Circular economy in architecture

The new rethinking.

The construction sector in the EU produces over 35 percent of the total waste. In Germany alone, around 200 million tons of mineral construction waste are generated each year during the construction, conversion, renovation or demolition of buildings (Source: Federal Environment Agency). At the same time, raw materials are becoming increasingly scarce. The built environment is a factor that has a major influence on the climate of the future. It is necessary to react to this and to act in the sense of climate protection!

A circular construction and real estate industry in the sense of the Circular Economy efficiently recycles materials instead of generating waste or having to use new resources. Materials are used in such a way that they remain in use for a long time and can later be recycled or reused with value. Both by using existing building materials within existing construction and by reusing materials in new construction.

In the circular economy, recyclable material cycles are closed and the waste of resources is avoided. The issue of circularity is particularly important for architecture. The construction industry has a high demand for raw materials. However, the resources of our planet are limited and are becoming increasingly scarce. It is therefore necessary to develop a new attitude towards these raw materials already now. Increasing resource efficiency is a decisive step towards climate- and resource-friendly business. The aim should therefore be to avoid seeing materials as waste and to establish the circular economy as the standard in the construction and real estate sectors.

An entire section of the coalition agreement is dedicated to the circular economy. "In this way, we also want to achieve a circular economy in the building sector," is the goal set by the new government. How can the construction industry succeed in entering an ecological circular economy?

Buildings should be seen as material depots. They contain numerous valuable raw materials that can be extracted again after use in the sense of urban mining. In its coalition agreement, the new German government announced the introduction of a digital building resource passport to further initiate the transition to a circular economy. Via the Madaster platform, materials, products and elements used in building objects can be registered and documented. Material passports for buildings can be generated via this data input. By recording the registered materials and products within a building, value and potential reuse or recycling can be determined.

Various services such as concular enable materials to be reintroduced. On the marketplace for circular building materials restado, materials can be viewed and selected for reuse.

What are the current barriers to the circular economy in the construction industry? An important factor for the reuse of materials requires a warranty, guarantee and liability of the recycled products.

However, these factors have not been legally resolved at this time. Consequently, an important and decisive step for sustainable construction in terms of the circular economy is a corresponding adaptation of legislation.

In addition to modifying construction processes, it is necessary to develop innovative building products and systems that can be divided into their technical and biological cycles. When constructing new buildings, more attention should be paid to deconstruction with regard to the recycling of building materials (cf. dena study building report 2022). In this context, circular construction also means that companies will assume more responsibility for their products in the future and make it possible to take them back.

To provide an incentive for the circular economy in architecture, economic benefits should also be considered. When planning buildings according to the Cradle to Cradle® idea, existing building materials must be given value and value chains must be made more attractive. This can mean, for example, that tax advantages arise where greater resource efficiency is implemented in the construction and real estate industry. Appropriate subsidies, as is currently common in the concrete and cement industry through CO2 certificates, can provide further economic incentives for investors. ESG in the real estate industry is becoming increasingly important, inevitably this will lead to institutions becoming more involved in the topic of ecological construction methods.

In addition, materials will become more expensive and scarce (such as sand) and the use of secondary materials will soon be inevitable.

As a result, today's buildings should be designed to be flexible and easy to convert or deconstruct to realize a possible return to the ecosystem. One trend in new construction is wood construction. Timber construction can make a major contribution to building ESG compliant and, as a climate-neutral material, has the property of being reintroduced into the value chain in the spirit of circularity. As ambassadors in the coalition for timber construction, we are committed to overcoming the legislative hurdles and convincing the real estate industry to open up to the topic of timber construction and to build in timber modules on a broad scale. With a team of scientists, fire protection experts, planners, architects and project developers, the coalition for timber construction is developing lead construction, timber construction and raw material security strategies.

The Heuer Dialog event in Hamburg, under the theme "Future Real Estate Cradle to Cradle. How do we get to a true circular economy in the building sector?" will take an in-depth look at issues relating to the implementation of the circular economy in the real estate sector. This event makes it possible to bring together bundled knowledge and generate new insights on the circular economy in planning and building - to create a bridge between vision and innovative action!

In the course of this event, our managing partner Marc Böhnke will speak on the panel about today's and tomorrow's circular economy in the real estate industry.

Thursday, May 12, 2022, 2:45 p.m.

PANEL How does circular economy work today and in five years?

  • How are design and construction processes changing?
  • What partners and collaborators do real estate companies need?
  • Are subsidies or support programs needed?
  • Can CO2 savings be measured when returning building materials to the circular economy?

Marc Böhnke, managing partner, greeen! architects GmbH

Edwin Meijerink, CEO, Delta Project Development & Management GmbH
Dr. Christina Raab, President & CEO, Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute
Annabelle von Reutern, Head of Business Development, Concular UG

Andreas Rieger, Managing Director, Art-Invest Real Estate Management GmbH & Co. KG
MODERATION Elisabeth Broermann, Architect, "Coordinator Public Relations and Politics", Architects for Future Deutschland e.V.