The Circular Score
The built environment sector in London alone consumes 400 million tonnes of material each year, a quarter of which is wasted accounting for 54% of waste in the capital. There is a need for a behavioural shift in the industry. Greater reuse of building materials (such as structural steel) is needed to drastically cut the carbon emissions, waste and raw material extraction associated with new development. Recycling is not enough. However, re-using materials in their highest possible value avoids a significant amount of energy from downcycling and therefore reduces carbon emissions.
There are many online platforms for material exchange already, and the idea of and intention behind material re-use is not a novel one. However, they are still not being used as a primary procurement source. Developers are not incentivised to deconstruct, nor to sell the materials they have. Additionally, buying re-used materials is seen as time consuming and challenging, and is also perceived as involving additional risk and cost, even when existing materials could act as cheaper and more locally-available options. Furthermore, current planning regulation around circular economy requirements is lighter in comparison to newer areas such as Biodiversity Net Gain or The Urban Greening Factor, and only impacts referable schemes.
The Circular Score assesses projects on their circularity. The percentage score is based in three key areas:
- Assess and List Materials – credits gained for listing existing materials on a materials exchange, and advertising the materials they will require for construction. Extra credits would be given for retrofit projects that do not involve the deconstruction / demolition of existing buildings.
- Deconstruct and Test – credits gained for deconstructing (instead of demolishing) existing buildings, and for verifying the integrity of available materials.
- Exchange and Reuse – credits gained for procuring materials for reuse from other deconstructed sites or for re-using within the same site.
Initially, any projects undergoing planning will be fast-tracked if they can forecast and prove a high Circular Score. The required score would increase over time as the market and building practices adapt. In the future, the Circular Score threshold will need to be met for planning to be approved.
Through local authority partnership, centralised exchange platforms (for example, covering Greater London or the North-East of England) will host all materials listed for reuse, providing a “one-stop-shop” for new projects. This will greatly increase the number of materials available for re-use, as well as provide a strong incentive for developers to source materials in this way.
In contrast to the market’s failings in the area, policy initiatives have successful track records when it comes to introducing sustainable practices and driving behavioural change (e.g. the single-use bag charge in the UK, regulation surrounding construction waste disposal, and even rulings surrounding ozone-damaging chemicals on a global scale.
The Circular Score and associated planning requirements will create the demand signal, reshape a marketplace that embeds circularity principles and fundamentally change the way we think about constructing the built environment.
Our long term ambition is to normalise material re-use in construction. The planning policy initiative is a nudge tactic, designed to encourage behavioural change. Driving greater demand through policy-led actions will create a new economy for re-used materials and enable suppliers to compete against conventional manufacturers of new materials.
This shift in approach will require collaboration with the wider industry including the national government, local authorities, insurers, lenders, designers, subject matter experts, developers and contractors.
Moving to a circular economy could add between £3bn and £5bn in value to the built environment sector in London by 2036, and would create 12,000 jobs (LWARB).
Additionally, the following have been identified as particular benefits from the Circular Score application:
- Improved supply chain transparency and measurement of the sustainability of construction and deconstruction practices.
- Reliable materials procurement that is resilient to current supply chain disruption and global volatility.
- Speed of project delivery through fast track planning (where applicable) for the first few years of the initiative roll-out. Time is money!
- Reduced carbon in construction, through waste minimisation and the decrease in raw material demands.