It’s time to join the circle.

James Ford

James Ford, Partner

Addressing our industry’s barriers to a circular economy.

The construction and operation of the built environment consumes 60 percent of all materials in the UK. Our industry cannot shy away from the fact that, compared to all other sectors, we have the biggest responsibility to move as quickly as possible to a circular economy approach. So why has it struggled to make the wholescale shift needed?

Partly, of course, it’s because of the complexity. It’s no understatement to say that, relative to the consumer goods industry for example, the built environment is a beast…

But are there other contributing factors we need to challenge?

Collectively across our industry, there’s perhaps been an unconscious (and incorrect!) assumption that the responsibility for enabling a circular economy predominantly lies with manufacturers. So much of the discussion involves the word ‘materials’ – so it’s easy to see how this has engendered that perception.

However, in the much-lauded vision of a ‘service-led’ future, the need to design buildings using the least amount of resources, or indeed the most easily recycled or reusable resources, is vital… and it involves all parties.

A new scale.

This new kind of thinking needs us to focus on the entire built environment value chain.

It requires every single party to be on board. Cross-discipline teams need to work together to act as a support system that ensures these materials can, and are, used in buildings – to prove their viability from concept to construction.

It’s about systems-thinking on a much bigger scale than the industry has ever seen.

Westgate, Oxford is a great example of collaboration between client, contractor and specialists focused on minimising waste (construction and operational) and advancing the industry’s approach to the reduction of carbon emissions in manufacturing and construction. As a Sustainability group, we’re starting to plan and assess the circularity of materials in all the designs we propose – essentially being a facilitator that proves the benefits of these design approaches to stakeholders and embeds them in the design.

The centre of it all.

So how else can we change our thinking? One answer might be in choosing not to view the circular economy as a revolutionary new approach and, instead, acknowledging that it’s both the culmination and epicentre of almost every trend and development our industry has seen over the past few decades…

Cross-collaborative design pitches; Government targets for construction efficiency; offsite manufacturing; sustainable accreditation; the challenges of urbanisation; health and wellbeing; the decarbonisation of the grid; the end of single-use buildings; service-led offerings; assessing flexibility vs durability; the user-centred digital revolution; rethinking building operation… every single one of these topics contribute to, and would be benefited by, a circular economy approach.

So let’s stop thinking the problem is too big for us to tackle – we simply need an evolution rather than a transformation.

Read the full version of this article in our magazine, Exploare.