Five Ways to Improve Circularity in Construction

Adrien Bron, Jenny Davis-Peccoud, Harry Morrison, Karim Shariff, Marc De Wit

Building construction is a significant contributor to the world’s emissions and materials footprints, accounting for about 40% of each. Most emissions associated with buildings result from their operations—primarily heating and cooling. But the embedded emissions in building materials still account for 28% of construction-related emissions. Improving circularity in construction will be necessary to reduce the sector’s emissions and materials footprint. It’s a global challenge, and particularly critical in regions experiencing rapid population growth and urban migration, which generates significant demand for new construction. In this brief, we look closely at the European buildings sector, where regulation has helped push the industry to become more circular, focusing on end-of-life materials recycling and recovery. While emissions reduction efforts will understandably focus on low-carbon technologies such as green steel and CO2-injected concrete, to deliver against net-zero goals the industry will also need to reduce the need for virgin, raw materials. One way to reduce the demand for virgin materials is to ensure the best use of end-of-life materials—that is, material that can be reused or recycled when buildings are renovated or deconstructed. Because these materials are scarce (particularly in Europe, where buildings have long lives), the sector is also developing innovative new materials and working to secure access to recycled materials from other sectors. In this brief, we describe five tactical strategies that companies are making to improve their circularity, and we share three principles that they are using to navigate the shift to a more circular construction industry.

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