Inside WGBC’s Circular Built Environment Playbook: Is construction going full circle?

Inside World GBC’s Circular Built Environment Playbook: Is construction going full circle?

This week, the World Green Building Council (World GBC) has launched its ground-breaking ‘Circular Built Environment Playbook’ to guide the construction sector towards a more circular economy. After attending the launch event on the 10th March 2023, we break down the key take-aways and questions for you.

In the last 50 years, global materials consumption has nearly quadrupled, outpacing our population growth. Accordingly, materials disposal has increased, with 90% of all extracted and used materials being wasted[1]. Without transforming our management of materials, industry-wide, we risk accelerating the global environmental crisis and causing irreversible damage.

The ‘Circular Built Environment Playbook’ addresses these issues head-on, proposing a circular economy as a solution to reducing emissions and transforming socio-economic development. World GBC presents over 20 strategies for the implementation of circular design across all typologies, geographies and building stages. Below, we’ve rounded up the major industry questions posed at their launch event – and how to move forward.

What does circular design mean to the built environment?

Summing up the circular economy as a ‘restorative or regenerative design, replacing the end-of-life concept’, key speaker David Leversha [Director and Net Zero Carbon Lead for Property & Buildings at WSP] presented four key steps to bringing circular design to the Building and Construction sector:

  1. Reduce consumption of materials and resources
  2. Optimise the lifespan of materials and used products
  3. Strategically imbed design for disassembly, reuse and recycling to the goal of eliminating all waste
  4. Regeneration of nature and resources 

What’s the value in circularity for the built environment?

The clear message from World GBC’s Playbook is the core value behind circularity. A closed-loop future was presented with mounting socio-economic benefits for both the private and public sectors.

Webinar hosts confirmed their expectations for what businesses may achieve through the creation of a circular industry, including: reduced materials cost, upskilling opportunities, streamlined modular designs, recovery of an assets value at the end of service life, recognition through sustainability benchmarking schemes and ESG reporting opportunities.

City citizens will be given the opportunity to adapt spaces to their anticipated needs, handle reduced property costs, and benefit from green/blue infrastructure mental and physical health benefits.

Governing bodies benefit from reduced waste, employment opportunities, reduced carbon emissions, efficient management of natural resources and sustainable futures for supply chains.

What are the biggest challenges to adopting circularity?

Construction attendees at the event highlighted access to materials as a key barrier to starting a transition towards circularity. Panel speaker Jonna Byskata [Head of EU Public affairs, Kingspan] acknowledged there is still a need for a system to ease the process of understanding which materials are available as reused and knowing where to find them.

Participants further highlighted challenges with supplier liaison when finding solutions to end-of-life care. David Leversha emphasised how circularity is a journey, saying “We need to be driving the economy to put money in this area to demonstrate value to supplier innovation.”

What are the next steps for the industry?

Panellists Jonna, Dorota Bacal, PhD [Sustainability and Innovation Lead, VinZero] and Magash Naidoo [Head of Circular Development, ICLEI] suggested industry participants take their first steps through communication. Spreading awareness is vital to spark the collaboration needed for this movement to become city-wide, not just company-wide, including targeting younger audiences through education.

Dorota went on to stress the importance of measurable attributes. While the Playbook provides great standardisation of processes, adoption is too slow. We have carbon counting – now we need a way to holistically measure circularity and build a comprehensive framework for improvements.

In our next article, we’ll be exploring the state of circularity in the UK – and what that means for industry leaders.

Sian Clay
Sian Clay
Sian Clay is on our client management team, specialising in ESG communications. She holds an MSc from the University of Bristol in Management in CSR and Sustainability.