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Implementing Circular Principles
I recently realised that there is a BCO guide on Circular Economy in Offices. I’d missed this at the end of last year but it’s still relevant. The report aims to raise awareness about the opportunity for circularity in office new-build, refurbishment and fit-out. For me, the biggest takeaway is the statement that “Cat A fit-out should not be carried out on speculative spaces”. Whilst I agree with this, I’m not sure it’s been adopted… yet.
Perhaps this will be a theme in Dublin next week? I’m not going, but look forward to hearing if this is discussed.
There are ten key points listed in the exec summary, however some of these are fairly generic and apply more widely to the Circular Economy - I’m talking “Circular strategies should be incorporated early in the decision-making process”. But three points jumped out at me as being highly relevant and you might spot two of them mention agents! So here is my top 3…
Clear articulation by letting agents is required to inform future occupiers of the reasons why a circular economy is incorporated in office new-build and fit-out.
Cat A fit-out should not be carried out on speculative spaces. Either an alternative approach should be taken (e.g. virtual reality (VR)) or, if needed, one office space with temporary Cat A fit-out could be used as a showroom.
New business models are required, particularly in the manufacturing sector, that support take-back of material and eliminate the extraction of new material. Designers can support this by specifying these materials.
This won’t be new to you, but the UK construction sector generates the largest amount of waste. While a high percentage of this waste is recovered for further use, much of it is downgraded or incinerated rather than recycled. We can do better.
Fit-outs are relatively high-frequency, so you could argue this is low-hanging fruit. Compare it to a building’s structure and the internal fit-out of a building is likely to go through many cycles of change before the structure is up for reuse.
Developers can do their bit (and probably enhance their reputation too) by incorporating circular economy targets into their strategies, making early decisions about reuse.
Circular economy principles are becoming more important in driving improved performance and meeting regulatory requirements, especially regarding embodied carbon intensity. Policies implemented by cities and local authorities, such as the requirement for Circular Economy Statements in planning applications, are stimulating the transition towards a circular economy.
And with rising costs it might actually prove better value to think circular.
Well, actually there are quite a lot. We’re quite set in our ways!
Transitioning from a linear to a circular approach requires a shift in business models, however the currently weak business case for material reuse, cost of recovery compared to market value, and a system favouring raw material extraction pose challenges.
Our friends - the agents - often assume that occupants prefer offices with new materials, believing that reused materials would lower the aesthetic quality and rental yield. Although occupant expectations are shifting due to increased awareness of carbon impacts, we haven’t yet seen substantial change regarding circularity or material reuse. Another factor is that designers often fail to prioritise circular economy principles, such as designing for disassembly or enabling materials to have continued use beyond their initial life.
Sourcing reclaimed materials is generally considered riskier and more uncertain than purchasing new materials, due to limited availability and a lack of awareness regarding the process of incorporating reuse. Practical challenges, such as storage and time constraints, can make it impractical or costly, reducing the appeal of reusing materials. Early engagement of the design and construction team is crucial to identify opportunities for reusing materials before key decisions are made.
During the procurement process, circular outcomes are rarely considered, such as leasing services or products that can be returned for onward reuse. Business models need to adapt to provide these services - I am sure they will be used even if we are right a the start of this movement. Additionally, greater awareness of pre-demolition audits are needed to identify opportunities for reusing materials at the earliest project stages.
There are some good guidance documents & toolkits referenced on page 10.