News Brief

This Is What Circularity Looks Like: A Pragmatic Playbook

Upending the global economy to make it circular instead of linear sounds daunting. A new resource demonstrates how to become “circular ready.”

 a pie chart showing the most important categories in circular economy definitions. these include reducing consumption; using resources for as long as possible; designing for disassembly, reuse, and recycling; regenerating nature.

A broad analysis of circularity definitions brought four main principles to the fore: dematerialization, durability, design for new uses, and regeneration.

Image: World Green Building Council
Here’s the problem. The economy we’re locked into is linear: to make products, we exploit fellow human beings, deplete natural resources, threaten biodiversity, and choke our atmosphere. Then we toss those products into landfills the moment we consider them to be broken or used up. What a waste.

Here’s the other problem. It’s the economy. Ideally, it would be circular, meaning every resource is valued, people and ecosystems are cared for, and products are used multiple times, if not indefinitely. But individual people and even big businesses cannot single-handedly transform the entire world’s economic systems.

We do have to step in somewhere, though, leveraging whatever power we have. A new resource from the World Green Building Council offers a panoply of strategies and case studies to prepare the building industry for a more circular future. The Circular Built Environment Playbook first examines the causes of linearity and identifies four core circularity principles:

  • Dematerialization—Consuming fewer materials and resources in the first place
  • Durability—Ensuring a longer lifespan for products and materials
  • Design for new uses—Elimination of waste through design for disassembly, reuse, and recycling
  • Regeneration—Preservation or restoration of natural systems

Calling on “all actors from across the value chain,” the report examines embodied impacts associated with building materials and construction, shows how design of both new buildings and retrofits can come into play, explores regenerative approaches for buildings and cities, and describes different areas of leverage within current linear systems.

A circular-ready built environment checklist details ways that people and businesses can prepare for a more circular future. A sampling of strategies:

  • Designers—Include circularity requirements in specifications; make reusable elements traceable with “material passports;” design out waste.
  • Contractors—Execute zero-waste construction; audit materials before renovation or demolition to enable sale or onsite reuse of high-quality building elements; facilitate local sourcing.
  • Owners and developers—Develop whole-life carbon goals for all projects; include circularity metrics in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting; appoint demolition or deconstruction experts to the design team to support early consideration of material reuse.
  • Product manufacturers—Phase out embodied carbon and other impacts; take back materials for resale, reuse, or recycling; supply material passports.

Very few items on the checklist can be accomplished by a single actor. Designers, contractors, product manufacturers, owners, developers, and others will typically need to pair up or work in larger teams to take these steps.

Additionally, the checklist only becomes relevant after certain decisions have already been made—in particular, the decision to reuse an existing building or build new.

“Before we try to bring the principles of the playbook into life, first of all we need to think about our situational choice,” said Anna-Vera Deinhammer, dr.techn., of the Circular Economy Forum of Austria. Deinhammer was part of a virtual press conference promoting the report.

“Are we closing the gaps between buildings? Are we doing re-densification?” Deinhammer asked. “Which of our existing stock should we revitalize, renovate, and refurbish?” She also pointed to compact design and soil regeneration as important considerations before digging into the playbook’s strategies, which focus on product circularity and thus assume that other steps have already been taken to reduce impacts before material selection begins. Deinhammer added, “It’s a system change.”

More on circular economy

Can AI Help Close the Timber Loop?

Webcast: Breaking Barriers to Building Material Reuse

Waste Not, Want Not: Case Studies of Building Material Reuse

Existing Buildings Are Architecture’s Future

For more information:

World Green Building Council

Published June 12, 2023

Melton, P. (2023, May 18). This Is What Circularity Looks Like: A Pragmatic Playbook. Retrieved from

Add new comment

To post a comment, you need to register for a BuildingGreen Basic membership (free) or login to your existing profile.