BSRIA was delighted to jointly host an event with ECA – Engaging the Circular Economy. This event showcased the potential of an innovative regenerative system that will change the way construction and building services currently operates regarding refurbishments, new build and maintenance of buildings. A salient takeaway was that society realises that it needs to change its thinking and modus operandi. But is more awareness of the impact of not doing so needed?

It was held on Wednesday 23rd May at the Victory Services Club in London.

Estimates suggest that the global population will reach close to nine billion by 2030. This places unprecedented pressure on natural resources to meet future consumer demand. If we are to meet the demands of a growing consumer base and not destroy the planet in the process – we need to embrace the circular economy as an innovative business model for all industries.
The circular economy, with the simple mantra of make – use – return – make, will impact every element of the built environment.

Introduction – Ant Wilson MBE, Director, AECOM

“You’ve got to be holistic and agile to change!” Ant opened the event with this mantra saying that “easy wins” are exemplar and should be “future proofed”. The circular economy isn’t a “linear economy” – industry needs to keep using the same – and less – materials for as long as it can in any way and at every stage and more effectively. We can have less to live on. World-renowned Dame Ellen MacArthur said that “we should be doing more with less resources!”.

Ant cited Building Revolutions by David Cheshire (RIBA, 2016) which makes a compelling case for a profound rethink: refurb and reclaiming – driven by cost: “buildings as material banks, energy generators and service providers: the future of architecture and construction will play a key role in the transition to a circular economy”.

Ant turned to the tricky issue of mining landfill sites – which could be cheaper in the long run and is a sound economic proposition – especially for tons of gold going to landfill. This can make savings at “every step” and could reduce the burden on the world’s precious resources – as part of lifecycle assessment. Zero waste to landfill is the aim of the game with 100 per cent reuse & recycling.

He referenced the Aims of CIBSE TM56 2014 (Resource efficiency of building services): that will: help engineers and consultants to understand the principles and importance of resource efficiency; provide guidance on principles and tools relating to resource efficiency; and sets out opportunities to improve the resource efficiency of building services. Indeed: CIBSE Technical Director, Dr Hywel Davies, said: “resource-efficient building services make the best use of materials, water and energy over the lifecycle of the installed equipment”.

The drivers for resource efficiency of a building are to:

  • reduce capital costs, price volatility and project risk and help to provide a hedge against future risks of material shortages;
  • reduce the running costs by reducing the resources required to maintain and upgrade equipment;
  • demonstrate compliance with regulations and standards;
  • address the project brief or tender requirements.

Ant quoted government’s Industry Strategy: Construction 2025: “improving our understanding of design approaches, including passive design, to balance energy demand and supply in the built environment is vital in enabling the industry to design and construct high performance, resource efficient buildings.”

He outlined the overall approach to resource efficient building services:

  • Design out the demand for services (passive design).
  • Challenge the brief and use best practice design calculations.
  • Optimise system design.
  • Consider alternative materials.
  • Select resource efficient equipment.
  • Consider reusing existing systems (refurbishment).

This should especially and specifically apply to: (the opportunities for) the heating sector; cooling sector; ventilation sector; and 3D printing of components. Such “bits of kit” to this end are a “game changer”. “Old rules of thumb are outdated!”

Circular economy challenges & needs – a contractor perspective – Andrew Kinsey, Mace

Andrew asked if the circular economy was just a “fancy word for recycling?”.

He quoted the UKCG (now BuildUK) CE Survey 2015 – Biggest Barriers to implementing Circular Economy: which considers: contract requirements; bringing together the supply chain; financial issues; business culture; and technical issues.

Andrew highlighted some “people” challenges:

  • Do nothing much (legal minimum).
  • Do as little as necessary.
  • Do things because they make sense.
  • Do it because you want to be a leader.

He asked if the industry was risk averse? Adding: it’s a “vicious circle of blame” between the designers and constructors; developers; investors; and owners or end users and is akin to the “chicken and the egg”. How can we break this circle of blame and the “virtuous circles”? Clients, designers and contractors can’t specify circular economy goods and services if nobody supplies them. Better transparency is needed.

He explained that a “swap shop” of office furniture has been created to make carbon savings – taking material from one place for another which has a short supply chain. This includes a range of office furniture – especially flat-packed desks have been made out of cardboard which can be recycled. In the last three years – Mace projects of reused materials have saved £520,000 = CO2 or 287 tonnes.

Andrew said that we need to create a desire and need to innovate, but this weighs down on profit margins. He asked “how do we solve the innovation conundrum – an industry that needs innovation yet is short of money to invest?”

Life cycle costing – Peter Tse, Business Manager – Sustainable Construction Group, BSRIA

Peter laced his presentation around a recent successful case study, namely The Elizabeth Fry Building at the University of East Anglia (UEA) – where successful assessments had been completed – including energy performance, water consumption, construction quality and indoor environment.

He explained that it was the “end of a long line” of pioneering buildings. The UEA is an “economic and educational” hub for both students and the local economy. The locally-sourced straw and timber – represents long term thinking which will serve the building for 100 years from now. Ergo – the building has a vision which isn’t just for the “here and now”.

In life cycle costing it’s good to have a “target – something to shoot for” and have “life cycle thinking” – for the client.

The circular economy route map – Philip Guthrie, Project Manager, London Waste & Recycling Board (LWARB)                                                                                                                                  

“… a circular economy keeps products and materials circulating within the economy at their highest value for as long as possible, through re-use, recycling, remanufacturing, delivering products as services and sharing.”  

Philip said that “London is growing fast” with the population predicted to reach 11m by 2050 which means our attitude to waste needs to change! The circular economy provides a sustainable and profitable solution to the challenges of this dramatic growth. By 2041 could reduce waste by 60 per cent. By 2036, the circular economy could provide London with net benefits of at least £7bn every year and 40,000 new jobs (12,000 net additional jobs) in the capital by 2030. London’s Circular Economy Route Map outlines practical actions to transition London to a circular economy while providing jobs, growth and impact.

Philip asked why not make the office “circular” and include: office refit using remanufactured furniture; reusable containers; circular procurement; data – with rich, “real time” information; rethinking IT; innovation; sustainable logistics and “thinking outside of the box”.

The Meanwhile Space was mentioned: maximising the use of space: The Hive, Dalston: starting with nothing and without funding, an old office block was converted into one of the city’s most vibrant social projects. Self-sustaining and self-organising, it now has 10,000 occupants. It comes under the umbrella of: reusable buildings: which can be dismantled and moved: like Lego bricks.

What does this mean for building engineering services? – Paul Reeve, Director of Business & Communications, ECA

Paul kicked off with the new kit on the block

… batteries are already being deployed “second hand” to give (lower or different) extended value. Li ion batteries – and renewable energy technology such as solar PV and wind turbines –incorporate critical or rare metals, such as silver, cobalt and niobium.

He asked how to make drivers work:

  • Legislation – eco design, WEEE 2019.
  • Economic and commercial incentives/penalties (‘modified behaviour’).
  • Standards – eco design, recovery.
  • Government, local government and clients need to say clearly what they want – from manufacturers, contractors and even clients.
  • A compelling business case for key players (including the financial case – and recovery demand).
  • Client demand or behaviours.

Paul explained that CE marking – correct labelling and standard fitting – is about extending the useful life of products and materials. It boosts reuse, repair and upgrade. Lengthening functional lifetimes “if something is doing a good job, it is not fighting CE”.

And circular economy principles: BS 8001 – which can be applied to prioritising and optimising a range of whole-life value and impacts – covers: systems thinking; innovation; stewardship; collaboration; value optimisation; and transparency. Indeed the BS 8001 steps provide a logical, highly inclusive approach to finding optimal CE solutions.

He emphasised the role of BIM in the circular economy: for building and other asset services “CE has got BIM written all over it”. BIM can provide quality design and operational information – to enable optimal: systems design; maintenance; upgrading; replacement and recovery.

Paul’s parting salvo was: “we’re at the foothills of the circular economy which requires broad thinking! We need to think laterally. We’re selling services not products.”

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