Austen Bates

January 19, 2022

Who benefits, and how, from a circular approach to buildings?

A recent study explains how circular approaches can add economic, environmental, and social value to both new and retrofit construction projects.

A circular approach to the construction sector is urgently needed to drive down carbon emissions and reduce use of virgin resources. A recent report from WBCSD and Ramboll could help the industry get started.
The construction sector consumes more than half the world's virgin resources and accounts for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions and solid waste streams. Yet nearly a third of stakeholders surveyed for the WBCSD report about effective approaches to circularity in buildings said they did not know how to develop a monetary business case for circular performance.
Want to learn more about the circular economy?
How can you make a business case for circularity in your built environment project? What are the main drivers, the policies, and investments that can help? Learn the answers to these questions and more practical knowledge about circularity at the WBCSD and Ramboll webinar on 25 and 27 of January. Sign up now.
“Construction industry stakeholders typically consider circularity for innovative new projects whose economic value is mainly in market differentiation and find it hard to measure economic return on investment,” says Austen Bates, Head of Building Performance UK at Ramboll and the report’s lead author. “However, circular approaches can be applied in both new builds and retrofit projects to reduce carbon emissions, waste, and costs, as well as lead to higher asset valuation and a positive brand image.”
The report is issued by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), with Ramboll as lead author. Below are some key learnings:
Economic benefits
To make circular economy approaches mainstream, circular strategies must result in positive economic outcomes, such as:
  • Avoided costs from new land acquisition and landfilling costs by prioritising existing land use. The study shows a 6% overall decrease in acquisition and maintenance costs compared to a standard building.
  • Increased value of products and services by accounting for residual material value and reduced deconstruction and landfilling costs, especially after using material passports.
  • Market differentiation and rapid sales via enhanced branding and local community buy-in by being visibly environmentally responsible.
The report suggests that complying to circular principles can put businesses ahead of the curve to meet future policies and standards for operating and mitigating regulatory risks.
Environmental benefits
The environmental benefits are the greatest known "value impact" from implementing circular economy methods, including:
- Lowered carbon emissions and waste for projects using whole-life carbon analyses to estimate carbon emission reductions, to reduce use of virgin materials, and to minimise waste across materials, energy, and water. Approximately 75% of survey respondents agreed circular principles had a tangible impact on carbon emissions and waste reduction
- Reduced biodiversity loss by fundamentally transforming the way the sector extracts, processes, uses, and consumes natural resources
- Improved material transparency via material passports, which can help financial assessments of retained material value and inform decision-making throughout all lifecycle phases
"The building sector is increasing its appetite to deliver on the net zero mission as they see circular economy approaches provide opportunities to account for true costs and values on a life-cycle basis,” says Austen Bates.
Quick Facts
  • The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is a global, CEO-led organisation of over 200 leading businesses working together to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world.
  • A circularly built environment, for instance, maximises value over time by optimising the use of resources while minimising waste throughout its whole life cycle from design and construction, to maintenance and deconstruction.
  • With the adoption of the Paris Rulebook, EU Taxonomy, as well as meeting increasing local sustainability reporting requirements, the case for adopting a circular approach is only growing stronger.

Want to know more?

  • Austen Bates


    +44 7812 509039

    Austen Bates