Resource Efficiency & Circularity
Leading a paradigm shift for the built environment
We need a new construction paradigm, where materials are used over and over again, being returned to the technosphere or, safely, to the biosphere.
Buildings are responsible for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, with much of their life cycle impacts stemming from the embodied impacts of building materials. Ecosystem and biodiversity degradation from human activity is attributed ⅓ to the wrong use and overuse of energy, and ⅔ to the wrong use and overuse of materials. The construction sector is responsible for almost 50% of raw materials use and generates 40% of overall emissions and solid waste stream.
Here’s where redesign begins in earnest, where we stop trying to be less bad and we start figuring out how to be good. William McDonough
The design of materials, products and built assets must keep in mind durability and flexibility of use beyond their first lifecycle. A fundamental argument in favour of this new paradigm is the reduction of embodied carbon, which is paramount for the reduction of the overall carbon footprint of the industry. Embodied water and energy must follow suit.
According to the 2022 Circularity Gap Report, with a current consumption of “half a trillion tonnes of virgin materials, our world is only 8.6% circular”. A tall order is required of the built environment to proactively lead the paradigm shift that is required for a more circular world.
How do we make this paradigm shift? Explore the ideas on resource efficiency and circularity below with real-world examples of the changes at scale that across the construction industry.
Keeping materials in the loop by improving durability, flexibility of use, and enabling disassembly and re-use decreases pressure on our resources. Moving beyond cradle-to-grave and industry-as-usual, we can imagine a near future world where all our materials can be recirculated in a non-toxic manner, for the benefit of humans and the biosphere at large.
Design is an essential element of developing a circular economy to eliminate waste and prioritise efficiency. Circular design is a framework that tackles global challenges including climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. It demands a systems approach that designs out waste and pollution, keeps products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems.
By understanding the flows of energy and materials within cities we can create more sustainable urban systems. Sustainable cities designed with consideration for the triple bottom line of social, economic, and environmental impact, and provide a resilient habitat for existing populations, without compromising the ability of future generations to experience the same.
With rapid urbanisation, reducing the emissions from producing building materials and the construction process is critical to mitigating the effects of climate change. Embodied carbon must be addressed because its impacts will be exacerbated by the increased global demand for construction materials to accommodate population growth, particularly in cities.