Embracing the circular economy

Published: January 30, 2023
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In the UK, 42% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, infrastructure and transport. The construction industry is also responsible for a significant proportion of the country’s waste. As a result, there have been calls to shift from a linear to circular economy. This wouldn’t just help to reduce carbon emissions, it would also reduce waste and open up new business opportunities.

But what is a circular economy, and how can we make practical changes to waste less?

The four principles of a circular economy

The main focus of the circular economy is on repair, reuse and sustainability. It has four principles:

  1. Zero waste – linear consumption generates a huge amount of waste. In a circular economy, nothing is wasted. Components are repaired, disassembled and reused.
  2. Durable or biodegradable parts – industrial components that aren’t reused should go back to nature. Materials that will naturally decay include paper and fabric, and anything made of metal or plastic should be durable enough that they can be reused.
  3. Renewable energy – at the office, for transport and throughout construction
  4. Sharing – tools and materials should be leased, rented or shared rather than bought and only used a few times. That way, fewer new items will need to be manufactured, but progress on your projects should be unhindered. This could also save money on storing and transporting tools and machinery.

The benefits of this approach go far beyond sustainability. Studies have shown that using more environmentally friendly construction materials have positive impacts on wellbeing and increase productivity.

More sustainable developments

If you’re planning a new development, think carefully about location and whether existing buildings can be renovated rather than demolished.

The concept of building in layers means six elements of the building are kept separate from each other. These shearing layers are called site, structure, skin, services, space plan and stuff. The benefit is that areas with a shorter lifespan – such as space plan and stuff – can be updated easily while other parts such as the site and structure of the building remain unchanged. The skin and services can also be renovated as required.

Flexible spaces are increasing in popularity. Instead of building an office block to lease out to one firm, develop a co-working space that can accommodate more people and reduce the amount of time spaces are unoccupied.

Equally, more people are living with housemates for longer due to the rising cost of living. Co-living spaces should include more shared amenities such as libraries, gyms, bars and social spaces as well as spacious private bedrooms, so people have a better quality of life when they’re living in close quarters.

Smarter designs

Take an eco-focused approach when you’re planning new designs and choose from the rapidly growing portfolio of renewable and recycled materials. Think about how durable materials are, and how easily a building can be repaired to keep it safe to use for longer.

Smart devices can be installed in new builds to improve energy efficiency and space utilisation, as well as providing predictive insights around maintenance to keep buildings in better condition.

Recycling materials throughout the process will reduce waste, and any materials left over can be upcycled in your next project.

Creating a connected ecosystem

Forming a circular economy relies on partnerships across the value chain. Luckily, sustainability is becoming increasingly important for a lot of companies across the industry. There are also a number of tech start-ups disrupting the industry with solutions designed to promote a circular economy. For example, there are apps to track energy use, and sensors being developed to monitor buildings and detect faults to extend their lifespan.

Need to focus on your next sustainable design? Let us take care of the paperwork so you can get creative. Contact us today.