The European circular economy: challenges and opportunities for the construction sector

The European circular economy: challenges and opportunities for the construction sector
In its quest for long-term sustainable growth, the EU is focused on building up a circular economy – but what lies in store for the bloc’s construction industry?
It is no secret that Europe is woefully dependent on foreign suppliers for its raw materials needs. These range from the most basic fuels to rare earth elements that are of critical importance for the technologies of the future. In times when the global supply chains are under unprecedented stress, such a dependence carries quite the risk – but also an opportunity for doing more with less.

The construction sector is responsible for over a third of the EU’s total waste – and much still ends up incinerated or buried away in a landfill. As costs for building materials have ballooned in the past few years, the question now stands if Europe can even afford to be so wasteful. This topic goes beyond the monetary, since every waste of material is also yet another preventable source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Waste comes from a variety of streams: those who produce the materials are now focusing on “designing-out” waste, while others have made recyclability a core pillar (and selling point) of their products. However, in order to even end up at a recycler, a myriad of hurdles need to be overcome. These range from the legal status and ownership of the waste material all the way to designing a practicable and ultimately profitable “closed loop” system for its separation, collection, and transport.

The EU wants to go on the offensive when it comes to energy efficient buildings, which will require a wave of renovations to transform the houses we live in. Only a couple months ago, lawmakers in Brussels decided that 15% of the bloc’s housing stock is to be renovated by 2030, with national governments now responsible for providing sufficient incentives to reach this lofty goal.
It is clear that the political side is adamant about pursuing its wide-reaching sustainability agenda. The European construction industry will thus be hard at work in the coming years. It has truly no time to waste as it must keep up with record housing demand while simultaneously building up a system that eliminates inefficiency, saves money, and provides quality that will stand the test of time.

According to the European Commission, the circular economy has the potential to provide 700,000 new jobs and add 0.5% to the Union’s GDP by 2030 – but only if all the parties manage to navigate all the intricacies involved in unlocking the full potential of sustainability.

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