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Mindset shift required on end-of-life products

By SAMANTHA DAWE. COMMUNICATION and collaboration are key in enabling the move to a circular economy approach.

While the need to rethink the way we approach both the build and fit-out of each category of our commercial buildings to meet targets around climate change is acknowledged within the industry as a whole, how this change happens is not as clear cut. While government and regulation drivers play a large part, they’re fundamentally one part of a giant jigsaw.


The March 2022 edition of Futurebuild was billed as an event to help inspire the change needed to propel the construction industry to net zero. Previously called Ecobuild, its ongoing mission according to the organisers is to ‘cultivate cross sector collaboration to inspire the transformational change needed to propel the construction industry to the ambitious goal of achieving net-zero’.


Net zero for this purpose refers to a state in which the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere. The term net zero is important because – for carbon dioxide at least – this is the state at which global warming is predicted by scientists to stop.
Actually, CO2 along with methane and nitrous oxide are major greenhouse gases that cause concern. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for up to 1,000 years, methane for about a decade, and nitrous oxide for about 120 years.


Shifting to renewable energy, putting a price on carbon, and phasing out coal are all elements in reducing carbon emissions. But ultimately stronger and broader emission-reduction targets are necessary for the preservation of long-term human and environmental health. But back to considering the role buildings and fit out play specifically in this whole movement to change, what do we need to consider and collaborate on?


How to enable a circular economy approach?
Over the past year we have been speaking to a range of stakeholders in our industry about net zero and what sustainability means to them, including through the critical lens of enabling a move to a circular economy.


In working through with these contacts how we could apply the elements of a circular business model to a traditional business model, a core initiative has been our work with strategy, transformation and innovation business, Insight Futures, led by Doug Morwood.


Readers may recall in January CFJ we shared some of the findings of the first phase of this work undertaken through a survey that we supported entitled: How might we de-risk the move to a circular economy for the built environment, in Scotland?


Now we’re able to examine the results of a second phase of this work, which through the same survey process sought to examine How might we… in England and Wales? Again, in this phase of work a key objective was to identify the motivations and barriers for the adoption of circular business models including how to create, deliver and capture value to companies.


We also looked to explore the state of industry readiness in light of any future policy, regulation, and taxation changes. Conducted with stakeholders across the built environment, as a supplier and manufacturer of flooring solutions with a UK manufacturing base, we undertook this initiative to gain a deeper understanding of how we might work together and can collaborate with other stakeholders to enable the move to a circular economy approach.


Our focus on the circular economy forms one of our four points of ambition that company-wide is our sustainability focus called People Together, Planet Forever. The other points of ambition are reducing carbon impact; material health; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Together they form what we consider a holistic way of looking at how we as a business can support the preservation of long-term human and environmental health.


Second survey results
For this second phase of the survey, a quarter of the respondents were contractors, with the remaining split pretty evenly between professional services firms, main contractors, designers, and representatives of public bodies, with a small group of developers too.


Of interest are some of the correlations between the two surveys and what they tell us about an appetite for change. In terms of a commitment, we saw more than 80% of respondents cited that the circular economy was part of their company/organisation’s strategy. All respondents saw the need for change (100%).


This positive response reflected the results of the survey undertaken with the stakeholder groups in Scotland, again with 80% saying a strategy commitment was in place, and with 99% of respondents seeing the need for change.


However more than 60% in England/Wales and Scotland, both phases of our survey, said the benefits of a circular economy approach weren’t well communicated and understood. Another barrier was cited by more than 60% in England/Wales, and again a similar percentage in Scotland, as the fact clients and others value engineer out circular aspirations for sustainable projects.


Clear themes from both surveys Insight Futures concluded were:

  • a huge gap in terms of training and support among the different stakeholders
  • a lack of knowledge and understanding of the internal benefits of circular economy and why it’s worth the time, cost, and capacity away from business as usual to drive it forward
  • the need for integrated knowledge and learning is important for the sector to move forward collaboratively; and
  • better understanding of the number of initiatives taking place in relation to the construction industry that focus on training; central data gathering, analysis and use; and supply chain optimisation – all of which provide an opportunity for organisations to take part.


Where next?
In the second survey 96% agreed in some capacity that procurement teams are slow/resistant to change. In today’s media-hyped world, it would seem one answer is a need for practical, easy-to-understand cost-efficient solutions as a way of meeting the challenge and overcoming some resistance. Or is the need more to be able to attribute real value to the circular economy approach? The answer is likely to be both.


For the latter it would seem there’s change happening. CBRE Research’s global report (October 2021) on environmental, social, governance (ESG) & real estate: Top 10 Things Investors Need to Know highlighted that many investors are formally including carbon neutrality objectives in new investment strategies, and that energy-saving/net zero goals are the new normal. Another core trend was ‘green leases’ between landlords and tenants to meet certain environmental objectives will become a more common tool for investors to monitor and drive the environmental performance of their real estate assets.


For the former do we need to look at some innovative approaches to make this a reality? One of our recent initiatives has been to partner with IOBAC UK highlighting the role adhesive-free flooring installation can play in a move to a circular economy approach for commercial interior projects. Following site and internal testing, we’ve approved IOBAC MagTabs as a preferred adhesive-free installation method.


MagTabs offers a new option for installing flooring products that contributes to a cradle-to-cradle way of thinking and a shift to a circular economy approach. This includes a wide variety of floorcoverings to be installed adhesive-free to raised metal access floors and IOBAC’s magnetically receptive range of underlays and resins.


Adhesive-free installation represents a different way of thinking about flooring installation – moving it from single-use to a flexible design element that can be reused and repurposed several times before being recycled. This also gives flooring adaptability to today’s flexible space requirements, whether that’s rental properties, flexible work environments or pop-up retail spaces.


A main aim of the circular economy is to design waste out of the economic system. This requires a mindset shift from thinking of end-of-life products as discardable ‘trash’ to instead being a valuable source of materials. For copies of either of the reports from the ‘How might we’ surveys, email infouk@shawcontract.com.
www.shawcontract.com
Samantha Dawe is marketing director
for Europe, Middle East and Africa at
Shaw Contract

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