LCA and the Construction Circular Economy

  • YEAR
    Tabrizi, Toktam
    2021 Symposium Abstracts
    Conference Papers


At the global level, the building industry is recognised as one of the main contributors to the depletion of natural resources and waste generation. The built environment is one of the major causes of air and water pollution, solid waste, deforestation, toxic wastes, health hazards, global warming, and other negative consequences (1-3). Existing buildings consume more than 40% of the world’s total primary energy, account for 24% of global CO2 emissions and civil works and building construction consume 60% of the raw materials extracted from the lithosphere. Moreover, buildings are responsible for 40% of all waste generated, 40% of all material resource use and 33% of all human-induced emissions (4, 5).

The shift from the current linear economy of take, make, use and dispose to a restorative and regenerative system is promised by the Circular Economy (CE) concept. CE encourages minimising resource use, waste, and emissions by narrowing, slowing and closing material loops. It can be effective through buildings life cycle by efficient resource use, temporally extended use and cycling (6). CE strategies such as reuse, repair, refurbish, recycle and recover are used for operating the CE concept through buildings life cycle (7).

The methodological approach of this study consists of a qualitative and descriptive literature review. A descriptive and thematic analysis of the data examining how the LCA method can help designers to understand CE in construction and explore the potential of applying this concept at the early stage to minimise the construction impact on the environment. This study aims to highlight the benefit of applying LCA at the early design stage due to application of circular design strategies. The work commenced with the identification of main drivers in construction CE by studying the very recently published reviews for measuring CE in construction industry. Then, the author has implemented her own knowledge and practical experiences of applying LCA method at the early design stage to highlight the relationship between LCA and CE in construction industry.

The construction industry is approaching the concept of the circular economy in various ways and thinking amongst designers and consultants, companies, suppliers and industry bodies. The literature review shows that the main thrust of the initial approaches have been dominated by focus on construction and demolition waste management and resource management, recycling possibilities and reuse potentials, technologies and future development programs and the waste management legal framework. The change towards circularity business in the construction industry requires a systemic thinking to understand the entire life cycle of the building and the potentials and barriers from each phase of a building life cycle. Application of LCA method at the early design stage provides the following prospective framework for sustainable construction with evolving CE concept: reduction on construction waste based on a lean production chain and involving better stakeholder integration, design with attention for ensuring recyclability of materials, utilization of by-products in the production of new materials or components by reusing the materials, reuse of replacement parts and components, encourage the design of adaptability for another cycle with different application, design for disassembly to improve the end-of- life deconstruction, the use of tracking system for gathering information, tracking locations and life cycle to facilitate the materials or components being put to another cycle after dissemble or deconstruction (8-10).t.

The CE concept is a shift to a system where we regenerative natural resources, design out waste and pollution, and keep products and materials in use. Application of the LCA at the early design stages enables designers to investigate the potential of every phase of a building life cycle to reduce material consumption and reduce waste, promote reusing and recycling, minimise greenhouse gas emissions, enable eco-design, promote a safer supply of raw materials and encourage innovation and growth.

[1] Bruce-Hyrkäs T, Pasanen P, Castro R. Overview of Whole Building Life-Cycle Assessment for Green Building Certification and Ecodesign through Industry Surveys and Interviews. Procedia CIRP. 2018;69:178-83.
[2] Cabeza LF, Rincón L, Vilariño V, Pérez G, Castell A. Life cycle assessment (LCA) and life cycle energy analysis (LCEA) of buildings and the building sector: A review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 2014;29(0):394-416.


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