The built environment needs to move away from the take-make-waste economy. For a sustainable future, a regenerative, circular economy that rewards the reuse of finite materials and resources must take its place.

What is the Circular Economy?

At its simplest, the circular economy prioritises the reuse of materials, preventing the over extraction of natural resources and the number of usable materials that end up in landfill. More widely, it’s an economic model that builds overall system health by gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources. Its visionary principles consider a different way of doing business, placing more importance on regenerating nature, carbon reduction and sustainable resource management than our current system. In practice, it can look as small as a refill hub for groceries in a commercial development, or be more significant like retaining a building’s structure and utilising second hand steel.

Diagram explaining the 5 circular economy principles for construction.

Circular Economy Principles

But for practitioners in the construction industry what does following the circular economy look like? First laid out in our 2019 Circular economy guidance for construction clients the Circular Economy principles for buildings demonstrate how to build circularity in at each lifecycle stage.

Maximise reuse (including refurbish and repurpose)

A. Reuse the existing asset B. Recover materials and products on site or from another site C. Share materials or products for onward reuse

Design buildings for optimisation

A. Design for longevity B. Design for flexibility C. Design for adaptability iv. Design for assembly, disassembly and recoverability

Use standardisation

Standardised, modular elements in buildings are created with less waste and are easier to reuse.

Products as a service

Creating payment systems whereby materials are treated as a service – the contractor pays for the service of using materials not for the materials themselves.

Minimise impact and waste

A. Use low impact new materials B.. Use recycled content or secondary material C. Design out waste D. Reduce construction impacts

How can we enable a Circular Economy?

On an asset or business level the principles empower us to make the decisions that promote a circular economy. However, we need systems change so that all of industry can embrace circularity. As part of our Advancing Net Zero programme, our 2023 report System Enablers for a Circular Economy, identified eight enablers we can harness to create this shift.

  • Collaboration & early engagement
  • Second-hand materials market
  • Design for disassembly/ design principles
  • Green contracts and leases
  • Tax & legislation
  • Green financing
  • Metrics, benchmarks, and indicators
  • Education

Explore the Circular Economy

Circular Economy and Carbon

The Whole Life Carbon Roadmap found that to reach net zero by 2050, we must prioritise reuse in our built environment. Learn more about why this is and how embracing circularity can drive down carbon emissions.

Circular Economy and Nature

The overextraction of resources is one of the prime threats to our natural ecosystems. At UKGBC, we consider how the built environment can harness circularity to reduce the environmental impact of our communities.

Circular Economy Forum

UKGBC is bringing together construction clients and project teams who are applying circular principles on live projects and are looking to share challenges and solutions.

Key resources

News and Blogs

All Circular Economy Resources