Circular economy in construction – closing the materials loop

In simple terms when applied to construction, circular economy principles promote the reuse of materials and aim to reduce the over extraction of raw materials by focusing on preserving buildings and materials for as long as possible.

It’s a comprehensive set of principles and strategies that can be applied to construction that has sustainability at its core. When we incorporate the circular economy in construction, it’s an approach that not only conserves valuable materials, but it also challenges building designers to find new ways to design buildings.  In a linear economy, designers are not limited by material choice or development longevity. Designing within a circular economy framework means considering not only the durability and recyclability of specified materials, but the flexibility and adaptability of space being designed, to ensure that changing use patterns and climate change don’t render the buildings outdated and unusable.

There are six core circular economy principles that apply in the design and construction of sustainable buildings:

  • Building in layers ensures that different parts of the building are accessible and can be maintained and replaced where necessary.
  • Designing out waste – ensuring that waste reduction is planned from project inception to completion, including consideration of standardised components, modular build, and reuse of secondary products and materials.
  • Designing for longevity.
  • Designing for adaptability or flexibility.
  • Designing for disassembly.
  • Using systems, elements or materials that can be reused and recycled.
Closing the materials loop

Implementing circular economy principles in construction means choosing materials that will biodegrade or can be recycled. Our sustainable engineering consultants can advise on materials with longevity that could be repurposed and will not end up dumped in the ocean or in landfill. It also means selecting flexible materials that can be easily disassembled and replaced. The more traditional materials used in construction often come at a high environmental cost. This kind of ‘take, make, dispose’  traditional approach is known as a linear economy which is simply unsustainable long term and will lead to extreme material shortages if not addressed

It’s not simply about using them in the construction of a building, it’s every part of the process including extraction, manufacture and at the end of the building life, the disposal of these materials.

Reducing emissions

This road towards more sustainable building practice means a deeper look at where materials are sourced. Cutting down on transportation emissions is one of the layers of more sustainable practice and circular economy requirements. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing the depletion of natural resources contributes to the net zero goals many of our clients want to hit.

How we support the circular economy in construction

Our highly skilled mechanical and sustainable engineering team collaborate effectively with our clients to build a comprehensive plan from the ground to decommissioning or cradle to cradle. Cudd Bentley ensures a full examination of materials right at the start of their life cycle through to how they might be repurposed, reduced, and dealt with at the end of the building life. We recently published a case study that went into more detail on a specific client and the materials we considered as part of a hotel development project. You can read more about that here.

The projects, reports and plans we make with our clients build a strategy that does not end with the construction but instead looks at the entire building lifespan. Ensuring the sustainability of a building and closing the materials loop also includes managing operational waste during the building use and developing recycling and waste management systems.

To embed circular economy principles into your project, please contact the sustainability team.

Cudd Bentley About

Cudd Bentley Consulting is a leading independent engineering firm at the heart of building services since 1978.