The eye-catching perspective of Circular economy in construction

By Agnes Schuurmans, Manager Business Development Sustainability, SGS Intron




A circular economy, an economy without waste and no depletion of finite resources, gains traction in the sustainability debate as a way out of the current linear “take-make-waste” economy.[1]

Circular economy principles, ranging from ecodesign and recycling to new business models, such as products-as-a-service, can lower CO2-emissions and significantly contribute to combatting climate change. Furthermore, moving towards a more circular economy could deliver benefits such as improving the security of the supply of raw materials, increasing competitiveness, stimulating innovation, boosting economic growth and creating jobs.

2nd Circular Economy Action Plan

As a result, the European Commission adopted its 2nd Circular Economy Action Plan in 2020 [2] as part of the European Green Deal.[3] The EU’s post-Covid economic recovery plans will be used for circular economy initiatives as well. Several European countries have put circular economy policies in place, with countries like the Netherlands, France and Finland, as well as regions like Flanders, leading the way.

Not surprisingly, the construction sector is one of the key value chains for implementing circular economy principles. The built environment in Europe accounts for approximately 50% of all extracted material and the construction sector is responsible for over 35% of the EU’s total waste generation.

The EU’s Renovation Wave will apply circularity principles to building renovation to reduce materials-related greenhouse gas emissions for buildings.[4] Green Public Procurement, eco-design/product policies and waste legislation will be strengthened. What measures and initiatives can be expected in the construction sector in the years to come?

The life-cycle assessment approach

The public sector, both governments and cities, takes the lead by putting circularity constraints in public procurement and building regulation. (Semi-)mandatory requirements of an environmental performance assessment of materials in constructions are in place in, for example, the Netherlands, France and Germany.

The life-cycle assessment approach is commonly used across Europe to address the sustainability performance of construction products and Environmental Products Declarations (EPD) have become a global communication tool. The European Commission will develop a roadmap by 2023 leading up to 2050 for reducing whole life-cycle carbon emissions in buildings. Level(s), the European framework for Circular Economy principles for buildings design, will be further enrolled.

Private sustainable schemes like LEED and BREEAM and certification schemes like EDGE for the real estate sector pave the path to zero carbon and take steps to implement circularity criteria. Standards are in development and guidance to measure circularity in construction is available.[5]

As a result, more sustainable building solutions are being developed, bio-based solutions are maturing, and LCA and EPD of construction products are commonplace in most European markets.


Recycling and the use of recycled materials are inevitably on the rise. Italy requires specific recycled content percentages in construction products,[6] a measure which can also be expected from the revision of the European Construction Product Regulation.

Take-back schemes by manufacturers, leasing and ‘products-as-a-service’ find their way in the construction sector, thereby not only ‘closing the loop’ but also incentivising eco-design. Durability, potential for disassembly and avoiding the use of toxic substances facilitate take back and recyclability and are main ingredients for more circular products. Modularity, functionality and adaptivity will enhance the circularity of construction.

Value retention

Value retention of buildings and their materials in a circular economy is not only a societal benefit, but an economic benefit as well. If we can design constructions that can be a source of valuable material after use, this lead the way for new ways of financing and bookkeeping and the economic value of constructions will generally increase.

Material and building passports will ensure that we understand which materials are available in construction; circular demolition will head towards ‘mining’. Digital tools and BIM will support this development.

Moving towards circular construction is not only an obvious policy step to combat climate change and resource-dependency, it also offers an eye-catching perspective of economic value of construction and materials, smarter and better designs and new business models from which the whole value chain can benefit.

[1] a broader explanation can be found on e.g. What is the Circular Economy?
[2] Circular Economy Action Plan
[3] A European Green Deal
[4] EU Renovation Wave Strategy
[5] Measuring Circularity
[6] Allegato TEC CAMedilizia