Let’s go circular within the built environment!

For a better, sustainable future, we need to change the way we build. And to change the way we build, is exactly our ambition with the Drive 0 project. We wanted to give a project a good kick in the right direction from the start and therefore decided to organize a symposium on circular renovations on 24 Oct 2019 at Brightlands Chemelot Campus (after 2-days consortium Kick-off meeting). 

Decarbonization of the EU building stock is one of the most important and complex fields to achieve a decarbonized European society in general. While the built environment is responsible for 40% of final energy consumption in the EU, embodied energy in buildings accounts for up to 60% of the building’s life cycle energy, with collateral embodied CO2. Within the EU more than 50% of all extracted materials are attributed to buildings. The exploitation of natural resources and its collateral environmental impact is a serious threat to the natural, social and economic systems in the EU.

Renewable energy technologies as well as reuse and recycling of resources/materials are needed to overcome this challenge. Therefore, a transition to both a deep and circular renovation of the total European building stock is necessary to meet the challenge of decarbonization.

We need a circular change. 

Drive 0 Symposium, 24 Oct 2019

Circular renovations could play a key role in decarbonization of our building stock. To increase the amount of circular renovations, these need to be attractive for consumers and investors, as well they need to be environmentally friendly and cost effective. Sounds ambitious? 

It is. But we decided to start addressing this challenge together with around 100 participants during the open Symposium day on the 24 Oct 2019 at the Arthur auditorium at Brightlands Chemelot Campus.

The Drive 0 symposium day was filled with speakers that addressed together with the audience the importance of circular renovations. We agreed that if we want to achieve a full decarbonization of the built environment, it is not only enough to address it from operational perspective with energy efficiency improvements, but we also need to look at the embodied energy in materials and consider the building’s context in a broader sense. 

Michiel Ritzen

Michiel Ritzen welcomed everyone at our first open symposium on circular renovations organized as part of the kick-off meeting of this H2020 European research project. As a Senior Researcher at the Sustainable built environment department at ZUYD he was the moderator of the symposium. On behalf of the organizing committee (Huygen, ZUYD and Brightlands), he wished everyone a fruitful conference and many more inspiring discussions that will follow.

Welcome by the organizers

Hans Gaalman, the Real Estate Director at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus gave a warm welcome as a host of the symposium. He explained the need and the importance of transitioning to circular economy within the built environment and why Brightlands is taking a lead in this transition. 

Ana Tisov, our coordinator from Huygen Engineers and Consultants gave the second welcome to the Symposium. She gave a short introduction to the Drive 0 project and explained on how we want to Drive decarbonization of the EU building stock by enhancing a consumer centred and locally based circular renovation process in the coming 4 years of the project.

Ana Tisov

EU support to decarbonization

Philippe Moseley, the Drive 0 Project Advisor from EASME, spoke about the EU support to decarbonise the building stock. He explained on how the mitigation against climate change is high on the European Union’s policy agenda. He showed the different European Commission programmes that support activities and projects accomplishing actual transition towards more energy efficient society and sustainable future. He explained that only looking at it holistically, we can achieve the real impact and value – transparently, meaningfully and permanently.

Building owners need affordable circular solutions

Spryridon Pantelis, Project Officer at the International Union of Property Owners (UIPI) presented the view from UIPI on the circularity in the built environment. He explained that the architects, designers and engineers concerns are not necessarily the concerns of the building owners when it comes to circular renovations objectives.

He summarized that the building owners are looking for affordable, non-toxic, lasting solutions that are done for and with them. Therefore, as long as circular solutions will not be affordable, it is hard to expect a massive uptake of circular renovations EU wide. As the Drive 0 project presents a solid strategy and concept that could actually tackle this, UIPI joined the project.  

Drive 0 symposium audience

Circularity in social, public and cooperative housing

The view from social, public and cooperative housing on circularity in the built environment was presented by Sébastien Garnier, Project Manager at Housing Europe (European federation of public, cooperative and social housing associations). He also emphasized the need for affordable social housing where this means we still need adequate business and financing models. Ultimately circular economy is about retaining resources and thus value and should be able to generate cost-efficiencies for (long-term) investors and people.

Furthermore, he explained a need to create awareness among communities and work with people-centred approach in mind where we need to generate tangible and direct benefits from a resident’s point of view. 

He gives few examples showcasing how circularity is one of the next frontiers of social and affordable housing in Europe.

John van Oorschot

From theory to practice in Limburg

John van Oorschot, ZUYD Researcher at the SUPERLOCAL circular project showed us how to come from circular theory to circular practice based on their project experience. 

He explains why the ‘’business as usual’’ is not working on long term and ‘’take, make, dispose’’ linear processes are bringing destabilization. He emphasizes that we need to look at the building as an asset, material bank. But how to apply circularity in the built environment, traditional building sector, in everyday construction and renovation practice?

The ambition of the SUPERLOCAL circular area development is to reuse the materials of vacant high-rise apartments in Bleijerheide – Kerkrade for the construction of around 130 new homes and the design of the public area.

Housing corporation HEEMwonen, Municipality of Kerkrade and Zuyd are working together with other local parties (including the City Region of Parkstad Limburg) on ​​a method to reuse the high-rise apartments by circular construction and recycling. One flat is currently being demolished sustainably, the materials released are being reused in the project area.

SUPERLOCAL contributes to a sustainable, low carbon, resource efficient economy by creating high-quality, desirable urban environment and affordable housing opportunities based on breakthrough innovative material and social circular solutions.

Circular buildings in Flanders

Prof. dr. ir. arch. Griet Verbeeck from Hasselt University talked about circular buildings and its potential in Flanders, Belgium. She stressed out that energy efficient buildings, LCA (life cycle assessment), circular buildings and so are not sustainable in itself. Therefore, we need to look at the problem holistically and address circular buildings within the circular economy. The importance of design for change lies with respect to reversibility and modular design. 

She explains that even within the butterfly diagram (Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation, 2015), we are paying too much attention to reuse and recycling where there is still dominance of technological building materials (concrete, brick, glass, metals, plastics,…), materials from technological production processes.

There is underrepresentation of bio-based building materials (wood, straw, flax, bamboo, earth, reed, grass, also new bio-based building material). In the end, these are the only materials with real potential as they can be be harvested from nature and to be digested by nature.

She concluded that we need to look with an open critical point when addressing circularity in the built environment to ensure we end up within the social and planetary boundaries of the doughnut (Kate Raworth, 2017).

Griet Verbeeck

Circularity in Germany 

Alina Kretschmer RWTH Aachen University Junior professor for Recyclable Construction talked about the status quo and perspectives for circularity in the building sector in Germany. She presented the current limitations for consumers:

  • Limited acceptance of products from secondary raw materials;
  • Knowledge gap: Market contains confusing information;
  • Limited product selection;
  • Building owner is legally responsible for disposal – no incentives;
  • Free access to environmental data.

As for the industries, the following problems can be identified:

  • Economic advantages using primary raw materials;
  • Product responsibility doesn’t include end-of-life scenario;
  • Innovation demand;
  • Marketing strategy “green washing”.
Drive 0 symposium

Furthermore, she presented the stakeholders groups playing the major roles in the sustainable building sector and touched the current laws and guidelines that are hampering real uptake of circular construction in Germany.

She explained what kind of opportunities Germany has with remaining resources and what are their goals and developments plans of environmentalism. She presented the potential of recycling other circular perspectives we can foresee for future. Few examples on how we can harvest materials in future to ensure strategic circular planning were given. 

The Dutch circular building agenda

Elphi Nelissen as a chairman of the transition team, which operates on behalf of the Ministry of the Internal Affairs, presented the Transition Agenda. 

The Dutch government has globally set the tone with the recent publication of the Transition Agenda for a circular construction sector. She presented their 3-step strategy to go from now to: 1. Efficient use; 2. Sustainable Use and 3. Reusable Use. To achieve the Circular Netherlands targets until 2050, they have four priorities that will be followed until 2023 to set the foundation for further circular applications:

  1. Development of demand, supply and market;
  2. How to measure circularity in concrete terms?;
  3. Policies, laws and regulations that do not hold back, but stimulate;
  4. Creating knowledge and awareness.


Elphi Nelissen

She presents some of the most important actions so far:

  • All government procurement circular in 2030;
  • Approach reduction CO₂ emissions in construction;
  • Decision in 2020 on mandatory materials passport;
  • Subsidy for circular business and revenue models;
  • Continued development of uniform measurement method
    for circularity;
  • Processing circularity in government building standards;
  • International positioning and cooperation;
  • Building circularly as an integral part of education in 2023;
  • Establishing a circular knowledge institute.

She emphasizes that cooperation between the Dutch government and research projects as ours are necessary to establish network-driven actions. More collaboration will be therefore sought also through the Drive 0 Stakeholders and Advisory Board to ensure sufficient exchange of lessons learnt.  

Make circularity profitable

Sabine Biesheuvel gave a presentation about BlueCity and talked on how to build your business within the circle economy principles. She presented the story of BlueCity and explained the opportunities as the bottlenecks they faced when establishing this circular accelerator. It gave a valuable insight on how other entrepreneurs make circular solutions attractive from the business perspective and learn from them. 

Sabine Biesheuvel
Chantal Jorissen

Redesign your product for circularity

Chantal Jorissen, Director Product Marketing at the DSM Niaga, told their story and how circular design makes the world goes round. She shows example of toothbrush where the innovation led it to become a complex product. She explains that innovation design is not necessarily circular. 

She presents their circular steps where it is important to follow:

  • Keep it simple;
  • Clean materials only;
  • Use reversible connections. 

She presents their example where they are reusing old carpets together with Niaga reversible adhesive to form a circular product. In the end, the importance of using the right business model should not be underestimated when introducing circular solutions if we want the real solution uptake. She presents the differences where we can capture product-based (buy-sell back) or service based value (product as a service). 

''Be afraid of the guy with the duct tape!''

The closing keynote is given by Ruud Koornstra, Dutch entrepreneur who encourages everyone to not be afraid of dreaming big and wanting a positive change, even if this is at the moment ‘just another dream’. Something that two generations ago sounded like a science fiction is today a science fact. Therefore, we have to think which science fiction we would like to become a reality. 
He concludes his presentation by reminding everyone that next time when designing, thinking, doing, using etc. apply RE: re-design, re-think, re-do, re-use. 

Ruud Koornstra