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Accelerating Material Reuse - Opportunities, Risk & Procurement
As part of my work for Grosvenor I led an innovation project looking at the Circular Economy, specifically Material Reuse. The key partners1 and I attended the WasteBuild event in July 2021, filming a live session and then dropping into a Q&A discussion.
After the session, I was once more struck with the thought of how much opportunity there is this space. Wherever the conversation takes you, there are gaps in the market. From a testing facility, to information management to track provenance, to a digital marketplace that matches supply and demand - for this to work [which I think it has to], these things all need developing and building. Crucially they will need implementing gradually as I am sure the industry will not be able to cope with or adjust to any sort of step change.
A lot of these ideas seem perfectly reasonable, practical and do-able when viewed in isolation. But the challenge the construction industry faces is the way we procure our developments - clients tend not to like risk and the design must be drawn/specified before it is sent to the contractor to procure the materials. What happened to collaboration, sharing of risk and flexibility?
Procurement needs to be more flexible and clients need to retain more risk to allow some variables to remain fluid for longer. For example:
Clients should instruct surveys earlier to learn about their buildings in a timeframe where the information doesn’t just inform demolition, but also design
Information should be held and nurtured by building owners to ensure it remains valid, up to date and accessible long term
Designs should be developed with some residual flexibility or loose-fit, such that a contractor can search a second-hand marketplace to see what suitable materials are available before they buy new
Programmes [Design and Procurement] should be carefully reviewed to ensure adequate time is allowed for more flexible procurement
Specifications should evolve to not only specify new materials, but also reference a new standardised way of categorising second-hand materials, meaning a contractor can be spec-compliant with new or used
Clients should encourage the delayed confirmation of whether new or used materials are being selected, to give the contractor time to search second-hand marketplaces for spec-compliant materials
The group’s final thoughts from the session were short advice takeaways
Apply new thinking early in a project
Do not just do what was done before
Do something, not nothing
Take in the available content and learn, or show it to someone else who will learn
Do not take NO for an answer