Home » Sustainable Business » Net zero world: towards a circular built environment

Martin Pauli

Global Leader Circular Economy Services, Arup

Businesses working across every sector of the built environment are realising that we need to become better stewards of our planet’s diminishing resources.

Buildings alone account for 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while around 95% of the value of construction materials is lost in demolition. This is largely due to the ‘take, make, dispose’ model of linear consumption currently at the heart of real estate and construction.

Toolkit to guide circularity in real estate

A transition towards a circular economy model of ‘eliminate, circulate, regenerate’ offers a path towards net zero while unlocking a multi-billion-dollar business opportunity.

Building designers, construction clients and asset owners are central to this transition but face ever-increasing demands on their time from multiple competing agendas. Arup and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation developed the Circular Buildings Toolkit to embed circularity across the real estate value chain. It can help deliver the rapid, scalable reductions in built environment carbon emissions that we need.

The toolkit focuses on four principles:

(1) ‘Build only what you need,’ which calls for the reuse and repurposing of assets;
(2) ‘Build with the right materials,’ including low-carbon and renewable materials;
(3) ‘Build efficiently,’ which seeks to cut waste across the supply chain;
(4) ‘Build for long-term value,’ ensuring that we plan for the building’s entire life cycle and recyclability.

Prototype for a new circular building system

ADPT, designed by Arup and Futur2K, demonstrates how the toolkit can help industry move from adopting a circular approach on a component basis towards an integrated approach. The ADPT design team used the toolkit to embed lessons on flexibility and versatility. Each module can be configured to meet a range of purposes, with flexible floor plans enabling it to respond to current and future needs.

Learnings from this project will be added to the toolkit, showcasing practical learnings and best practices from circular projects around the world.

Real estate value chain: doing better together 

The real estate market needs a systemic shift designed to eliminate waste and pollution, circulate materials and regenerate nature. We must enhance cross-industry collaboration among policymakers, investors, real estate developers and the entire supply chain to support this shift.

Next article