How something vague can become concrete
Circularity involves a radical change process. Look around for examples and inspire others by sharing that knowledge.
If we can't make circularity concrete and tangible, there's the risk that it will become or remain a vague container term. A commercial shell with no content which service providers sell on paper but which fails to fulfil its potential in practice. And that would be a shame, because the construction industry needs to use the options that circularity gives us.
Circularity is about preventing waste, by re-using as many materials as possible and preventing wastage. The urgency is clear: every year we reach the point a bit sooner at which we've taken more resources from the Earth than we can supplement in one year. This year, this 'Earth Overshoot Day' will probably fall at the end of July. Every year, this happens a bit earlier. Last year it was the beginning of August. So circularity has a lot to do with waste and 40% of waste is related to the construction industry in the Netherlands. That's why it's important that we make huge efforts to reduce this waste and make smarter use of our resources. But how?
There are many ways and levels in which you can take a circular approach in the construction industry, such as:
Design a building so that it can be easily repaired or dismantled. So that the materials can simply be re-used after demolition. A good step is also to give the building a 'material passport' in which all the materials have been recorded.
Invest in extending a building's lifespan, including energy-saving measures. The longer we can continue to use a building, the better. A smart architectural design can help improve the building's flexibility (e.g. partition walls, etc).
Wherever possible, use sustainable materials in construction which don't use up more of the Earth's resources. Like stones made of recycled material (StoneCycle). Or even better: give used materials a second life. There are already parties that specialise in supplying existing materials for new buildings, such as New Horizon. Their motto: 'we don't demolish, we harvest!'
Monday morning, 8.00 a.m.
Great, you're motivated to get to work. But that's easier said than done. The construction world is not known for being the most innovative and creative sector. Many clients focus on costs and the sector does likewise. The designer wants to have his building plan ready as soon as possible and therefore tends to reach for familiar solutions he has used before. Most engineers haven't been given the tools to apply circular principles in their daily work.
‘That will have to change. We need a different approach to designing and a new way of establishing the cost price. And key to this is thinking in terms of sustainable alternatives.’
While designers now choose all new materials from a shiny catalogue, we will have to start looking for used materials from other sources. Fortunately that's becoming easier, partly thanks to a platform like Madaster, which will become a kind of online market place for building materials. A point of attention remains the ability to assess the quality of re-used materials.
In the installation sector, it's less usual to work with used equipment. However, circular progress can be achieved here too. When drawing up a budget, for example, don't just look at the purchase costs, but also at the costs of maintenance during the expected lifespan. And how easily can the installation later be dismantled for re-use?
The Green House
Start with small steps
Just like those two other big terms (energy transition and digitisation), circularity involves a radical change process. Lots of things are required for this: vision, commitment, skills. But it all starts in the heads of people like you and me.
A good start is to talk about circularity, share success stories and motivate each other. Look around you for good examples - think of the Circl (an ABNAMRO initiative) and The Green House (an initiative of Strukton Worksphere, Ballast Nedam and Albron) - and inspire others by sharing that knowledge. Because real progress depends on pooling know-how.
This blog was previously published on Duurzaam Gebouwd.