The concept of circular economy is becoming increasingly important in the construction sector. Opposing the classic linear economy model (extract, produce, consume, throw away), this concept is based on seven main pillars: ecodesign (minimizing environmental impacts from the development of a product), industrial ecology (organization that optimizes the use of resources), economy of functionality, reuse, repair, reuse and finally recycling. Real estate, from design to construction, and operation to deconstruction, is gradually adopting these new sustainable schemes to put the circular economy at the heart of its model.
Circular economy at the heart of design phase
Today, circular economy is taking root in the construction sector, particularly in the design phase, due to the integration of the Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) concept, which recommends designing each object or product in such a way that it is recyclable or biodegradable to infinity. This approach is implemented in particular through the C2C Inspired Building label, which requires the use of C2C-certified products (zero pollution and 100% recycling) but also the implementation of a roadmap covering major sustainability themes (healthy materials, reuse, carbon, water management, etc.).
Build and deconstruct better with less
Today, the construction industry is preparing for the future in this rapidly evolving sector. Marketplaces or digital reuse platforms are multiplying in order to link supply (equipment resulting from deconstruction and reusable in its current state) and demand (need for building materials) to reduce the environmental impact of buildings. Actors such as Backacia, Cycle Up or Raedificare are putting in place viable economic models to establish themselves in a still emerging sector.
In the more traditional sectors of materials and machinery, innovation is in full swing, with the emergence of bio-based materials, but more traditional materials are not to be outdone. An example is the collaborative RECYBETON project which focuses on the possibility of using recycled concrete in the manufacture of concrete. All this while respecting the requirements of mechanical resistance, durability and service life.
The generalization of BIM also serves the circular economy and makes it possible to integrate the issue of waste management into the design of buildings. Thus, in 2018, Suez, a French company specialized in water and waste management, presented its deconstruction site modeling tool, batiRim (Resource Information Modeling), that provides a diagnosis that facilitates the reuse, recycling and transformation of resources.
Circular operation : (re)think of uses and flows
The circular economy is often materialized by action plans focusing on the eco-design of projects, selective deconstruction, reuse or recycling of materials. To reinforce these practices, it is necessary to explore the field of possibilities in terms of actions during building operation in addition to the exiting focus on the construction and deconstruction phases of a building,
The precept “Building to last” is no longer adapted to our increasingly fast-changing lifestyles. Like GECINA’s YouFirst approach (a French real estate company), which develops new services that continuously adapt to the needs of its users, it is necessary to “exploit better to last” and preserve the value of real estate capital. This is achieved by anticipating the obsolescence of buildings and spaces through predictive maintenance, by integrating circular economics metrics into company management policy and by extrapolating the evolution of our lifestyles to facilitate the circularity of uses.
One of the major trends in real estate is the convergence of functions for a greater diversity of uses that responds to the problem of lack of space in the city. By thinking of a mix of uses, the duration of the building is extended because it becomes adaptable to the changes in our society and thus makes it possible to move away from the construction-operate-deconstruction scheme to integrate the issues of adaptability and reversibility into this more circular scheme.
The circular economy in operation is also integrated through the evolution of technical systems in order to anticipate the problems related to climate change, and in particular water shortages and droughts. This is the observation of the European Commission, which has estimated that at least 11% of the European population suffers from a problem of water scarcity all year round and that this figure reaches 23% during the summer months. Faced with this worsening situation, circular economy is increasingly becoming the new sustainable and socially acceptable economic model that allows for optimized water resource management. This becomes possible on the scale of an operating building by optimizing water resource management (monitoring and reduction of drinking water consumption, recovery of grey water and rainwater) and improving water and air quality in the vicinity, thanks in particular to plants that clean up rainwater saturated with air pollution through the phyto-purification mechanism.
Circular economy, in operation, design or construction, is becoming one of the major opportunities of the real estate market to ensure that buildings are in line with users’ aspirations while respecting the environment and ecosystems. In spite of this opportunity, technological difficulties (initial additional costs, innovations) and societal difficulties (regulation, lack of awareness) still need to be overcome.
Article researched and written by Pierre Rostan for Urban Chronicles™
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