Circular Opportunities for the Construction Sector

September 27, 2021 | Insights, News,
Construction site

The environmental and climate impact from the construction sector in Europe is huge, where concrete, sand, gravel, and stone cross-account for the largest material flows[1]. Solely in Sweden, the construction and real estate sector account for 35% of all waste, 21% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 33% of energy use[2].

The largest carbon footprint in new production occurs during the construction phase of the foundation and body parts. In order to reduce climate emissions and the extraction of virgin resources in the construction industry, there is a need to create a more circular system for the construction sector by turning waste materials and building parts created during demolition into fully-fledged raw materials for new construction. But reuse of building materials is only currently happening on a small, localised scale and this is a key area for development.

References:

[1] Betong och Burgare, Re: Source January 2021

[2] https://www.boverket.se/sv/byggande/hallbart-byggande-och-forvaltning/miljoindikatorer—aktuell-status/

 

“I think this project is very interesting because it is a clear need from the industry to in a more holistic way, incorporate the environmental cost embedded in existing material and building parts. This could be a useful complement to the financial costs that are considered today, when evaluating new projects.” – Linda Stafsing, consultant Anthesis SE

What is the Opportunity?

Sustainable societies and cities must be based on circular material flows. According to the UN, increasing urbanization will result in about 70% of the Earth’s population living in cities in 2050. Therefore, the need for new construction also increases. Which today requires the extraction of large volumes of virgin material.

Concrete and steel are two of the most resource-and energy-intensive materials during production and they usually have a long lifespan left when the building is demolished. If we can make these resources available, we can make a significant contribution to reducing waste and emissions from the construction and real estate industry.

How Anthesis is working to change the system?

Anthesis Sweden is responsible for an environmental economics assessment, part of an industry-leading innovation project called Demolition – from construction cost to a resource. As well as exploring the circular business potential of the heavy building materials.

This project’s focus is on the building parts with a higher weight percentage as they constitute the most resource- and energy-demanding processes in connection with construction, frames, stairwells, pillars, and facade elements. Methods to reuse heavy building elements during the process of demolition (mainly steel and concrete) are being developed and tested.

Buildings made of reused material have a positive impact on the climate footprint, resource extraction, preserved biodiversity, and reduced amount of construction waste. The project has the potential to create a major shift in the industry, by visualising the potential and embedded value in demolition objects, in terms of environmental, technical as well as financial.

The desired societal effect is to convince property owners that reusing heavy building elements, is an economically sustainable, climate-advantageous, and quality-assured choice for new construction.

Biodiversity boundary

What is the challenge?

The challenge now is that we must change the entire existing system to become more circular and sustainable. It takes great courage and commitment to take the lead, to challenge proven methods and techniques, norms, and laws.

One of the lacking elements when evaluating reused materials in a circular economy today is the hidden environmental value from extracted resources. Four pilot projects in collaboration with construction and real estate companies will explore reusing methods of primarily concrete. Anthesis Sweden will evaluate and analyse the socio-economic value of reused building materials.

By not producing new material, there will be an environmental saving, also called the “avoided social cost”. The avoided social cost can be used as a proxy to determine the environmental value of the material.

This in turn can be used as a complement to the financial calculations, for a more complete illustration of the actual costs that arise in connection with new production of concrete. Taking a whole-life approach to buildings and building materials is important for recognising the true value of these assets.

Holistic view:

Based on OECD’s compilation of environmental impact, it is noted that six out of nine planetary boundaries are affected strongly by the way buildings are taken care of. Those are:

  • climate change
  • biodiversity
  • eutrophication
  • biochemical flows
  • freshwater use
  • the depletion of the ozone layer in the atmosphere

How can Anthesis support you?

Negative climate and environmental consequences arise where the natural resources are mined and processed, often far from the buildings themselves. These environmental effects are rarely clear or fully quantified in life cycle analyses and other tools used to calculate the impact of the construction sector.

Therefore, an environmental economic assessment of the natural resources depleted and processed to produce concrete and steel, makes it possible to translate the environmental value into an economic value – utilising the full potential from reuse.

There is a great interest in developing and establishing circular processes in the construction and real estate industry that contribute to reduced waste volumes and emissions as well as reduced consumption of natural resources. Anthesis can support you along this journey – identifying, assessing, and evaluating the environmental economic impact from your circular products and flows.

Project consortium:

The project is a collaboration between Anthesis, Codeisgn, NCC, RISE, City of Stockholm, Vasakronan, Fabege, Contiga, Zengun, Swedish Concrete, Ramboll, and The Royal Institute of Technology. The project is led by Codesign and co-funded by the Swedish Innovation Agency Challenge Driven Innovation step 1 and 2 as well as the Swedish Energy Agency through the innovation program RE: Source.

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