ArticlesInfosPicture of a series of buildings representing the built environment placed along a circular spiral

In the current, linear economic system a take-make-waste approach is evident, which concludes with a product reaching its endoflife and being disposed of in a landfill. On the other hand, a circular economy approach aims at eliminating waste and shifting the focus to the continual use of resources. Certainly, it is possible through a more regenerative approach.

Let’s now consider the built environment. The circular design in the building construction is a necessary first step to take in implementing a circular economy approach. That is to say, it is critical to design the infrastructure for simple maintenance, longevity, easy refurbishment, and remanufacturing. Likewise, attention should be paid to recycling and biodegradation. As mentioned by an Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s report, it is essential that the development of new business models focus on providing services rather than selling products and buildings.  

It is crucial that circularity is not only implemented during the design and building phases but as well during the usage and exploitation ones. Experts, such as Van Renswoude or Rood, argue that “product as a service” business models allow for a change of perspective. Following such models, the product – in this case, a building – does not change ownership from manufacturer to consumer upon sale. On the contrary, it remains owned by the manufacturer. The relationship between all the actors involved will change when buildings and everything in it are offered as a service.

Digitalization in the Built Environment

As frequently indicated, to implement circularity, it is crucial to apply a systems-thinking approach. This holds true in the built environment as well, where all parties have the potential to benefit. To efficiently manage long-term relationships with clients, collaboration through digitalization among all services along the value chain is of utmost importance. This is why digital platforms allow all stakeholders to cooperate well beyond the construction process. Indeed, they can collaborate on the usage phase of the infrastructure and long after.

Material Passports

Currently, most of these platforms are focusing on tackling resource scarcity by fostering the sharing economy or end-of-life management. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation mentions some examples. These are library tools, material tracking systems, sharing platforms, and second-hand markets as possible options. According to a study performed by Carra, material passports play a critical role. These are documents containing all the materials used during the construction phase of a product. They are very useful because they allow stakeholders to have a clear overview of the materials of the building.

A material passport includes an explanation of materials that in return give them value for recovery, recycling, and re-use. This is of absolute importance in being able to successfully make use of the residual value of all materials used when the end of the lifecycle of the building nears.  

LIV as a Digital Solution

Material passports often do not allow for combination or integration with Building Information Modeling (BIM models). BIMs are an important, shared knowledge resource. They provide insight and tools for more efficiently plan, design, construct and manage buildings and infrastructure. However, these are generally stagnant and don’t consider the usage part of the building. This means material passport does not mention the changes that occur to the infrastructure during its usage phase. Consequently, this can lead to discrepancies down the line and unfortunately make this asset less reliable.

Smart products and the Internet of Things (IoT) can provide crucial maintenance and repair information to their owners. This will ensure timely maintenance, repairs, and refurbishment. Moreover, users, and not just owners and suppliers, must be aware of the circular building principles they live in. LIV is one property management software solution that embraces the idea of creating a more holistic picture of a property. The use of the app allows all parties involved in the usage phase to store all necessary data pertaining to the building. This will allow for better communication between all stakeholders as well as the more natural value conservation of the properties.