The importance of collaboration to achieve circularity in the construction industry

Willmott Dixon Construction Site in London, UK

Written by May Al-Karooni, CEO and Founder

In my previous article, I discussed the Mayor of London’s Circular Economy Statement draft guidance and its core principles. Building on this, today I’ll look at how increased collaboration in the sector and the involvement of design teams at a project’s initiation stage can help construction firms achieve circularity across the life span of the building process.

The construction industry today is quite fragmented; with multiple stakeholders from large contractors to small businesses traditionally working in silos, circular processes are difficult to adapt. For the construction sector to move towards becoming more circular, collaboration across these groups is paramount. The first step towards achieving this is asking the right questions and listening to each player’s concerns to identify what is possible, train others and share best practises. With this knowledge, it will make it easier to show clients that being circular and embracing reuse by using second-hand materials is both cost-effective and easy to implement operationally.

Peter Kelly, Head of Sustainability at ISG recently offered a great example of how working together and asking the right questions solved a reuse problem during a refurbishment project. The project client had requested that to the greatest extent possible, the building’s materials be repurposed and not destroyed. When analysing the building’s lighting, he knew that once the lights were removed they’d no longer be under warranty. Rather than disposing of the lights as would be standard practice, Peter contacted the original manufacturer who willingly received and inspected the lights, eventually issuing a new 3-year warranty that allowed the lights to be reinstalled.

The new CE draft guidance statement includes a strong emphasis on involving the design team from the beginning of a project. Giulia Jones, Sustainability Manager at Mace recently recommended that the key to achieving this is by defining what the project metrics targets are, and how they will be measured. Critically, these targets should include a detailed strategy for waste management and material efficiency. She also encouraged hosting workshops around each RIBA stage, especially stage 2 (Concept Design). The diagram below from the CE draft offers an excellent decision framework to help with this stage, allowing the project teams to design for longevity and ensure critical questions of sustainability are being considered from day 1.

Circular Economy Design Decision Tree

With this foundation set at the early project stages, it’s important to remember that circularity and sustainable waste management principles should not be limited to the design and building phase, but also extended to the long-term management of the building. Andres Guzman, Head of Sustainability at Colliers International recently pointed out that when designing a building, it’s essential to consider where the office of the building manager will be located. By being placed in basements or other hard to reach areas as is standard practice today, a manager’s office location can encourage disengagement and overlook the critical role the manager should play in a building’s activities. Engagement between the tenants and the building managers is critical for monitoring building performances and implementing circularity initiatives, such as recycling campaigns, effectively and with a personal touch. Educating the building managers on circular principles and how to look after equipment (e.g. HVAC system) so that they last longer is vital. This focus should be evaluated in every new build and integrated into the handover, training and documentation phases.

Achieving circularity will require us all to work together and be willing to share and learn from each other. Knowledge sharing should be seen not as giving away competitive advantage, but rather as a way for the entire industry to advance towards a common goal for our clients and our environment. Furthermore, there are also short-term gains to consider; by exploring circular opportunities early on and understanding resource efficiency, you can cut costs in procurement, produce less waste, and save on waste disposal fees. Achieving zero waste to landfill simply can’t be achieved if it’s not defined and planned during the concept design stage.

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