Inside the Construction Industry: The Living Buildings Challenge and the Need to Go Circular

The construction industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation, generating significant amounts of waste, carbon emissions, and other pollutants. By taking a circular approach to construction and embracing the living buildings challenge, the industry can help reduce waste and minimize its environmental impact

by Rachel Johnson | Mar 2, 2023

According to the World Green Building Council, construction and demolition waste accounts for 40% of the total waste generated worldwide, and the industry is responsible for approximately 39% of global carbon emissions. These statistics demonstrate the urgent need for the construction industry to adopt more sustainable and circular practices. By doing so, it can reduce its reliance on virgin materials and minimize waste generation, while also reducing carbon emissions.

The Living Buildings Challenge

The idea of living buildings is based on the principle of regenerative design, which seeks to create buildings that generate more resources than they consume and have a positive impact on their surrounding environment. They are designed to be self-sufficient and self-contained, producing their own energy, capturing, and treating their own water, and utilizing renewable materials. They are also designed to have a positive impact on their occupants, promoting health and wellbeing with natural materials, abundant daylight, and healthy indoor air quality.

The Living Building Challenge, created by the International Living Future Institute, is a certification program that sets rigorous standards for regenerative design in buildings. To achieve Living Building Challenge certification, a building must meet a series of criteria related to site, energy, water, materials, equity, and beauty.

One of the key benefits of a circular approach to construction is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that circular construction practices could reduce gas emissions in the sector by 44% by 2050. Furthermore, by using recycled and repurposed materials in construction, the carbon footprint of buildings can be reduced by up to 90%, according to the World Green Building Council. This reduction in carbon emissions is crucial in the fight against climate change, and the construction industry has an important role to play in achieving global climate goals.

DID YOU KNOW: The world’s building stock is expected to double by 2060, the equivalent of building another New York City every month.

Circular practices can also help address resource scarcity issues. By promoting the reuse and recycling of materials, the Circular Economy reduces the need for virgin materials, which are becoming increasingly scarce. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that by 2030, the demand for construction materials will double, with sand being the most extracted solid material in the world. The Circular Economy can help ensure that these resources are used more efficiently and sustainably, ensuring their availability for future generations.

Circular construction practices can also create new economic opportunities and jobs. The European Commission estimates that it could bring up to 1.9 million new jobs in Europe by 2030. These jobs would be in areas such as material recovery, refurbishment, and remanufacturing, helping to create a more sustainable and resilient construction industry.

Imagine a world in which all the buildings have the potential to be material banks, where every material can be used, reused, and restored. That is the promise of the Circular Economy.
William McDonough, American Architect and Designer

Now the question that remains is how can businesses begin to incorporate more sustainable construction practices?

  1. Develop a sustainability strategy: Businesses can start by developing a sustainability strategy that outlines their environmental goals, targets, and action plans. This can include setting targets for reducing energy and water consumption, waste generation, and carbon emissions.
  2. Use green building materials: Using environmentally friendly materials is a key way to reduce the impact of construction on the environment. Businesses can choose materials that are made from renewable resources, have low embodied carbon, and are non-toxic.
  3. Reduce waste: Construction generates a lot of waste, but there are many ways to reduce this waste. Businesses can recycle materials, reuse materials on-site, and implement waste reduction strategies like Lean Construction.
  4. Optimize energy efficiency: Businesses can improve energy efficiency by using high-performance building envelopes, efficient HVAC systems, and renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.
  5. Implement green building certifications: There are many green building certifications that can help businesses demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. These certifications, like the Living Building Challenge, provide a framework for sustainable design and construction and can help businesses achieve their sustainability goals.
  6. Collaborate with stakeholders: Collaboration with stakeholders like architects, contractors, suppliers, and circular economy start-ups is important for implementing sustainable construction practices. Businesses can work with their stakeholders to identify opportunities for sustainable design and construction and develop innovative solutions.

Interested in hearing more from circular start-ups? Then check out our CIRCULAZE Virtual Trend Tour on Construction, which took place March 6th at 17:00 CET. We sat down with Dr. Chris Richter from Drees & Sommer and start-ups Madaster, Concular, and Criaterra to hear about their circular construction solutions.

While the construction industry has a significant environmental impact, a circular approach can help minimize this impact by reducing waste, carbon emissions, and resource use. The benefits of a Circular Economy in construction are clear, with reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, resource scarcity issues, and new economic opportunities. It is up to the construction industry to take on the living buildings challenge and to adopt more environmental and circular practices to ensure a more sustainable future for all.

WATCH: Circularity in the Built Environment by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

An overview of circular design principles in the context of the built environment. It features interviews with industry experts like Arup, an engineering and design firm that has been at the forefront of sustainable and circular design, and examples of circular building projects from around the world.

Further Readings on Implementing Circularity in the Construction Industry:

Implementing Circular Economy Strategies in Buildings—From Theory to Practice

The study emphasizes the importance of green building rating tools in promoting sustainable design and construction practices and highlights the need for continued improvement and standardization of these tools to ensure their effectiveness in reducing the environmental impact of buildings.

The Role of Circular Materials and Construction Practices in Reducing Carbon Emissions

This article highlights several examples of circular construction projects, including a building in the Netherlands that was designed for disassembly and a stadium in France that was built using recycled materials.

Circular Design Guide

William McDonough is one of the contributors to the Circular Design Guide, a free online resource developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The guide provides designers with tools and resources for incorporating circular design principles into their work.

CIRCULAZE is made possible with the friendly support of our amazing partners: DB Cargo, DATEV, 4PCapital, hemmersbach, VP Group, ODDO BHF, DEFACTO, Rödl & Partner, Jack Wolfskin, Beiersdorf, Messe München, and foodaffairs.