For decades now there has been concern that our consumption of resources and production of waste could exceed the earth’s capacity to produce these resources and absorb waste. According to reports from the New Economics Foundation, if everyone in the world consumed resources at the same rate as people in the UK, we would need over three planets to sustain us and over five planets if everyone in the world consumed at the same rate as the US average.
Whether you believe these statistics or not, the prudent use of natural resources for environmental protection is more important than ever. Past experiences of myopic thinking demonstrate this. For example, it is believed that the Mayan culture collapsed (largely in part) due to myopic thinking and failure to acknowledge the warning of depleted soils, silted lakes and declining water supplies; an oversight we cannot afford now if we are to ensure the survival of our planet and the construction sector has a huge role to play.
The detrimental impact the construction industry has on the environment is not new knowledge. Organisations such as the UK’s Building Research Establishment and the Construction Industry Research and Information Association have spent decades researching and documenting such impacts of the building industry and reports such as Latham (1994), Egan (1998) and Wolstenholme (2009) have long documented the shortcomings of industry. The Government Strategy ‘Construction 2025’ further called for change within the industry outlining a vision for a more attractive and technologically advanced industry that through integration and collaboration will allow the construction industry to grow sustainability and make a long-term contribution to growth. Yet despite growing awareness of these issues, progress towards sustainable practice in the construction industry continues to be slow compared to other sectors.
Towards a New Model
The take-make-waste model is no longer viable where ‘our’ planet is concerned. So how can we seek to grow sustainability whilst making a contribution to growth? Enter the new kid on the block – the circular economy. Well not so new, it’s been around for a while now and some construction businesses have taken note but there needs to a widespread uptake of these practices if we are to have a lasting impact. With Government no longer the driving force behind the agenda, many business have now taken the lead on tackling climate change.
So, what exactly is the circular economy?
The circular economy is a regenerative system in which resource input and waste emission, and energy leakage are minimised by slowing, closing, and narrowing material and energy loops. It is achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, re-manufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling. It is clear from the definition of the Circular Economy that construction has a huge contribution to make. Following the key principles of operating within a circular perspective should help set you on your way:
Prioritise regenerative resources
Ensure renewable, reusable, non-toxic resources are utilised as materials and energy in an efficient way.
Use waste as a resource
Recover waste for reuse and recycling including designing out waste.
Design for the future
Design with reuse in mind – products should easily be dissembled and can easily be used with a different purpose.
Preserve and extend what’s already made
Maintain, repair and upgrade resources already in use to maximise their lifetime.
Collaborate to create joint value
Work with your supply chain, internally within organisations and with the public sector to increase transparency and create joint value.
Incorporate digital technology
Track and optimise resource use and strengthen connections between supply chain actors through digital, online platforms and technologies that provide insights. The adoption of BIM will help to implement such behaviours.