Our current linear ‘cradle to grave’ system of thinking has never been sustainable. Each year, the UK construction industry consumes more than 400 million tonnes of material, making it the principal consumer of natural resources, and is responsible for an estimated 37% of all waste and around 10% of carbon emissions. Presently, less than one third of the waste generated from construction and demolition is recovered and reused.
The ‘circular economy’ model involves the redesign of products, supply chain and business models, with the ultimate goal of leaving a positive environmental footprint. In circular construction, residual waste is kept to a minimum by ensuring that products and materials are reduced or reused across the whole supply chain.
Source: ING Economics Department (2017)
By ‘closing the loop’, waste materials can become a valuable, sustainable resource resulting in economic (e.g., employment growth, increased GDP), environmental (e.g., protecting scare resources, reducing carbon footprint) and business (e.g., increased competitiveness, resource security and job creation) benefits.
The built environment is a complex and fragmented system, assets can have long life-cycles and multiple stakeholders operate with varying levels of accountability, ownership and control, often with conflicting priorities. Tight economic margins are making the industry, where SMEs and micro businesses comprise > 90% of businesses, one of the lowest investors in staff training.
In order to embrace the philosophy and principles of ‘circularity’ there is a need to affect a cultural change throughout all aspects of the design, build and maintenance lifecycle. While construction business are undoubtedly always looking to minimise waste on their projects, ‘circular’ language can be confusing and the concept is often dismissed as ‘just another form of sustainability’.
Making the transition to a circular economy requires redesign across the whole supply chain, creating the need for new knowledge, skills and competencies within the workforce. However, current educational and training programmes for circular economy are scant, with most of the existing provision targeted at higher education level students. A better understanding of the vocational skills dimensions of the circular economy is required to produce a construction workforce capable of making the transition.
Cross industry collaboration, education and awareness training (including clear exemplars and best practice case studies) are needed to shift employers’ mind-sets. Extensive stakeholder engagement throughout the entire value chain, is needed to create a shared vision and roadmap for the future, and to develop and deliver industry-specific frameworks and principles. Since qualifications adjust slowly, education and training providers must work in tandem with industry to develop standalone programmes that will catalyse momentum within industry and keep educators up-to-date with emerging workplace practices.
We have partnered with Circular Glasgow, Zero Waste Scotland and other wider construction industry stakeholders to design a standalone ‘Circular Construction’ module that can be used by businesses, small and large, to commence their journey towards embracing the circular economy.
I believe this is a short term fix and a wider culture change is required to create the seismic shift required to move the industry towards the principles of circular economy being embedded within all relevant training and education programmes. The ultimate ambition is for circular economy to become as recognised and ubiquitous as health and safety, as we believe this is the only true path to a sustainable future for the UK construction industry.
About BCTG Construct
BCTG Construct, a CITB funded project, is a consortium of educators, industrialists, and designers who aim to transform the way that construction-based training programmes are delivered in the UK. Hosted by the City of Glasgow College, they are creating a blended learning programme aims to increase productivity, reduce inefficiencies and close the technical and professional skills gap by offering site supervisors an anytime, anywhere learning experience.
To find out more please visit: www.bctgconstruct.co.uk
Linzi Shearer, BCTG Project Manager & Lead Researcher (City of Glasgow College)
Linzi is an experienced researcher and project manager. Linzi is an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) candidate in Sustainability for Engineering and Energy Systems at the University of Surrey, researching how insight from the academic fields of Behavioural Economics and Environmental Psychology can be applied and tested in real world contexts to encourage households to recycle food waste. Linzi also holds an MSc in Environmental Studies, a PG Cert in Climate Change Adaptation and an MA in Psychology. Linzi previously worked as STEM Development Manager for City of Glasgow College and is passionate about STEM promotion and education and, in particular, redressing the gender imbalance within the STEM sector.