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Applying Circular Economic Principles to Reduce Embodied Carbon


This chapter explores the connections between the circular economy and the reduction of embodied carbon. Circular economic approaches focus on maintaining the value of materials for as long as possible. A circular economy seeks to keep materials in circulation, removing the concept of waste from the system and the need for material extraction from primary sources. In a completely circular economy, all ‘waste’ outputs would equal system inputs. If the built environment is thought about in this way, as a system, then the inputs are construction materials, and these materials accumulate in buildings, which can also be thought of as the stock. Demolition waste is the output flow of materials in this system. This concept can also be extended to embodied carbon. Construction materials are input flows of embodied carbon. These emissions are new to the system. The adoption of circular economic design approaches that facilitate longer building lifetimes, greater component and material reuse can reduce the input flow of embodied emissions and ensure already expended embodied carbon remains in stock. This chapter commences with a review of the key literature on the circular economy in construction in general terms and provides an overview of four related design strategies: building reuse, material reuse, design for deconstruction and design for adaptability. A series of ‘good practice’ case studies illustrate the respective strategies across a range of structural types. Each case study is used to provide practical insights on project processes, drivers, enabling conditions and the perceived benefits and challenges of adopting circular economic approaches. These insights are drawn from semi-structured interviews with members of each design team, supplemented by supporting literature. The chapter concludes by drawing out common lessons of how circular economic approaches can contribute to the delivery of a low carbon built environment.


  • Embodied carbon
  • Buildings
  • Circular economy
  • Principles
  • Material reuse
  • Case studies

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The authors would like to sincerely thank all those who gave their time up for interviews. The contribution of the second author was supported by the Research Council UK Energy Programme through the Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (grant number EP/N022645/1). The third author was supported by an EPSRC PhD studentship, grant reference EP/L504920/1.

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Correspondence to Danielle Densley Tingley .

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Densley Tingley, D., Giesekam, J., Cooper-Searle, S. (2018). Applying Circular Economic Principles to Reduce Embodied Carbon. In: Pomponi, F., De Wolf, C., Moncaster, A. (eds) Embodied Carbon in Buildings. Springer, Cham.

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