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Paving The Way: How Circular Construction Builds A Sustainable Society

Smart design and circular components are key factors that can significantly reduce resource use and carbon emissions in our cities. The eighth episode of Circular Table Talks focuses on crucial solutions to make our cities more circular, sustainable, and livable, from design to practice.
Photo of One Central Park, Sydney by Jenny Theolin on Unsplash
Photo of One Central Park, Sydney by Jenny Theolin on Unsplash

According to the UNEP Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction’s 2022 Global Status Report, the buildings and construction sector accounted for around 37% of energy- and process-related CO2 emissions and over 34% of energy demand globally in 2021. In Circular Table Talks VIII, the topic in focus is the new report Paving the Way: How Circular Construction Builds A Sustainable Society, commissioned by Ragn-Sells to understand how we need to work together to improve the circularity of our cities.

Rethinking cities of the future


“The sizing and orientation between buildings and the voids between buildings is key for saving massive amounts of operational energy,” ~ Serge Salat, President of the Urban Morphology and Complex Systems Institute
“The sizing and orientation between buildings and the voids between buildings is key for saving massive amounts of operational energy,” ~ Serge Salat, President of the Urban Morphology and Complex Systems Institute

Opening the discussion, Serge Salat, President of the Urban Morphology and Complex Systems Institute, highlighted the need to rethink urbanization. Quoting the UNEP International Resource Panel’s report The Weight of Cities, he emphasized that we cannot rely on isolated actions like changing the types of cars we use or buildings we construct. We need to rethink the whole system. Redesigning cities to reduce the land area they claim and to optimize the ratio of buildings, streets, and open spaces is the first step to making cities more resource efficient. “The sizing and orientation between buildings and the voids between buildings, the urban spaces are really key for letting the air between the buildings create natural ventilation, solar gains in cold countries, shade in hot countries, this type of bioclimatic urban fabric is key for saving massive amounts of operational energy,” explained Serge.
We also need to redesign the buildings themselves. By designing buildings that can be used for multiple purposes such as office buildings, hotels, and residences, the need for renovation and additional resource use can be significantly reduced. Buildings can also be designed to promote sustainable behaviors in the residents’ everyday lives. “Ultimately, cities and buildings are about people. It’s not the cities and buildings that consume resources, it’s ultimately the people,” said Serge Salat.

Policy roadmaps for climate-neutral cities


“For all new buildings, you need to calculate the CO2 footprint”, ~ Pärtel-Peeter Pere, Estonian Member of Parliament.
“For all new buildings, you need to calculate the CO2 footprint”, ~ Pärtel-Peeter Pere, Estonian Member of Parliament.

The next speaker was the Estonian Member of Parliament Pärtel-Peeter Pere, who told us about their construction roadmap towards climate-neutral cities. As one of the primary tools for reaching the goal of climate-neutral cities by 2040, the Estonian government has implemented carbon emission measurements for all new buildings, a method that is to be implemented on a European Union level by 2030 at the latest: “We are on track [...] for all new buildings, you need to calculate the CO2 footprint, and they have established a cap too, which you can’t exceed.”
To make sure that buildings stay below the cap, Pärtel emphasized the importance of circular materials. As an example, he referred to a project in Norway called Future Built where an office building in the heart of Oslo was renovated with 80% reused materials, which resulted in a 70% reduction in the renovation’s carbon footprint.

Wood: A circular building material


“In Norway we waste just about the same amount [of wood] as we build, so it is natural to take more care of this resource,” ~ Kristina Nore, Research and Innovation Manager, OMTRE
“In Norway we waste just about the same amount [of wood] as we build, so it is natural to take more care of this resource,” ~ Kristina Nore, Research and Innovation Manager, OMTRE

Kristina Nore, Research and Innovation Manager, OMTRE, told us about using wood as a circular material in construction. “Wood is carbon”, she emphasized, meaning that building with timber sequesters carbon into buildings that can stand for decades. Wood as a resource is however connected to forest exploitation, which negatively affects biodiversity. In order to build more with wood, we need to reuse wood that is wasted today.
“In Norway we waste just about the same amount [of wood] as we build, so it is natural to take more care of this resource,” Kristina explains, referring to her project SirkTRE which takes half of the wasted wood in Norway and uses it to create new construction materials. This action alone equates to 8% of Norway’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Form Follows Availability: Moving from efficiency to sufficiency


“We are currently working on a large project in the center of Berlin where we are using the existing structure of the building that is already on the plot" ~ Anders Bang Kiertzner, Director, Circular Advising, Lendager Group
“We are currently working on a large project in the center of Berlin where we are using the existing structure of the building that is already on the plot" ~ Anders Bang Kiertzner, Director, Circular Advising, Lendager Group

Anders Bang Kiertzner, Director, Circular Advising, Lendager Group wrapped up the presentations by introducing a new perspective in architecture: Form Follows Availability. According to this perspective, we need to move from thinking about efficiency to sufficiency. What we need is just as important as what we want, especially in the Global North. In the building and construction sector, this means that we need to build in a way that questions how we have done things over the past 50 years and look for new solutions that can reduce emissions from transportation, resource extraction, and more.
Anders brought up an example from Berlin: “We are currently working on a large project in the center of Berlin where we are using the existing structure of the building that is already on the plot, and the additional materials that need to go into the building are sourced from a renovation project that is taking place right next door.”

The next step: Legislation for circular construction


“We have very little collaboration across the value chain, we work in our silos. We need to break this up.” ~ Pär Larshans, Director of Sustainability, Ragn-Sells
“We have very little collaboration across the value chain, we work in our silos. We need to break this up.” ~ Pär Larshans, Director of Sustainability, Ragn-Sells

Pär Larshans, Director of Sustainability at Ragn-Sells, wrapped up the presentations by scoping in on EU legislation and how it affects circular construction. Today’s legislation almost prevents recycling companies from being a part of remodeling. This is why we decided to hold the round tables presented in the Paving the Way: How Circular Construction Builds A Sustainable Society report, to understand what can be done to alleviate this. Some findings were surprising. “When we had those round tables, the different stakeholders had very seldomly met before. We have very little collaboration across the value chain, we work in our silos. We need to break this up.”
This is what the report is trying to accomplish, by showing our findings to the European Union we can translate these findings into action. To wrap up the eighth episode of Circular Table Talks, we asked each speaker what they wanted us to bring to the European Union when we meet them. Watch the full episode below.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGL6Ah04iJA


  • Richard Orengo

    49 w

    Circular economy highly contributes to a sustainable environment.

    4
    • Andrew, Educationist and Enveironmentalist.

      49 w

      Members how are you today

      7
      • Andrew, Educationist and Enveironmentalist.

        49 w

        nice. moreover it looks beautiful house.

        4
        • Munene Mugambi

          49 w

          Utilisation of small spaces can lead to good results and a good living environment

          8
          • Sarah Chabane

            49 w

            I really liked that episode, we really heard from all the different actors in the building industry, from politicians to architects! Very inspiring

            16
            • Adam Wallin

              49 w

              Very important to hear many different perspectives, as it is really much more than just changing our materials, we need to change how we think and behave regarding cities. Very interesting presentations!

              7
              • Marine Stephan

                49 w

                This is such an important topic. With the construction sector accounting for 37% of energy-related CO2 emissions, it is an area where initiatives to increase circularity and reduce CO2 emissions can have a real impact! This was a great episode of Circular Table Talks

                16
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