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Blog: Materials passports: bringing the circular economy into the buildings sector

last modified Jun 21, 2018 09:59 AM
21 June 2018 – Annabelle Roblin, Project Co-ordinator for the Prince of Wale’s Corporate Leaders Group explains why EU policy makers should do more to deploy material passporting in order to bring the circular economy into the buildings sector

The building sector is one of the most resource-intensive in Europe - it accounts for half of total energy consumption and of all extracted materials for the EU. Yet around 15 per cent of these materials are wasted during the construction process and more than 50 per cent of materials resulting from demolition are sent to landfill. Meanwhile, a number of buildings across the EU are prematurely demolished or left vacant, because their initial use has finished.

In other sectors increasingly there is more and more discussion of the potential for the circular economy to deliver radical resource efficiency gains. A recent report estimated that a more circular economy can help EU heavy industry cut CO2 emissions by nearly 300 million tons of CO2 per year by 2050 – representing a cut of 55%.

There are clear opportunities associated with a shift to circular economy principles and business models, whereby resources are kept in use for as long as possible and products and materials are recovered at the end of each service life. The Corporate Leaders Group produced a report last year exploring the scale of this opportunity as well as the current barriers to making it reality.

This is why increasing resource efficiency in the building sector is vital, as is developing awareness of the composition of building materials to ensure that renovating a building, for instance, does not create more CO2 than it allows to save.

The EU should look beyond its strong focus on reducing the emissions of materials production processes to consider much more how this can be achieved through making the demand and use of existing materials more efficient.

One of the current obstacles to this, however, is the information gap that exists in relation to the materials used throughout the life cycle of a building. Material passports are an idea that can improve transparency and access to information on the component materials and products used during building construction and renovation, and are an essential tool to bridge that gap, as set out in the CLG’s new briefing paper. 

The opportunities provided by material passports to foster circular and low carbon developments in the building sector through increased transparency, digitalisation and aggregation of data on building materials are impressive, but even better, they come with a range of co-benefits including the potential to help deliver safer and healthier indoor environments through improved knowledge about the toxicity of some materials. 

Policy makers across EU institutions and member states should do more to deploy material passporting, and companies can lead the way and show their support for such approaches. By producing this briefing on this important topic the CLG hopes to encourage action and discussion on all fronts.

 

About the author

Annabelle Roblin

Annabelle has experience in climate advocacy with responsibilities in project and event management, communications, policy evaluation and consultancy.

Before joining CISL, Annabelle worked for ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, where her experience included supporting events at COP21. Prior to this she completed an internship for the Loire-Anjou-Touraine Regional Natural Park in France where she evaluated its climate policy.

Annabelle holds an MA in Sustainable Development and a BA in Politics and International Relations

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