The growing global discussion around climate change and consumption has generated new demand for sustainable goods and business practices.
As a result, companies in construction are facing increased pressure to reduce waste and find ways to make structures and their building practices more sustainable.
Circular economic practices may be the answer.
Why the Circular Model Is Right for the Construction Industry
The circular economy is in contrast to the traditional linear economy, where resources are gathered, turned into products, used by end consumers and then discarded.
By contrast, a circular model keeps these resources in the economy for as long as possible. This reduces waste and cuts back on the total amount of extraction necessary for new projects.
It’s a strategy for economic development that aims to build supply chains and new ways of doing business that are as green as possible. In practice, this helps companies to minimize waste and find new ways to reuse valuable nonrenewable resources.
In the U.S., construction materials — like stone, gravel and sand — make up three-quarters of the country’s overall raw material usage. The use of renewable items has also declined dramatically over the past century — and today, just around 5% of total products by weight are renewable.
The application of circular solutions to the country’s construction industry could significantly reduce overall raw material use while also making it easier and more practical to use renewable items.
For businesses in the construction industry, circular solutions can also provide a few advantages over more traditional, linear approaches.
For example, the use of reclaimed or recycled building materials is a circular solution that’s also an opportunity for waste reduction. In some cases, the approach may also lend a new building a distinct look that couldn’t be achieved with more standard construction materials.
Circular solutions may also help construction companies build new structures that qualify for green certifications, such as LEED. Buildings that are LEED-certified may also be more attractive to both individual buyers and potential commercial tenants. These structures have also been shown to be more valuable on average than similar, noncertified buildings in the same area.
As the conversation around waste and fossil fuel use becomes more intense, these practices could also help construction companies build stronger relationships with clients and individual buyers.
Circular Solutions for the Construction Industry
The shift from linear to circular doesn’t have to happen all at once. Even small changes made by individual companies can greatly impact the industry’s overall eco-friendliness and help cut down on the use of resources.
Changing the ways that new structures are heated, such as installing solar-based heating systems, can reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Some material suppliers and equipment vendors are also beginning to offer end-of-life and take-back schemes that could help construction companies reduce waste. Some of these schemes state how materials can be repurposed if a building needs to be demolished or remodelled. Others may offer to buy back equipment or components once they have reached the end of their lifespan.
Choosing to participate in one of these programs may help a construction company reduce waste and offset some of the costs associated with demolitions or significant remodelling.
Designing for deconstruction can make it easier for a construction company to participate in these programs. By building a new structure that’s easy to tear down with minimal damage to construction materials, it can be easier to reclaim items that can be reused in remodelling projects or new buildings.
In practice, design for deconstruction may look something like the BIP Building in Santiago, Chile — a structure made of laminated timber and built from the ground up to be easily dismantled and reconstructed elsewhere.
Bringing the Construction Industry Into the Circular Economy
Traditional, linear economic practices generate significant amounts of waste and don’t take full advantage of extracted raw materials.
As one of the largest users of raw materials, the construction industry could have a major impact on the overall economy if enough companies adopt circular practices.