Arup launch practical circular buildings toolkit to tackle industry “take, make, waste” mentality

Arup and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation are today launching a practical toolkit designed to bring a circular economy for buildings into the mainstream, future-proofing assets as sustainability policies redraw the real estate landscape.

The free resource provides guidance and real-life examples of how the principles of circular economy can be applied to building design and operations. It includes best practice case studies from recent projects around the world, spotlighting different circular economy concepts. These include borrowed building materials in a temporary structure in the Netherlands, a modular lighting system in Seoul and prefabricated timber structures in London.

The built environment sector is a major consumer of natural resources and is currently responsible for almost 50% of the consumption of raw materials,  and around 40% of global CO2 emissions.  To date, the building industry has been almost solely focused on energy efficiency, but the energy transition is only part of the challenge it faces. Since almost half of global greenhouse gas emissions come from embodied carbon emitted through the production and operational processes, we need a circular economy that is designed to eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature to help tackle climate change.

Away from the current “take, make, waste” linear consumption model, the Circular Buildings Toolkit seeks to minimise waste by keeping products and materials in use for longer – from the start of the design process. Aligned with industry standard planning methods like the RIBA Plan of Work, it can help owners, investors and developers ready their portfolios for the influx of sustainability regulation, limiting the risk of potential write-downs.

The toolkit has already been used by Arup and Futur2K during the design and construction of a prototype for a new circular building system (ADPT) in Essen, Germany to be unveiled in May. Examples like Futur2K

show how the toolkit can help industry move from adopting a circular approach on a component basis towards an integrated approach, unlocking new economic models that address the whole value chain of buildings.

For the Essen project, designers used the toolkit to embed lessons on flexibility and versatility by creating a system of timber units built to adapt to many uses. Each module can be configured to meet a range of purposes, from commercial to residential, with flexible floor plans enabling it to respond to current and future needs. Learnings and experience from this project will in turn be added to the consistently updated, live toolkit. This new resource will act as a global bank of knowledge – effectively open-sourcing best practice – showcasing practical learnings from the latest circular projects around the world.

Eva Hinkers, Europe Region Chair, Arup said:

“Buildings are a major contributor to carbon and environmental problems today, consuming around 40% of the world’s raw materials. But it doesn’t need to be this way. The circular economy can help the real estate sector generate more value – economic, social – as it moves towards climate neutrality. Circular approaches allow us to reimagine the building as an asset bank, so that materials can be repurposed and stay in use for longer. We hope this toolkit helps the industry move beyond roadmaps and blueprints and makes circular economy a reality.”

Andrew Morlet, CEO, Ellen MacArthur Foundation said:

“The global transition to a circular economy — an economy designed to eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature — is vital in order to tackle global challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss. We have seen increased energy efficiency in the built environment sector, but the transition to renewable energy and energy efficiency is only half the story. 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the way we make and use things. We need a circular economy to address these emissions. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with Arup — a Partner in our Network of businesses, policymakers, academia, and thought leaders — in the development of this toolkit. We believe it will play a valuable role in supporting the built environment industry to transition to a circular economy that will benefit the economy, environment, and society.”

Arup is working together with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in a long-term partnership focused on enabling the circular economy to become a reality across the built environment. Arup has also been behind practical demonstrations of the circular economy, from the Circular Building project, launched as part of the London Design Festival in 2016, to a new circular building in Essen, set to open in May 2022.

Projects included in the toolkit include:
People’s Pavilion, Eindhoven – The temporary structure was built for the 2017 Dutch Design Week and forced the property industry to re-imagine a circular economy-inspired future. With a close to zero carbon footprint, it was made from entirely borrowed materials ensuring no value was lost in the construction and decommissioning of the project. Designed for disassembly – all borrowed materials locally were subsequently returned – it is an exemplary circular design project.

Sky Believe in Better Building, London – Sky’s office applied circular economy principles including the use of a modular, prefabricated timber structure to reduce the use of non-renewable materials in its design. The prefabrication also meant the project moved from conception to site in just three months and was delivered in under a year, delivering substantial cost and carbon savings. In addition, the space was designed for flexible use, with adaptable fittings and partitions that allow spaces to be easily altered for different functions, matching the building’s evolving needs in future.

Amorepacific Headquarters, Seoul – The building, developed for cosmetics group Amorepacific, demonstrates how durable and beautiful materials can be used together to design a company headquarters which need significantly reduced energy, water and materials. Here, a sustainable and modular lighting design was developed with easy to adjust parts to allow the system to adapt to the need for various light atmospheres in the building and a range of future uses.