LocHal Tilburg The Netherlands Arjen Veldt Fotografie Arup
Arup says buildings should be viewed as asset banks of reusable materials. Image: Arjen Veldt Fotografie / Arup

Arup launches ‘mainstream’ circular buildings toolkit

Arup has launched 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 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, Arup’s 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.

Eva Hinkers, group board sustainable development director at Arup, said: “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.”

The toolkit has already been used by Arup and Futur2K during the design and construction of a prototype for a new circular building system, called 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.

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.

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