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Apple’s phone recycling shows how circular principles can transform construction

ISG head of sustainability, Peter Kelly, considers the shifting landscape of public opinion towards circular economy principles.

Peter Kelly, ISG Head of Sustainability

The construction industry, and our clients, should take note of the public reaction to news that Apple uses robots to recover valuable components from old devices to reuse in its latest models.

The overwhelmingly positive support given to this recycling activity suggests that public perceptions and the wider societal narrative about second-hand and used items is shifting from being one of stigma, to instead be considered smart, environmental, ethical and commercial.

"We are only just scratching the surface of the potential for circular principles to transform our sector"

Construction has been recycling materials at the lower end of the value spectrum for years, but now is the time to capitalise on this change in attitude and drive circular principles to greater prominence and acceptance.

The recent UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) publication, Circular economy guidance for construction clients, represents a call to action from the built-environment sector to those clients who wish to increase resource efficiency and reduce waste.

In effect, this document provides the template and catalyst for transformational change in how we procure, design, deliver and operate buildings – and then reclaim and retain their constituent parts at the end of their operational life.

It's important to note the conviction of UKGBC and its partners that our industry cannot bring circular principles to the mainstream alone – not without a radical shift in attitudes and approach from procuring organisations.

The examples of best practice contained within the guidance provide a glimpse of what’s possible, but the commitment of clients to specify concepts such as zero waste, design for deconstruction or even 'servitisation' models as procurement preconditions is the only way we will significantly change the conversation.

Being smarter commercially

Far from being a charter with a laser-like focus on corporate social responsibility and environmental considerations, the guidance explores how clients adopting circular principles are making smart commercial decisions.

Warning against the continuation of a short-term procurement perspective, the UKGBC sets out how a long-term, whole-life cost analysis provides greatly enhanced commercial outcomes, as well as scope to explore and implement modern delivery methods, including the emergence of servitisation models that disrupt the traditional CapEx versus OpEx models.

Underpinning this important document is the need for greater collaboration between clients, contractors, supply chain partners and manufacturers to create a virtuous circle of knowledge and expertise that drives better circular outcomes.

Early engagement, transparency and open-book operations all feature heavily in the guidance as approaches that help promote deeper understanding, support innovation and deliver results.

We are only just scratching the surface of the potential for circular principles to transform our sector; although they have been driven by a desire to reduce our impact on the environment and stop those wasteful practices that see millions of tonnes of material either landfilled or downcycled every year, there is a commercial imperative that is undeniable in this guidance.

Making bold decisions on design principles that support the circular economy at the outset is a template for enhanced productivity, reduced operational costs and better outcomes across all measures.

Will clients answer the call? This compelling document suggests the answer should be clear-cut.

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