Last edited 24 Mar 2021

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International trends and the circular economy


The circular economy is increasingly reported in the news and has long had a compelling case to be on the international agenda due to the urgency to respond to climate change and reduce carbon emissions.

There are many cases of active programmes but to give a few examples:

What is the relevance of the circular economy for those in the construction industry? It is not a new subject: the earlier work of William McDonough and Michael Braungart and their Cradle to Cradle Design Framework was a forerunner along with Dame Ellen MacArthur’s original concept of ‘designing out waste’.

David Chesire, in his book 'Building Revolutions Applying the Circular Economy To The Built Environment' discusses the rationale for their ideas. Essentially, both concepts espouse philosophies of total sustainability but the former promotes a 'reduce, reuse and recycle' philosophy adopting the ‘cradle to grave' manufacturing model from the Industrial Revolution.

Whilst the latter advocates purposely designing projects from the outset to minimise waste or choosing processes and materials that obviate waste in the first place, both these visions are neatly encapsulated in the analogy Chesire quotes of the cherry blossom tree that ‘makes copious amounts of blossoms and fruit without depleting the environment. It nourishes the soil, provides oxygen, absorbs carbon dioxide and provides habitats for many other organisms.’

How can we make ideas such as these more relevant to the international construction community? How do we nurture the environment and at the same time capitalise on this trend? BSRIA has been looking closely at this question and co-hosted an event in 23rd May 2018 to explore ideas.

Some of the key messages from the BSRIA/ECA event 'Engaging the Circular Economy' were:

In conclusion, is the circular economy a glorified term for recycling or is this a whole new tool, the next step as it were, for organisations to gain competitive advantage? One interesting observation is that there are plenty of ideas for creating value through energy efficiency and sustainability initiatives but arguably the real issue is how do you change the culture of an organisation, how do you really make an organisation change the way they do things?

That is the key question for all of us to think about and is reflected in Dame Ellen MacArthur’s philosophy of the need for fundamental change in the way we think about building design.

This article was originally published here by BSRIA on 30 Oct 2018. It was written by Maria Thanigasalam.


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