Circular building towards a higher goal through collaboration

Circular construction is becoming increasingly important due to the ambitious national and international climate goals. Preventing emission, reusing materials and avoiding waste are all part of this. For the building itself, circular working takes things a step further than just recycling. Through clever collaboration between all parties involved the processes on the construction site are arranged more efficiently and materials are reused, from the very beginning. This results in higher returns for all parties involved.

Generally speaking circular building involves three aspects. The building itself, the procedure on the building site and the collaboration between the various parties involved in the building process. The government has great ambitions when it comes to circular building. In 2050 the entire economy, including construction, must be circular. To achieve this the government has started taking the first steps in collaboration with this sector. There will be a mandatory material passport for buildings and there are plans for a research institute in circular building. Starting in 2023 the government itself will demand a circular approach when issuing calls for bids.

Flexible and renewable building

The whole process begins with the design. A new building should be constructed using renewable materials wherever possible. Constructions that can easily be deinstalled after a building has reached its life’s end and then reinstalled in a new building. Or biodegradable materials that can blend back into the food chain, also knows as cradle-to-cradle. The building’s use must be flexible. An office building, for instance, must be easily convertible into an apartment complex.

Sustainable operating at the construction site

The second aspect of circular building covers operational processes. This is applicable to any construction site, regardless of whether or not the building is sustainable. Obvious suggestions are to separate waste and recycle equipment, oil and metal. Other options are recycling work clothing and using clean vehicles, which ideally use biofuels. When setting up workspaces energy usage can be reduced through correct isolation, led lights, and movement sensors. Usually construction sites are already built modularly with (prefab) housing and inventory that can easily be moved to the next construction site.

Using the latest techniques

Using innovative techniques can make the building process considerably more sustainable and contributes to circularity. A nice side effect is that some of these techniques also cause less nuisance in the form of emission or noise pollution. This way circular building will create a better relationship with local residents, another benefit for the construction companies. New developments include drilling techniques that can take over the traditional pile driving and bored pile wall removal. The use of energy storage comes with several benefits as well. It allows existing gensets to operate more sustainably by reducing their running time. This increases machine life span in a responsible manner. In addition batteries can be recharged with green energy or renewable energy from solar panels, and they work silently.

Clever collaboration

Many sustainable construction sites are already putting the aforementioned solutions to practice. However, more benefits can be gained by applying a circular approach to the entire construction process. At the moment suppliers and subcontractors tend to plan their actions individually. If they were to collaborate from the very first plan until the maintenance after delivery there would be a higher return, in both circularity and finances. Take transport, for example. In the Netherlands, construction is responsible for approximately thirty percent of all professional transport, and the stocking densities are relatively low. By organizing transportation together, perhaps one truck a day would suffice instead of four. In addition some materials could be used by multiple organizations. Gensets, for example. Is each organization using its own genset, or is it possible to plan cleverly so that one genset can be used for multiple purposes?

Already using the building before the construction

Another option is to see if any elements of the planned building could already be used during the construction process. Solar panels, for example. They can be installed on the roof at the very last moment, but it’s also possible to use the planned solar installation on the construction site already. This installation can be connected to a battery for energy storage, such as the Big Battery Box, so that the energy may be used on the construction site and during the building process. This way part of the building process already becomes sustainable. Aside from being a clever use of material, this idea would reduce emission and noise pollution and reduces costs before the building is even there. Is there already a net connection present? Then this can be used for the construction site’s energy supply as well. Of course the capacity of the regular net is rarely sufficient for heavier equipment such as construction cranes. But the peak in energy demand can be handled with additional batteries or gensets. This way the construction process as a whole will require considerably less diesel than it would if it were to rely solely on the use of gensets. Should you make the additional sustainable decision of using biofuel in the gensets, then the ecological footprint of the construction site would be reduced even further. This way of thinking can also be applied in many other fields than (mobile) energy.

The future: increasing circularity through The Internet of Things

The sustainable construction site plays a big role in a circular economy and collaboration is an essential here. The increasing digitalization makes this collaboration easier during the upcoming years. If devices share their data online, stock management and transport can be planned more easily. Warning signals of machines can be combined and the optimal restocking strategy can be chosen almost automatically. Perhaps the raw materials of organization A can temporarily be used for machine B. Or the separated waste on the construction site can be used as raw material for another process. This way the cycle of the construction site can be closed. Inspections and maintenance for machinery can be planned together to reduce transport. By collaborating from the beginning of the construction process, supported by clever systems and objective data, circular working on the construction site becomes a natural process.

Margien Storm Van Leeuwen

Margien Storm van Leeuwen
Manager Marketing, Communications & New Business

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