UKGBC publishes study on circularity in delivering net zero buildings

UKGBC publishes study on how smart application of circular economy practices can significantly reduce carbon across the built environment.

UKGBC publishes study on circularity in delivering net zero buildings | BTR News

The global shortage and fluctuating costs of raw materials are increasingly driving the construction industry to explore opportunities to adopt circular thinking, including the re-use of materials and re-purposing of existing building structures. The UK Green Building Council’s (UKGBC) latest report – How Circular Economy Principles can impact carbon and value – which was published on 11 August 2022 aims to increase understanding within the built environment on how circularity can support reductions in Whole Life Carbon.

The report also seeks to strengthen the business case for implementing circularity for project decision-makers and key built environment stakeholders – including developers, owners, and investors in real estate, and design, construction and consultancy teams advising on new or existing developments. The research shows that circularity benefits not just carbon, but delivers against a broader set of organisational, social, environmental and financial aims.

The research offers a library of case studies which evidence the positive impact circularity is delivering across new and existing projects within the UK. Consisting of five case studies, JLL’s Manchester office is one profile in the report used as an example of implementing circularity into decision making. JLL is a member of the taskforce that has contributed to the study.

“This report shares our learnings and those of others who have applied circular principals to a range of building projects; we hope that this will inspire and inform others in the sector to incorporate them in their own projects.” 

Amanda Skeldon, Climate and Nature Director, JLL

A key aspect of the report found that many new and existing building projects have already used circular economy principles, so they are able to set out the carbon reduction results. The most notable one is the level of carbon savings which occurred through the reuse of existing assets and materials. The case studies show how the reuse of existing structures, facades and steel result in significant upfront embodied carbon savings.

“The circular economy represents an enormous opportunity for the built environment industry. Today’s research demonstrates that through the smart application of circular practices, significant carbon savings can be made across the entire lifecycle of a building, as well as delivering cost-benefits and providing opportunities to enhance social value.”

Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive Officer, UKGBC

The research also identified a gap in industry knowledge when it comes to measuring and reporting the impact created through applying circularity. This is because measuring is infrequent, inconsistent and difficult, due to the lack of a common set of metrics and methods to measure both the Whole Life Carbon and circularity of projects. However, there are groups and individuals working to improve clarity and consistency – as there is an urgent need for greater consistency in measuring and reporting on Whole Life Carbon to support the industry’s transition to net zero.  

The Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap – published by UKGBC in 2021 – confirmed that a Net Zero Carbon built environment is achievable by 2050. It also highlighted the essential role the greater use of circular economy principles will play in reducing carbon.  Lendlease, who opened its doors to residents at its Park Central West Build to Rent scheme at Elephant Park in 2021, also made it a mission to be Net Zero Carbon by 2025, and Absolute Net Zero Carbon with no offsets by 2040. The investor, developer, builder and asset manager published its Roadmap to Absolute Net Zero Carbon in December 2020, with its first update a year on, setting out the practical progress achieved. Lendlease’s Roadmap is closely aligned to the recommendations of the UKGBC’s Roadmap.

“Whilst UKGBC’s Roadmap confirmed a Net Zero Carbon built environment is achievable by 2050, it also reinforced that meeting this target will require a transformational shift in the way we approach and deliver construction projects, with circularity as a fundamental part of the solution.”

Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive Officer, UKGBC

The UKGBC is one of several European Green Building Councils developing national Whole Life Carbon Roadmaps under the WorldGBC #BuildingLife project – funded by the Laudes Foundation and Ikea Foundation.

The WorldGBC convened ten European Green Building Councils in the lead up to COP26, to galvanise climate action in the built environment through national and regional decarbonisation roadmaps. Green Building Councils spearheading the BuildingLife project include the UK, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain.

BuildingLife is accelerating ambitions in the building sector by creating the first region-wide response to the vision of a Net Zero Whole Life Carbon built environment – as set out in the WorldGBC’s 2019 report.