The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has released a study showing the positive impact the circular economy can have on reducing carbon emissions and achieving net zero targets.

“How Circular Economy Principles Can Impact Carbon and Value” revealed that through circular thinking, carbon reductions and value creation across all construction projects are achieved. Current projects in the UK are successfully reusing materials such as steel and other building structures to save embodied carbon and simultaneously reduce costs.

Due to fluctuating prices and the global shortage of raw materials, the construction industry is more driven to explore the possibilities of adopting circular thinking. The 2021 Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap (the Roadmap) has confirmed that a net zero carbon built environment is achievable by 2050, with circular economy principles playing an important role. This study aims to provide practical solutions for this process.

The research also offers a library of case studies that prove the positive impact circularity is already having on new and existing projects in the UK. These show that the benefits of circularity can extend beyond carbon, with a range of organizational, social, environmental and financial value improvements.

The study aims to enable project decision makers and key built environment stakeholders to strengthen the business case for implementing circularity. This includes real estate developers, owners and investors, as well as design, construction and consultancy teams. The UKGBC notes that although the research focused on non-domestic and domestic buildings, the results are likely to be relevant for infrastructure projects as well.

After identifying potential problems, the study offers several practical solutions. In particular, it identifies that projects may need to compromise with local authorities to conserve heritage elements of infrastructure. For example, Cambridge Council’s conservation team worked with contractors on the Entopia building to ensure historic windows were maintained while meeting energy saving targets.

Another example demonstrated by the Entopia building is where the visual appeal of reused materials can cause client hesitation. In the case of Cambridge, the contractors were able to provide previous examples where the aesthetic appeal of the flooring had not been compromised despite the use of recycled wood.

A potential concern for contractors is the increased costs associated with cleaning and transporting materials. UKGBC recommends working with exchanges such as Globechain and Collecteco, and ensuring that all materials purchased are purchased with a guarantee. The study also notes that it expects these expenses to be reduced as circular infrastructure and thinking become the norm.

The UKGBC reports that the system would benefit from greater consistency in lifelong carbon measurement and reporting and circularity practices. The research concludes that measurement is infrequent, inconsistent and difficult due to the lack of a common set of metrics and methods to measure both lifetime carbon and project circularity. He noted that efforts are being made to resolve the problems identified.

Julia Hirigoyen, CEO of UKGBC, said: “The circular economy represents a huge opportunity for the built environment industry.

“Today’s research demonstrates that through the intelligent application of circular practices, significant carbon savings can be achieved throughout a building’s lifecycle, while delivering cost benefits. and providing opportunities for social value enhancement.

“While the UKGBC Roadmap has confirmed that a net-zero carbon built environment is achievable by 2050, it has also reinforced that achieving this goal will require transformational change in the way we approach and carry out construction projects, with circularity as a fundamental part of the solution.”