12 case studies of how circular economy is being applied to the built environment

For all the discussion about the city of the future, it’s hard to imagine how the houses, offices and infrastructure of tomorrow will actually look. To get a better understanding of how the construction industry is supporting the transition to a circular economy, members of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 network have developed and released a new report detailing leading examples of circular economy innovation in the built environment.

Circularity in the Built Environment comprises 12 case studies that showcase different aspects of circular economy innovation, ranging from design and construction to fit out and re-use. It was developed as a CE100 Collaborative Project, led by a cross-sector team with representatives from BAM, BRE, cd2e, London Waste & Recycling Board, Ourobouros and TurnToo. Extra input came from members both within and external to the CE100, a pre-competitive innovation network established to enable organisations to develop new opportunities and realise their circular economy ambitions faster.

As commentators have said, the pace of innovation in the built environment can feel slow or stagnant, partly due to the long lifespan of buildings and infrastructure, but also due to the levels of optimisation in the sector, and the relative ease of traditional construction methods. Despite this inertia, these case studies highlight some of the ways that different actors in the built environment supply chain are re-thinking linear, take make dispose practices, that are extremely energy intensive and ultimately result in large volumes of waste.

The paper is available to download for free.
The paper is available to download for free.

The examples included are aligned with the ReSOLVE framework, a tool developed as part of the 2015 Growth Within report that identifies six different ways that organisations and governments can think about applying circularity: Regenerate, Share, Optimise, Loop, Virtualise, and Exchange. As such, cases range from the component to the system level. There’s specific materials innovation, such as Arup’s BioBuild panels which are made from biocomposites derived from residual agricultural waste. It’s the world’s first product of its type, and opens up new opportunities to use fast-growing plants in architecture. Looking at a new build project, the Liander head office has many features that make it an exemplar of circularity, including a materials passport and a modular steel roof that uses 30% less steel, thanks to an unlikely collaboration with rollercoaster design firm. The grandest example shared is the London Olympic park, designed not only to reduce waste and enabled the re-use of materials, but to integrate into the wider city of London following the games in 2012. End of use is also covered, with an example of how the Globechain re-use platform can enable the redistribution of building fit out and offer benefits for collaborating organisations, whilst saving a quarter of disposal costs.

Circularity in the Built Environment could be a source of inspiration for architects and designers, suggest collaboration opportunities for city planners, or demonstrate to other industries how the circular economy framework is being translated into action in the built environment sector. Download the paper for free via the CE100 Co.Project libraryor click to access the PDF directly.

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The Author

Joe Iles

Joe Iles

I'm Editor in Chief of Circulate and Digital Architect at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

When I'm not discussing the circular economy, I also love talking about digital media and online trends, memes, music, bad films and good beer.

You can find me on twitter @joeiles or email joe[at]

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