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Circl, a 30,000 sq ft pavilion developed by investment bank ABN AMRO next to its Amsterdam headquarters, was one of the world’s first buildings to adhere to circular economy principles.

The project’s use of recycled materials reduced the embodied carbon in its development and it also did not include elements typical to similar bank buildings, such as marble floors and elaborate glass and steel elements. The building’s final form reduced the quantity of materials used by one third, 2,425 tons, from the original plans. 

Dutch timber was used in place of a concrete structure some partition walls were previously the façade from another building. Hardwood flooring on Circl’s ground floor was recycled from a former monastery and from a Dutch football club. Insulation was created from recycling 16,000 pairs of jeans. The building’s design is such that many of these elements can be recycled at the end of its life. 

The use of recycled materials did present ABN with a particular problem: gaining a building permit took a long time because the project’s final shape was not clear until the materials had been sourced. Having design determined by materials rather than the other way round is highly unusual for modern commercial real estate, although historically it has applied to most buildings.

This article originally appeared in Sustain in 2022

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

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) Europe has declared Denmark’s Stykka as the Nordic regional winner in the inaugural ULI PropTech Innovation Challenge and the first of six regional winners to be revealed.

Stykka creates sustainable, durable, digitally managed furniture products for the building industry. It focuses on circularity and addresses the traditionally short life expectancy of kitchens, the most expensive to operate and most frequently disposed elements of building interiors, with products designed to be used for as long as possible and then repaired, refurbished, or recycled.

ULI PIC is a new competition for entrepreneurs from across real estate and technology which aims identify game-changing, scalable and competitive solutions for the built environment.

Altera Vastgoed has hired Janneke Pruijsen as ESG manager.

The Netherlands real estate investor said her arrival would serve to further strengthen ESG in the organisation. She will make a contribution to Altera’s sustainability targets, on the road to ‘Paris-proof’ and climate adaptive real estate, it said.

Pruijsen joins from Plus Projects, where she was a sustainability and innovation consultant focusing on technical innovation, circularity and sustainable construction. 

While with Plus Projects she was also a junior researcher at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, making a significant contribution to a publication studying ways of promoting the circular economy.