Improving efficiency and reuse of materials to construct houses and other buildings can open significant new opportunities to further reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a European Environment Agency (EEA) briefing released this week.
Greater circularity in the buildings sector can lead to major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions
The EEA briefing, ‘Cutting greenhouse gas emissions through circular economy actions in the buildings sector’, says actions like reducing the use of concrete, cement and steel in the building sector can cut materials-related greenhouse gas emissions by 61% over a building’s life cycle stages until 2050.
The briefing is based on a study commissioned by the EEA, which looks at the role that specific actions towards a more circular economy can play in reducing emissions. The EEA assessment presents a new methodological approach which can help identify and prioritise circular efforts that can contribute to reducing emissions in any sector. It was developed by the EEA together with a consortium of European experts.
The study found that each of a building’s life cycle stages — from design, production and use to demolition and waste management — offers rich opportunity for greater circularity and emission reductions.
The background study prepared for the EEA cites that up to two thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions are related to flows of materials, and how we source, consume and dispose of them. This makes it an important area for further reductions. Circular economy actions can substantially contribute to reduce these emissions. Making buildings more circular over their life cycle means designing and using them more efficiently, making them last longer, as well as reusing and recycling building materials instead of sourcing new ones.
Steel, cement and concrete are some of the most emission-intensive materials used in constructing buildings. These can be cut down if the demand for such materials is reduced through smarter design and production as well as reusing and recycling these materials at the end of building’s life cycle. Other actions ranging from increasing occupancy rate to improved maintenance that extends a building’s lifetime also offer good potential to reduce emissions.
Making the building sector more ‘circular’ by reducing demand for such materials can help the European Union meet its climate neutrality and circular economy goals under the European Green Deal. This makes such actions ideal for inclusion in EU, national and local climate change plans and roadmaps, the briefing says.
The background study was carried out by a consortium of Ramboll consulting, Fraunhofer ISI and Ecologic Institute. It is available here.