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How the circular economy can reduce carbon across the built environment


The UK Green Building Council, or UKGBC, has published its long awaited study on circularity in delivering net zero buildings – How Circular Economy Principles can Impact Carbon and Value. This study explores the smart application of circular economy practices and how these have the potential to significantly reduce carbon across the built environment.


While sustainability and carbon reduction might have been the key drivers, global resources shortages and increasing construction costs inflation have added a layer of urgency to the need for circular thinking across the construction industry and these factors are undoubtedly strengthening the business case amongst project owners and investors for innovating for circularity. 


The case studies and field research feeding into the study looked at the carbon reduction results from new and existing building projects where circular economy principles were used. These case studies demonstrate how the reuse of existing structures, facades and steel lead to upfront embodied carbon savings and further carbon savings across the entire lifecycle of a building. This is not only delivering cost-benefits, there is an enhanced social value, according to the UKGBC’s CEO.


In terms of challenges, it emerged through the study that the lack of commonly agreed and accepted metrics made measuring the impact of circular initiatives on a project by project basis “infrequent, inconsistent and difficult”. 


Similarly, Ireland’s Green Building Council has called for a different approach “in order to design out the need for down-cycling at the earliest stage of the project and to radically reduce overall resource consumption and embodied carbon”. This goes beyond simply finding new uses for waste, aggregates and other recycled materials. The IGBC has launched its CIRCULAR life Project to trial circularity tools with designers in order to identify infrastructural  barriers to building a truly circular economy for construction. 


The body is also piloting a Construction Materials Exchange, or CMEx, scheme to demonstrate a feasible, transparent, fair, user-friendly system for the reuse of construction materials that would otherwise enter the waste stream. You can read more about the IGBC’s initiatives here: 


The Irish Green Building Council and UK’s Green Building Council were amongst 10 European Green Building Councils brought together by the WorldGBC to facilitate and promote climate action across the built environment through national and regional decarbonisation roadmaps.  You can read the key recommendations of the IGBC draft roadmap here: 


Townmore is a proud member of Ireland’ Green Building Council and supports the Irish construction industry’s mission to achieve net zero by 2050.