deliver services including construction process improvement using Soft Landings, life cycle analysis, BIM/digital engineering advisory and maintenance strategies to reduce operational impacts, which are seen by BSRIA experts as aspects that will support adoption of the circular economy principles in building services.
For more information, please contact BSRIA at email@example.com.