Polly Gourlay- Phillips MIEMA has been working hard on our circular economy construction working group, helping add her expertise to shape and design the latest ERO model for the construction sector and shares updates and case studies in her blog.

Over the last few months, I have been supporting the IEMA Circular Economy (CE) steering group to create an Extended Resource Ownership (ERO) model for the built environment sector. We have gone back to basics by defining CE-related terminology and creating a clear plan for adopting a circular economy when designing, building and deconstructing. With such a diverse breadth of knowledge and experience amongst the IEMA group it has been a real privilege to learn from one another and share real-life examples of where this has worked well.

Personally, working for a construction start-up Qflow (whose core ethos is supporting our clients to be more resource-efficient), adopting circular practices is a no-brainer, the challenge has and remains to be making this as simple and cost-effective as possible. Unfortunately, this industry is very good at lamenting missed opportunities, and significantly less effective at sharing best practices. We hope that the ERO model guidance will provide a terrific tool to provide tangible examples where this has worked and can easily be adopted. We would love to hear more examples of CE principles being adopted in practice.

I have had the pleasure over the past 18 months to work in an inspiring and collaborative environment. I have worked closely with our clients to understand their pain-points and support them in finding more efficient and resourceful solutions. One of the wonderful things about sustainability professionals is their passion and stubbornness to challenge the way we do things and look for more innovative ways to tackle problems. I wanted to share a few examples of CE-related initiatives that our clients are adopting in the hope that this will generate ideas, conversation, and (most importantly) the opportunity to influence some real and much-needed change!

Consistently we hear from clients (and see via data) that during the fit-out stages of construction projects can generate the largest amounts of waste leaving the site to be incinerated or landfilled, a large proportion of this is packaging waste. For this reason contractors such as Bouygues UK and Multiplex are using the Proplex Closed Loop Remanufacturing Scheme to tackle this problem. Proplex is a temporary protection material for high value finishing products, used to protect during transport, storage, and installation. Too often on construction sites we see perfectly good materials being thrown away because they have been damaged or scratched during transport or whilst being stored on-site. Protec is the only manufacturer and supplier that offer a complete Closed Loop solution, diverting site waste from incineration and landfill. This is done via a 7-stage process where the Proplex is taken back, cleaned and recycled back into new Proplex sheeting. Commercial gains include, not having to remove this as a waste as well as the reduced carbon and CE benefits.

Another example we see many of our clients using is Pallet Loop, a circular pallet distribution model for wooden pallets, where currently the UK construction industry sees a reuse rate of less than 10%. Pallet Loop removes the need to harvest 4,500 acres of trees per year which feed the current linear pallet practices. There are also significant local and sustainable procurement wins using this product.

On the High Speed 2 Main Works we are working with Strabag, Costain and Skanska Joint Venture (SCS JV) who are using CELSA UK recycled low CO2 footprint steel. CELSA recycles over 1.2M tonnes of steel each year and 100% of scrap comes from the UK, with 98% of raw material being recycled scrap. From an energy and carbon perspective, they are the most efficient in the UK and EU and use an electric arc furnace for all production steel.

Another client, Landsec is ensuring their contractors are reusing stillages and packaging materials for prefabricated insulation panels on their flagship Net Zero building The Forge. Another slightly different and less urban project is re-using old straw from a neighbouring farm to treat contaminated soils in situ.

Hopefully the above has given some ideas and inspiration for ways in which to adopt simple CE initiatives in the construction or design process. Exploring this with our clients it was exciting to see the variation in CE related initiatives being rolled out by sustainability professionals, hopefully being able to capture more of these in one place will allow idea sharing and a wider deployment of the circular economy and our successful transition to beyond Net Zero.

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the contributing individual, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated.

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Polly Gourlay-Phillips MIEMA

Polly Gourlay- Phillips (MIEMA) has been working hard on our circular economy construction working group, helping add her expertise to shape and design the latest ERO model for the construction sector. Polly’s a Sustainability Lead for QualisFlow, a construction start-up, and shares a wealth of experience in working with different clients in their journey to circular business practices.


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