Traditional models of construction are increasingly being recognized as unsustainable, leading researchers to investigate new and innovative strategies to overcome the key issues of carbon emissions and waste.
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Circularity has become a hot-button topic in several industries in recent years that requires the cooperation of stakeholders. This article will discuss how engaging different stakeholders can help the construction industry transition to a circular model.
The modern world is largely defined by technological innovation, which has led to improved health and standards of living for individuals and a consequent explosion in population. With this ever-expanding global population comes the need for suitable housing and infrastructure, which has driven increasing urbanization. The construction industry plays a key role in the expansion of urban populations.
There is an urgent need to transition toward an economy that uses natural resources sustainably. Currently, the construction industry is responsible for around 50% of recovered resources globally. Furthermore, the sector is responsible for around 5-12% of all carbon emissions and generates vast amounts of waste materials. For example, in the EU alone, 35% of total waste is composed of construction materials.
The concept of circular construction has gained ground in recent decades as the world attempts to address the key ecological, social, and economic challenges of the modern world. Circular methods of working recover, recycle, and reuse waste materials, reducing the demand for rapidly depleting virgin resources. This is an extraordinarily complex undertaking that faces fundamental challenges that require major changes in the construction sector.
A key challenge associated with circular construction for the industry is ensuring economic growth whilst reusing fewer primary resources. Therefore, materials and components which have high economic value must be preserved, thereby reducing the energy and cost demands of processing and manufacturing building parts.
Stakeholders in the Construction Industry
All businesses have stakeholders, which have their own unique roles and demands. Whilst the issues within the construction industry may differ by jurisdiction, building projects involve similar stakeholders and must take their needs into account. Understanding the role of different stakeholders, how their demands can be met, and how they can work together is crucial for the success of the construction industry.
Stakeholders in the construction industry include companies, governments, suppliers, contractors, clients, and the general public. Circularity places its own demands upon the modern construction industry and provides different ways of working in the 21st century and must meet the needs of stakeholders and bring them into a synergistic model of operation.
How Stakeholders Can Play a Role in Circularity in the Construction Sector
A circular approach in construction leverages the unique contribution of each stakeholder from governments to consumers. Several key questions must be considered to improve understanding of how this can be achieved.
These questions include: How should waste be managed in the construction sector? Which stakeholders have the greater roles? Which models can be implemented to enable a transition toward a circular model? Which industrial strategies can be implemented? How can legislation play a role? What are the downstream needs which can play a role in closing materials and product loops in the sector?
The path toward circular models of construction lies in the establishment of a consensus between government, corporations, and professionals such as engineers, architects, researchers, manufacturers, and designers. Public understanding of the environmental and economic benefits of circularity must be improved through communication between industry and the media.
A recent study in Sustainability presents three dimensions that should be considered in the context of improving circularity in construction. Firstly, key roles should be assigned to governments and construction professionals. Secondly, facilities need to be developed and improved to manage waste. Thirdly, there must be sustainable practices at construction sites. These dimensions are framed in environmental, economic, and social dimensions.
Government and Industry Professionals
Government legislation plays a key role in every industry. Governments have a crucial responsibility to develop and implement policies that target the transition toward a circular economy, reducing the vast amounts of dwindling resources being used in the construction sector and waste generated annually. Tools need to be developed to ensure the cooperation of industry and professionals.
Researchers can play a key role by investigating solutions that incorporate waste materials in construction. Designers should develop manuals that explain how waste materials can be applied and critical concerns within the sector. Architects and engineers should design buildings that incorporate sustainable technologies and materials.
Innovation fosters progress. The circular economy presents unique economic, technical, and environmental challenges and impacts all areas of society. Industry must accommodate current needs, and, in turn, their needs must be accommodated by governments and other stakeholders. A key concern of industry is the financial aspect of new projects: there is still reticence in some sectors of industry to invest in novel approaches and modes of operation.
Green fiscal policies and public investments and the allocation of capital by investors can help to improve the economic environment for businesses in the construction sector. Understanding the long-term economic benefits of recovering, recycling, and reusing construction waste improves the will of industry leaders to invest in circular approaches to new construction and retrofitting old projects.
One approach that industry can take is to form technical committees and working groups to work on developing new instruments. The evolving circular dynamic in the industry also provides opportunities for new start-ups and entrepreneurs within the industry. Industry should invest heavily in new research and innovation and partner with academics, with new innovation centers and laboratories.
Whilst reluctance within industry is to be expected, the vital need to reduce the environmental impact of population growth and urbanization should crystallize action within the sector.
Waste management planning is also essential. The cost and environmental benefits of a circular economy model provide massive opportunities for industry, but the will must be fostered by multiple stakeholders at every level.
Outside of the government and industry, consumers play a key role in business practices. Consumer demands and perceptions are a shifting dynamic that industry should always pay attention to. Focus groups can be used to involve consumers during the planning process, and the benefits of circularity and innovative strategies can be explored in-depth, informing project design.
Industry and government should communicate the benefits of a circular approach to construction to consumers and the public through education and the media. By bringing consumers into the process and considering their demands, the construction industry can work in a synergistic manner with all sectors of society.
Circular construction is a key trend in the 21st century. Reducing the environmental, economic, and social impact of the construction industry is absolutely vital in modern society, requiring significant technical and economic challenges to be addressed. To improve the sustainability of construction, a comprehensive approach that considers all the needs and unique roles of each stakeholder is needed.
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Almeida, F et al. (2022) Drawing a Path towards Circular Construction: An Approach to Engage Stakeholders Sustainability 14(9) 5314 [online] mdpi.com. Available at:
Technical University of Denmark (2022) Circular Construction [online] baeredygtighed.dtu.dk. Available at: