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How to turn buildings into material banks?

European construction is estimated to generate 400 million tonnes of waste annually. By linking digital models to a circular approach, we can save thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions and millions of euros. However, Belgium ranks only 8th on the list of the most circular economies in Europe. So there is still a lot of room for improvement.

That’s why Sweco developed the C3 tool, the Carbon Cost Compass, which our colleague Ray Jacobsen has already successfully applied in projects. C3 supports strategic decisions in a very early stage of construction development, by assessing both carbon emissions and cost impacts of design choices in the early stages of life cycle analysis. The outcome can then guide decisions on demolition or renovation strategies.

“Thanks to a circular approach, for the Porte Ouest Master Plan in Charleroi, we were able to save around 100 kg of CO2 per m³ of concrete used. We achieved this by reusing materials and making the right concrete choice,” says Ray Jacobsen, Divisional Coordinator for Circularity at Sweco Belgium.

“If we had an overview of buildings and their available material assets across all of Europe, we could match renovation and demolition better with construction, secure availability of materials and save a huge amount of carbon emissions and money through increased reuse of building materials. We have to meet net-zero carbon goals and move from wasteful to resourceful. The way to do that is through applying circular methods to everything that we do,” says Elise Grosse, head of sustainability for Sweco’s architects in Sweden.

The key to this is data. In order to find the resources and value in existing buildings, you need to delve into the data. This can then be turned into intelligence and informed decision-making, regardless of whether you are a developer, an investor, a designer, a planner, a municipality, or are involved in any other way in developing buildings.

The built environment accounts for roughly 40 per cent of global emissions. With climate change, new regulations and increasing costs for new material, continuing as before is not an option. The new Urban Insight report, ‘Building the future through circular data’, provides a snapshot of best-practice and next-practice tools to collect the intelligence needed to transform buildings from material consumers to material banks.

It is the first in a series of Urban Insight reports from Sweco on the circularity topic, in which experts highlight specific ideas, solutions and scientific findings needed to plan and design safe and resilient future urban environments.