New-build or refurbishment: how can I integrate the circular economy into my operations?

I. Introduction

A. What is the circular economy in the construction industry?

Thecircular economy is an approach that aims to minimize the use of non-renewable resources and reduce waste production. In the building and civil engineering sector, the circular economy offers opportunities to optimize the use of materials, minimize construction waste and extend the lifespan of buildings. This white paper aims to help you understand how to integrate the circular economy into your construction and rehabilitation projects.

B. Upcyclea and its vision

Upcyclea is a pioneer in the circular economy. It offers innovative solutions to help real estate players integrate the principles of the circular economy into their construction and rehabilitation projects. With its myUpcyclea software, Upcyclea offers the range of tools needed to eco-design, operate and decarbonize real estate assets.

II. Understanding the circular economy

A. Definition and principles of the circular economy

The circular economy is an economic model that aims to produce goods and services in a sustainable way, by limiting the consumption and wastage of resources (raw materials, water, energy) and the production of waste. It is based on the principle of “closing the life cycle” of products, services, waste, materials, water and energy.

In the traditional model, or linear economy, a product’s life cycle is considered finite: resources are extracted, produced, consumed and discarded. This model has shown its limits, particularly in terms of depletion of natural resources and waste production.

The circular economy proposes a new approach, inspired by nature, where the life cycle is no longer “finite” but becomes an infinite loop. In this model, known as “Cradle-to-Cradle“, products are designed from the outset to be recycled at the end of their life, and used to manufacture new products. In this way, used resources never become waste, and the product life cycle is extended indefinitely.

This approach not only conserves natural resources, but also reduces CO2 emissions and waste production. Above all, it offers new economic opportunities, by creating value from what was previously considered waste.

B. The benefits of the circular economy for the construction industry

The circular economy offers the construction sector benefits grouped into three main areas: resource conservation, waste reduction and value creation.

Firstly, the circular economy reduces resource consumption. In the construction sector, this means more rational use of building materials, thanks to eco-design techniques and the use of “circular” materials designed to be recyclable and/or recycled. This not only conserves natural resources, but also reduces the carbon footprint of buildings.

Secondly, the circular economy aims to minimize waste production. In a circular approach, construction waste is no longer considered as such, but as a resource that can be reused or recycled. This reduces the environmental impact of construction and renovation sites, while extending the life of buildings.

Finally, the circular economy enables value to be created from deposited and collected building materials. Instead of being thrown away at high processing cost, they are dismantled to meet local re-use needs or industrial recycling requirements, creating new economic opportunities for property owners.

In short, the circular economy offers a new and promising vision for the building and civil engineering sector, one that both meets environmental challenges and creates new economic opportunities.

III. Key steps for integrating the circular economy into your operations

A. Eco-design: thinking about circularity right from the design phase

Eco-design is an approach that involves integrating the principles of the circular economy right from the design phase of a construction or rehabilitation project. This means knowing from the outset how materials will be reused or recycled at the end of their useful life, and designing the building to facilitate their dismantling and recovery.

A concrete example of this approach is the use of clipped rather than glued resilient flooring. Glued-down resilient flooring is difficult to remove, and the removal process generates waste that cannot be recycled. On the other hand, clip-in flexible flooring is easy to dismantle, reuse or upcycle.

What’s more, some companies have developed depolymerization processes to recycle carpets, for example. Depolymerization is a chemical process that breaks down polymers (the large molecules that make up plastics) into their constituent monomers. These monomers are then purified and reused to manufacture new polymers, enabling total carpet recycling.

By thinking about circularity right from the design phase, the lifespan of materials is extended and the amount of waste generated by the construction and renovation of buildings is reduced. It’s an approach that not only benefits the environment, but also generates long-term savings by lowering the cost of reuse operations.

B. Choice of materials: give preference to recyclable and/or recycled materials

As part of the circular economy, the choice of materials is a decisive step. It is recommended to favor materials that are recyclable and/or come from recycling.

The Cradle to Cradle® concept is a philosophy that encourages the design of products and systems to benefit the environment and human health. It’s about creating a positive impact, inspired by nature, where everything is a resource and nothing is waste.

With this in mind, Upcyclea’s circular passport library is an invaluable tool. This digital materials database, which rates products and materials according to 5 criteria, can be used to model product and material deposits, control their health and environmental impacts, and manage their resources in a circular economy.

So, thanks to Cradle to Cradle® principles and tools like Upcyclea’s library of circular passports, the choice of materials becomes a key step in integrating the circular economy into construction projects.

C. Waste management: minimizing and recycling construction waste

Waste management is a major issue in the construction industry. The circular economy offers solutions for minimizing waste production and, above all, recovering used resources.

Reuse is one such solution. It can be carried out in-situ, i.e. on the construction or renovation site, or ex-situ, i.e. off-site. For example, building materials or components can be reused on site or sold to others who need them.

To facilitate reuse, Upcyclea offers a service called Piraeus®, which gives access to thousands of reusable products ex-situ, from depots, reconditioning or destocking, offered by marketplaces and partner resourceries.

In parallel, Upcyclea also offers a circular resource management system, myUpcyclea®, which maximizes the reuse and/or recycling of used resources. This digital tool helps construction industry players manage their used resources and identify the best recovery scenarios.

In short, thanks to tools like Piraeus® and myUpcyclea®, waste management in the construction sector can be transformed into a genuine management of used resources, in line with the principles of the circular economy.

D. End-of-life: dismantling and reuse of materials

A building’s end-of-life phase is often overlooked in the design phase of real estate projects, but is nonetheless crucial in a circular economy approach. Right from the design stage, this means planning how the building can be dismantled, and how materials can be reused or recycled.

In a traditional approach, the end of a building’s life often means its demolition, resulting in a large amount of waste. In a circular economy approach, we speak of deconstruction. The aim is to dismantle the building to recover as many materials as possible and reintroduce them into the production cycle.

Let’s take the example of a building with a wooden structure. In a circular economy approach, this wooden structure is designed to be dismantled at the end of its life. The structural elements can then be reused for the construction of a new building, or recycled for the manufacture of new wood products. This extends the life of materials and reduces waste.

In short, the end-of-life phase of a building is a key stage in the implementation of the circular economy in the construction sector. It requires upstream thinking, right from the design phase, and a deconstruction rather than demolition approach.

IV. The role of Upcyclea and myUpcyclea in integrating the circular economy into your construction and rehabilitation projects

myUpcyclea is an innovative digital tool that supports real estate professionals in the eco-design, operation and decarbonization of buildings through the circular economy. It allows buildings to be considered as material banks, whose used resources can be reused or upcycled, transforming waste into a source of income.

The tool offers a multitude of functionalities, from decarbonizing real estate assets to creating economic goodwill through value-added ecosystems. It also preserves resources thanks to a library of thousands of circular products, and calculates environmental and economic indicators.

A concrete example of the use of myUpcyclea is the “Deloitte University EMEA” project in Bailly-Romainvilliers Val d’Europe, realized by Nexity and awarded at the MIPIM Awards in the “Best Alternative Project” category. Upcyclea participated as a Cradle to Cradle® (C2C) referent in this project, which is an excellent example of the application of C2C® to create a healthy, circular building.

Throughout the design phase, Upcyclea led the identification of the project’s positive footprint, drafted the building’s C2C specifications and monitored compliance with C2C requirements. Nexity’s teams were also able to create their digital materials bank on myUpcyclea, and receive support in choosing healthy, circular products.

V. Concrete examples of how to integrate the circular economy into construction projects

A. Presentation of some Upcyclea references

Upcyclea has already helped numerous real estate players make the transition to a circular economy. References include Deloitte University EMEA, Nexity Agence Search, Résidence Senior de la Chapelle Thouarault, and Vinci’s new head office in Nanterre.

B. Testimonials from Upcyclea partners

Accor, one of Upcyclea’s partners, testifies to the effectiveness of the approach. Thanks to the combined efforts of the Accor Corporate Procurement team, the Design & Innovation department and Upcyclea, they were able to involve their suppliers of furniture, fittings, sanitary equipment, etc. in their circular economy approach. Through the myUpcyclea® digital platform, their suppliers have created “Circular Passports” for all the equipment/products making up the room, enabling them to quantify the real impacts of a room’s design concept in terms of carbon, non-toxicity, uses and cycles, and environmental and social performance.

VI. Conclusion

A. Future prospects for integrating the circular economy into construction projects

Incorporating the circular economy into construction projects is more than just a trend, it’s a necessity for the future of our planet and our economy. The principles of the circular economy offer concrete solutions to the challenges of climate change and resource conservation. With tools like myUpcyclea, real estate players now have innovative solutions at their disposal to implement these principles and transform their practices.

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