The construction and real estate sectors are facing major resource and climate challenges. Nordic countries have been pioneers when it comes to circularity and property owners’ associations, such as Swedish property owners representative association Fastighetsägarna, are at the forefront, promoting circular construction and recycling as part of the solution, and defending that this can also generate positive consequences in other areas.
Fastighetsägarna explains to its members that circular construction benefits both the wallet and the climate and offers a basic course on circular construction and recycling for property owners. The association is also involved in ccbuild.se, which is a project to establish a methodology and market for reused building parts. Rikard Silverfur, initiator of the course on circular construction and head of sustainability at Fastighetsägarna, shared with us that private property sector has a major climate impact and there is much that can be improved and that regarding the Swedish circularity plan, the association supports letting property owners manage their waste in collaboration with the recycling industry. Today all waste from households and part of the waste from commercial properties falls under municipal monopoly and Fastighetsägarna’s commercial members want do more than the municipality provides.
To further contribute to this positive change, the course offered by Fastighetsägarna on Circular Construction and Recycling for Property Owners teaches property owners about what exactly is circular construction and what property owners do to contribute to reducing the climate impact in the construction and real estate industry amongst other things, by providing an overall understanding of what circular construction and recycling is, and what different legal requirements and industry practices affect the possibilities for circular construction. It also provides an insight into how recycling can go into practice, by presenting good examples, tools and guides that support, both at project level and organizational level.
The goal of this course, aimed at those who work in management, operation and maintenance or project activities within a real estate company, is to unlock the great untapped potential in the industry that benefits both the climate and the wallet. The recently completed project Recycling West studied the recycling potential of seven projects, and the findings were the following: a waste reduction of 870 tonnes, 650 tonnes of CO2e in climate saving potential (a climate saving corresponds to the annual consumption-based emissions for about 80 Swedes) and a saving of SEK 6.6 million in built-in economic value. This shows how important and profitable it is to acquire knowledge to dare to try to work more circularly.
Course leader Johanna Andersson at IVL Swedish Environmental Institute explains to property owners that circular construction should be seen as a more sustainable alternative to traditional construction. It is about minimizing resource extraction and waste and thus having a low climate impact. It includes a life cycle-based approach with optimized usage times for building materials and furnishings. The building is seen as a material bank that is designed for recycling. In property management and redevelopment, this means that you work with conservation and recycling in the first place, rather than using new resources.
The course also addresses the many challenges that need to be overcome to promote circular construction. According to Johanna Andersson, when looking specifically at recycling, some of the biggest challenges are that the market is immature, both in terms of products and services. The level of knowledge also needs to be raised and habits and attitudes must change. But there are also forces that contribute to the future of circular construction looking bright as economic incentives and then I think mainly of the rising building material prices. New laws and regulations regarding, for example, procurement and certification as well as various industry agreements also contribute to circular construction becoming important to learn more about. Working actively and systematically with environment and sustainability issues is also something companies like to highlight for marketing purposes because it attracts a young workforce and contributes positively to a company’s image.
The biggest driving force to reduce climate impact in the industry is the growing awareness that we need to work with circular economy where conservation and recycling become the natural approach. Sweden has come a long way in developing towards a circular economy, many are curious, but may not have started working with circular construction and circular property management. The industry can definitely still make progresses and initiatives such as the ones undertaken by Fastighetsägarna are important to foster them.