23 Feb 2023, 13:44
Carolina Kyllmann

Circular economy still too fragmented to increase sustainability in EU building sector – report

Clean Energy Wire

Circular economy principles have not yet made an impact in the EU building sector due to the relatively recent concept still being applied in a fragmented and incomplete way, according to a joint report by seven European organisations dedicated to sustainability in the building sector. The organisations, among them the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB), examined 38 buildings from different countries as case studies and found that these would not pass the requirements set in the EU taxonomy for circular economy. Contributing to circularity in building projects, according to the taxonomy, includes limiting waste generation; re-using and recycling 90 percent of construction and demolition waste; efficient, adaptable, flexible and dismantlable design; and a public life cycle assessment of the entire building, among others. Of the buildings examined – which included a hotel, residential and office buildings and factories – none could be classified as taxonomy-compliant, the report found, and more than half of all new buildings fulfilled less than 50 percent of the requirements.

With the taxonomy – a classification system established to clarify which investments are environmentally sustainable – the EU aims to drive the transformation of industry and redirect money into sustainable investment. One of its six goals is the move towards a circular economy, which is of particular importance within the building sector, as it could save resources and reduce the environmental impact of construction. The other five taxonomy goals are climate protection, adaptation to climate change, sustainable use of water resources, pollution prevention and the protection of ecosystems and biodiversity. “Instead of pushing for more circularity, there is a risk that only the other environmental objectives will be implemented, as the screening criteria for circularity are very ambitious,” the authors write. They recommend keeping central data platforms especially with regard to a whole life cycle approach, introducing 'Building Material Passports' that state the materials used in the building structure, and having defined recycling or reuse strategies in early planning stages. “Ideally, a Circular Economy Taxonomy would focus on and further incentivize renovation of existing buildings and ensure targets of the renovation wave are achieved,” the authors write.

A rigorous application of circular economy principles could reduce raw material consumption by more than two thirds by 2050 and make a significant contribution to meeting Germany’s climate targets, a research ministry report had found in 2021. First attempts at the national and European level to better integrate recycling and circularity concepts into the energy transition are still being developed and brought to scale. But industry groups hope a bustling recycling market could emerge in the near future thanks to the immense value recycled materials have to offer.

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