October 18, 2022

Circular Buildings Coalition launched to scale circularity in the built environment

On the 4th of October, six leading sustainable development organisations launched the Circular Buildings Coalition (CBC), an initiative to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in the construction industry. The CBC’s formation was announced during a webinar held by its six founding parties: the World Green Building Council (WGBC), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the Ellen McArthur Foundation, Arup, Metabolic and Circle Economy.

 

Emmy Scholten (Metabolic), Eva Gladek (Metabolic) and Martijn Lopes Cardozo (Circle Economy) at Circle Economy office in Amsterdam, officially launching Circular Buildings Coalition.

The construction industry consumes roughly half of virgin resources globally and accounts for nearly 40% of the world’s carbon emissions and solid waste streams. Embracing circular practices targeted at all stages of a building’s lifespan—from design and construction to use to deconstruction—could help cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the industry’s impact on nature and biodiversity.

As noted by Catriona Brady, Director of Strategy & Development at World Green Building Council (WGBC), ‘We obviously need to create a market that places financial value on materials that we currently consider waste. We want to challenge business-as-usual thinking and look into market credentials that would allow circular materials to compete with non-circular’. 

‘The construction sector needs to see circularity as not a problem but a part of the solution. It helps us achieve a more nature-positive, decarbonised built environment’, said Roland Hunziker, Director of Built Environment at World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). 

The CBC will focus on three critical roadblocks that hinder the transition to a circular building environment. These can be broadly categorised as issues relating to finance, ownership models and market dynamics, according to Circle Economy CEO Martijn Lopes Cardozo. Real estate financiers still prioritise short-term gains over long-term benefits while developing finance schemes for construction projects, for example. Buildings may also have different owners over the course of their life cycles, often with conflicting incentives: developers, for example, may be interested in building at the cheapest cost, while residents are motivated to pay the lowest energy bills. As of now, ownership models that align all stakeholders’ interests with climate and circularity goals are lacking—and as buildings change hands, information on the materials that have been used during construction is often lost.  This impedes future reuse, by concealing building materials’ value and recycling potential from the last owner in the chain. Finally, the market for building materials stagnates: it does not incentivise the use of novel and secondary materials, for example, which are seen as risky: because developers must adhere to strict safety standards, they often prefer to ‘play it safe’ and use virgin materials, notes Lopes Cardozo.

According to Eva Gladek, CEO at Metabolic, maintaining materials’ complexity and value while addressing these issues in a systemic way is key to boosting circularity in the construction industry. 

‘The required changes go beyond better waste recycling or reusing materials from buildings; they also require forming new collaborative models’ Gladek points out, adding: ‘We need to create self-replicating solutions, such as business models and incentive structures for projects'. 

The founding organisations aim to assess the current systemic challenges in the industry, develop a knowledge base for overcoming them and use their insights to form recommendations for action. 

‘Tackling these three key issues won’t solve the problem—but it’ll be a great starting point, and will show that a circular built environment is possible,' concluded Lopes Cardozo.     

‘The starting point is to accelerate circular models that are competitive and profitable. At the same time, we need to articulate to policymakers how these models are not only economically superior but superior to the environment and society’, added Richard Boyd, Associate at Arup.

The CBC has committed to the following milestones: 

  • By March 2023, the Coalition members will publish a diagnosis of the current obstacles to the large-scale implementation of circular economy practices in the construction industry— and will invite all actors within the industry to a public event to co-create solutions.
  • In 2023, the Coalition will provide financial support to initiatives that are helping accelerate the transition to a circular built environment.
  • In 2023, the Coalition will publish blueprints for best practices that can be replicated by market parties and policymakers, with the aim of spurring the large-scale implementation of circular economy principles.

The CBC intends to grow its reach by inviting new members, financially supporting key initiatives and developing new partnerships. Organisations interested in joining the movement or showcasing their circular solutions are invited to get in touch: https://www.circularbuildingscoalition.org/join-our-movement.

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