UKGBC’s vision for a sustainable built environment is one that eliminates waste and maximises resource efficiency.
Global population growth and consumption rates are putting pressure on natural resources. Faced with resource scarcity and price volatility, some businesses are trying to recover valuable resources by adopting more circular business models.
In the UK, construction is one of the largest consumers of materials and produces more waste than any other sector. Disappointingly, there is no recent data on total materials used in construction by type and by source. While most construction waste is diverted from landfill, little is being recycled or re-used, and the quantity of re-used materials in construction has decreased since 1998. Few contractors are yet designing out waste and despite recent growth rates, offsite manufacturing still represents a very small proportion of the market.
Water usage has traditionally been viewed as less important than materials. Yet water is already scarce in some UK regions, and this will increase with climate change. There is also significant embodied carbon in water treatment and supply. A large amount of water usage in buildings can be influenced through careful design and specification, and metering is important to change behaviours.
A key part of the transition to a circular economy is better utilising the floorspace of buildings. Flexible working allows office occupiers to reduce their total space needs while accommodating the same staff numbers. Airbnb is capitalising on under-utilised residential space but we have growing numbers of under-occupied owner occupier households. We also need to be designing buildings that last longer. We know the typical lifespan of modern commercial buildings is much shorter than most of our historic buildings. To cope with our rapidly changing needs we need to design buildings which can be adapted to future uses.