With materials management estimated to represent two thirds of global CO2 emissions, most sectors need to develop in a more circular way. The buildings sector is no different. In a new report commissioned by the European Environment Agency, experts from Ramboll’s Management Consulting and Buildings division teamed up with external partners Fraunhofer ISI and EcoLogic to analyse the relationship between circular economy and climate change mitigation. By this, the team developed a methodology to quantify the decarbonisation benefits of circular economy actions.
Now, the final report is out. The main finding is that by combining eight selected circular economy actions in the buildings material sector, up to 60% of the CO2 emissions could be avoided in the EU compared to a baseline scenario; or an absolute reduction of 130 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050.
Due to growing concerns over the climate crisis, European Union policymakers have placed the circular economy transition higher on the agenda than ever before. This fact - combined with Ramboll’s pledge to sustainable change - makes for a very interesting assignment says Xavier Le Den, Head of Ramboll Management Consulting’s sustainability team in Brussels:
- With the EU Commission’s Green Deal we see the number of sustainability related initiatives increase and with this the need for thorough insights. Last year, we conducted an important study to promote the urgency and achievability of net zero carbon buildings and we demonstrated the importance of life cycle thinking. This new report is a perfect follow-up showing the huge decarbonisation benefits of circular economy in the buildings sector. Also, a number of other sectors would be looking at similar benefits if they applied more circular economy approaches in each stage of the product lifecycle.
Materials management is estimated to represent 67% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. The use of material resources is growing, in turn increasing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the extraction, processing, assembly, destruction and disposal of products and their materials, explains Xavier Le Den. He points to one obvious solution to cut down material-related emissions; maintain existing materials in use before they are disposed of, thereby reducing the volume of materials flowing in and out of the economy.
So the case for change in the buildings sector is evident and urgent, says Xavier Le Den:
- Due to the importance of steel and concrete in terms of GHG emissions, the buildings industry is under pressure to find circular and efficient uses of these materials and to make use of viable and more sustainable alternatives. We hope that our findings can encourage the green transition in the sector.
The methodology put forward in the report is applicable to any economic sector and is tested for the buildings sector based on a collection of available data. While the study provides preliminary results from the use of the method, the team behind the report stresses that more data on the impacts of circular economy actions on the whole lifecycle of buildings - and on future buildings sector market trends - would allow for a more refined set of findings.
Ramboll to inform the European Commission on how to make its operations climate neutral. Read how we do here.
A call to action: Why the buildings material sector needs to tackle embodied carbon. Read our thoughts on the topic here.