Towards a more circular world |
Decarbonizing construction

Towards a more circular world

The Romans were experts at it: reusing components and materials from old structures to make new ones. Now, as the construction sector works to decarbonize, such an approach is again gaining traction through the circularity movement. So how can we make effective use of old materials from demolished buildings in new construction projects? And just how can the approach be scaled up? 


In this episode of our Shaping Sustainable Places podcast, we talk with Martin Zemánek and Gustaf Lilliehöök, both of whom have extensive experience with circularity. Martin is the project manager for our ground-breaking Mercury project in Czechia, while Gustaf is a partner with Urban Partners, an investment platform which focuses on making cities more sustainable.


Reusing 80 percent of materials 

Martin explains that the Mercury development in central Prague will do more than deliver 20,000 square meters of office space. It’s the first Czech office building to be built according to circularity principles and is helping to establish an ecosystem within which other circular projects can take place. 
The project centers around the demolition of a brutalist 1971 office tower and construction of a modern office building in its place. Rather than sending the demolished components of the old building to landfill, it is hoped that a remarkable 80 percent can live on and be reused in other projects. This will help decarbonize the project and help us progress on our net-zero commitments. 
Martin says one of the first steps in the process was conducting a pre-demolition audit of the old building to assess what could be reused. The local Skanska team worked with a circularity partner and also sought out businesses who could help adapt waste for reuse, educating them about circularity along the way. 
Examples of materials being reused include mineral wool insulation which is being crushed and used for roof insulation, tiles which have been repurposed as pavers, and wood scrap which has been converted into oriented strand board.


Need for materials banks


Gustaf Lilliehöök is also familiar with the challenges and potential benefits of circular projects. He has been with Urban Partners since 2012 and the platform’s real estate investment company NREP has been working with circular solutions for more than 10 years. 
Gustaf says one of the challenges with upscaling a circular approach to construction is it doesn’t easily fit with current financing models. Investors typically want to know upfront how much the project and its individual components will cost. Because circularity makes use of upcycled components as they become available, this is not a simple process. There is also no certification or regulatory system for upcycled materials. 
One solution would be to create upcycled materials banks where materials can be stored and inventoried for use on future projects. The introduction of certification and regulatory schemes would help build trust in upcycled materials. 
Gustaf says city councils requiring construction projects to incorporate upcycled materials could give a major boost to the approach and bring about rapid change in the sector. 


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