Circular Buildings Coalition paves the way for a circular transition in the European built environment

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The European construction industry is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 9% of the EU’s total annual emissions, about 277 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

Alarming statistics reveal that at its current rate, the industry will already exceed its ‘budget’ for carbon emissions by 2026. That’s less than three years.

“It’s time to make radical changes so that the industry can reduce its carbon footprint, and more importantly, ensure that humanity can remain within planetary boundaries,” said Ivan Thung, the program lead of the Circular Buildings Coalition. “Adopting the principles of a circular economy is the best way forward to face those challenges.”

Recognizing the need for solutions that will help the industry reduce carbon emissions, the Circular Buildings Coalition (CBC), led by Metabolic and supported by the Laudes Foundation, has released a groundbreaking report titled “Towards a Circular Economy in the Built Environment.” The CBC, a collaboration between Circle Economy, the World Green Building Council, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Arup, and Metabolic, aims to accelerate the adoption of circular economy strategies in the European built environment.

Building according to circular principles creates value for businesses while reducing environmental impact. The report identifies ways to ensure compliance with forthcoming EU regulations, unlock business value, and turn waste into valuable resources.

Identifying the challenges and strategies is just the first step. The CBC is determined to break down barriers to a circular built environment by funding projects addressing these challenge areas.

“Scaling existing solutions is crucial to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in the built environment,” said Job Papineau Salm, a sustainability consultant at Metabolic. “We are excited to help fund frontrunners to overcome existing barriers in order to scale and create demand for their solutions.”

The impact of the built environment

The scale of the construction industry’s material consumption is staggering. More than 1 million kilotonnes of material is used annually, just in the EU. To put that into perspective, that is enough to build 185 Pyramids of Giza every year.

Diving deeper into the data, we found that:

  • 74% of this material is concrete;
  • 66% is used in Western Europe;
  • 75% is used to build housing; and
  • 54% is used specifically in single-family homes.

Material flow analysis for the European built environment (numbers are in kilotonnes)

A significant amount of this material is ultimately wasted. Demolition in the EU and UK generates roughly 124 million tonnes of waste annually. That’s roughly equivalent to the weight of one tiny house for every inhabitant in Hungary and Austria — every year — or more than 12,000 Eiffel Towers. About 80% of the waste from demolition is mineral-based materials, such as concrete or bricks.

Western European countries produce 1.5 times as much demolition waste per inhabitant compared to the EU average, and more than 3 times as much compared to Central and Eastern Europe or Southern Europe.

About 64% of the disposed materials are supposedly recycled, but as there is no standardized reporting system across Europe, it is difficult to compare material availability and end-of-life scenarios. That means they are “downcycled” and not re-used in the construction of new buildings.

“The results of our data analysis were eye-opening, and follow what we’ve seen in other smaller-scale studies in the Netherlands,” said Mink Rohmer, data analyst at Metabolic who led the research and analysis for this report. “There’s still work to be done on improving the availability and quality of the data concerning end-of-life treatment for construction and demolition waste. This would allow us to have more granular insight into what countries are doing well in terms of circular treatment of this waste, which we could use as a blueprint for the rest of Europe.“

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