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london's circular economy.



Construction firm Mace have raised eyebrows recently with their calls for London to become the circularity in construction capital of the world. They claim that transitioning to a circular economy is fundamental to achieving zero-carbon buildings and believe that with sufficient industry support and commitment, it will be possible to reverse the reputational harm that the industry has suffered in the past from being labelled the UK's largest contributor to carbon emissions.

Why change is needed

The UK is committed to achieving Net Zero by 2050 and all industry sectors need to play their part. The construction industry worldwide accounts for circa 40% of carbon emissions, in addition to being responsible for the use of 40% of the world's stocks of raw materials. 

It has been reported that over the last decade, the UK's construction industry generated 1.54 million tons of waste, only 10% of which was recycled. This means that over 15 million tons of waste was consigned to landfill, which, as well as being staggeringly wasteful, is also financially costly and could create up to 6 billion kilograms of CO2 emissions [1].

By implementing circular economy principles, it could be possible to save, re-use or recycle up to 13.8 million tons of construction waste and up to 11 million tons of CO2 over the next decade. This is equivalent to 3.5% of the UK's total annual emissions, which would be a welcome step towards achieving the Net Zero target.

There is clearly a very good reason to consider implementing a circular economy, but why London and what steps need to be followed to ensure success?

Why London?

Mace selected London as the ideal place to create the world's first circular construction economy based on a number of factors. It is home to numerous innovative and forward-thinking construction firms, developers and occupiers who are already committed to sustainability and have a proven track record in implementing modern methods of construction, which result in a lower environmental impact.

London's planning authorities are keen to promote green construction practices, rewarding firms who use next-gen technologies to plan and implement sustainable and resilient builds, looking for less harmful ways of achieving astounding results.

Finally, London is home to a vast number of environmentally-conscious consumers who will applaud the efforts taken by construction companies to embrace more efficient ways of creating the infrastructure of the future. This will have a significant reputational impact and could potentially increase recruitment activity within the sector.

By implementing a circular construction economy in the City of London, it is anticipated that construction companies will minimise the use of raw materials by reusing and recycling waste material. That is material that has been over-ordered, that is no longer required for its intended build or that has resulted from the demolition of an existing building. 

How to create a circular economy

Mace's recommendations for implementing a circular construction economy include:

- The creation of circularity material banks, which will allow construction companies to access waste material generated elsewhere within the industry;

- Digitally track and catalogue the source of materials within the supply chain to simplify re-use;

- Develop a circularity accreditation scheme for companies to promote their commitment to circularity; and

- Introduce a legislative mandate and financially incentivise firms to comply with circularity regulations.

Will a circular construction economy work?

A circular construction economy would certainly be a step in the right direction when introduced as part of a larger scheme of initiatives to reduce waste within the industry and minimise the carbon emissions resulting from the construction, in-service usage and demolition of our built environment.

It is unlikely to be a standalone measure, but when used alongside BIM technology, improved planning and modern methods of construction, it could be the pivotal step in reducing the industry's reliance on virgin raw materials.

The industry remains keen to be proactive in implementing sustainability and resilience improvements, so it may be averse to attempts to legislate or mandate implementing this philosophy, although collaboration at senior levels may result in agreements and compromises being reached.

Is the UK's construction industry a good enough role model?

The UK's construction industry is absolutely committed to reducing carbon emissions in the built environment. It understands the need for change and wants to play its part in creating healthier, greener communities. The UK's construction industry is a fantastic role model, and we at Build Space agree with Mace that using London as a proof of concept will provide valuable learning opportunities, which will likely result in increased public engagement and a strong reputational standing on the worldwide stage.

Resources:

[1] https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.0c00364#:~:text=Landfilling%20is%20the%20most%20greenhouse,per%20tonne%20of%20organic%20waste.

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