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Embracing the circular economy in the retrofitting sector

7th August 2023

As we grapple with the urgent need to address global climate change, the retrofitting sector has emerged as a crucial battleground in our fight against environmental degradation. 

Retrofitting offers immense potential to reduce energy consumption, decrease greenhouse gas emissions and create a more sustainable built environment. However, to unlock this potential fully, we must integrate the principles of the circular economy into the retrofitting process.

One key area of focus is the establishment of a comprehensive database of suppliers with a proven track record of reusing materials. By compiling and sharing information about firms prioritising materials reuse, we can encourage greater access to sustainable resources for retrofitting projects. 

This type of database would be invaluable in allowing industry professionals to make informed choices and support supplier networks. The UK Green Building Council has already set up 2050 Materials, a database to help constructors to identify sustainable materials.

While retrofitting is clearly good in principle, it presents many challenges. One significant obstacle is the limited storage space available to supply chain companies for reusable materials and the lack of joined-up thinking in the planning and delivery of resources. These issues are particularly acute for smaller contractors who often struggle to accommodate resources. 

Collaboration is crucial

To address this challenge, collaboration is key. Industry stakeholders, including larger contractors, suppliers and government bodies need to join forces to develop innovative solutions. We need to promote not only the movement of materials but also sharing storage facilities or resource pooling, thereby overcoming space limitations and making reuse more viable for all. For example, reuse hubs are now available and make it easier for constructors to redistribute unwanted items.

The insurance sector must also play its role. Currently, brokers can act as a barrier to change. To overcome such resistance, it is imperative to engage insurance providers in open dialogues. By fostering awareness and understanding of the advantages of reused materials, we can encourage insurers to revise their policies for warranties and provide appropriate coverage. This collaboration will help mitigate the perception of risk and ensure that retrofitting projects can benefit from the inherent advantages of the circular economy. 

In addition, regulatory reform is essential to incentivise the reuse of materials in retrofitting schemes. Current industry regulations may inadvertently discourage the use of reclaimed resources due to bureaucratic hurdles or inflexible standards. We need a paradigm change which encourages the adoption of circular practices by streamlining regulations, simplifying certification processes, and offering financial incentives for incorporating reused materials.

Integrating the principles of the circular economy into the retrofitting sector is vital for achieving a sustainable built environment and is a transition we can drive with sufficient will and determination. Transformation of the sector requires genuine collaboration among industry stakeholders, government bodies and insurance providers to create a future where retrofitting projects are characterised by resource efficiency, eliminate waste, and enhanced environmental stewardship. 

Carolina Caneva is associate director of sustainability at property consultancy TFT

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