Will a Circular Economy Be a Boom or Bust for the Construction Industry?
If you’ve worked in the construction industry for any length of time, you’ve probably already heard about the current industry buzzwords like green building, sustainability, LEED scores, and the need to reduce, reuse, and recycle. What you might not have heard is that each of those terms represents another step in moving to a circular economy.
What Is a Circular Economy?
Much of the world currently operates on an outdated production and consumption model of “take, make, consume, and dispose.”
Raw materials are removed from our limited natural resources for the sole purpose of generating a profit.
The raw materials get used to manufacture the products that consumers demand.
The products live out their planned lifecycles.
Once the product’s life cycle is complete, it ends up in a landfill.
Obviously, this model incorporates planned obsolescence into every product to ensure a steady stream of future customers. This linear economic model requires massive amounts of accessible materials and expensive energy to survive and grow, dramatically impacting future generations.
Unlike the linear economic model, the circular economy involves sharing, repairing, reusing, and refurbishing to extend product life cycles as long as possible. As a result, the consumption of raw materials and the amount of waste headed for the landfill is substantially reduced.
In a circular economy model for the construction industry, project stakeholders start with the main goal of repurposing and reusing structures and building materials. This “next stage” planning approach promotes long-term results that benefit society, the economy, and environmental principles simultaneously. Incorporating sustainable building practices today increases the product’s future value 5, 10, or 20 years from now.
Circular Economy Benefits
Unfortunately, sustainable and high-performance building materials require a more significant initial investment than traditional materials. However, this higher upfront cost is quickly offset through reduced energy usage, fewer maintenance requirements, easier (and faster) installations, and increased longevity.
A recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that:
- 40-60% of usable office space remains vacant during working hours.
- 20-40% of energy used in buildings could be more profitably conserved.
- 40% of urban waste comes from the construction and remodeling industries.
And adopting a circular economy approach across the construction industry can:
- Conserve up to 40% of energy currently used in real estate.
- Reduce real estate carbon emissions by 38%.
- Cut building material emissions by 38% through 2050.
The report also identified five emerging key trends that can provide a circular economy starting point for owners, developers, designers, and builders.
- Flexible Spaces build on co-working trends by listing unoccupied spaces online for short-term tenants.
- Adaptable Assets are buildings that can adopt more than one use during their lifetime through streamlined retrofitting.
- Relocatable Buildings move across several unused locations thanks to modular design and highly durable materials.
- Residual Value creates futures contracts for leftover materials at the end of a building’s life cycle.
- Performance Procurement takes the concept of product-as-a-service to the building level, in which construction clients and tenants buy subscriptions for services rather than using their capital expenditures.
Clearly, a circular economy provides numerous benefits for the construction industry, but a systemic change would be expensive and take decades to complete.
Or would it?
Numerous products in the marketplace support the circular economy goals, such as minimal waste while simplifying future upgrades simultaneously. A low-profile raised flooring system such as Gridd® allows the cabling and wiring to be reconfigured countless times as the tenant needs change. Finally, the entire raised flooring system can move should you ever need to relocate to another physical location.