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We are ready for circular construction; the brakes need to come off

Circular, energy efficient, resource efficient, carbon neutral, material passports: the market has many concepts ready and operational to get started on improving existing and new projects in the construction and infra sector. Let innovation and circular construction be the norm. Set regulations that are in line with this pathway and encourage Dutch market players to reform and innovate, both nationally and internationally. Further research and debate on standardisation and norms will be even more valuable if circularity becomes the standard. So, let’s start with circular construction; the brakes need to come off!

  1. Change is required — clear direction will act as a catalyst for success
    Some aim for circular construction or biodiverse methods or want to target carbon emissions, yet others wish to go digital with AI in industrialised construction processes. All these ambitions lead to the conclusion that the construction sector is willing to change and will benefit from innovation. In this respect, circular construction is a catalyst for multiple results — from flexibility to biodiversity benefits and from digitalisation to emission reduction. Efficient use of energy and raw materials through reuse, both today and in the future, is sensible in all cases and will strengthen our economy and export power.
    Therefore: Promote innovation that is aimed at the efficient use of energy and raw materials and call it circular construction.
    How: Ensure that procurements, research funding and grants are conditional on a demonstrable improvement in reuse.
  2. Digitalisation is essential and pays off
    Efficiency, verification, governance, quality: although the Dutch building sector is as old as our economy, these days digitalisation is a must for a sector as large and complex as modern construction. Designing, planning, purchasing, reporting — everything is done digitally. The technology is abundantly available, but collaboration within the chain does not always directly benefit individual parties. At first glance, it may even seem to involve certain risks and there are always learning and start-up costs. But digitalisation and innovation are precisely the things that create opportunities and lead to success, particularly in the longer term. This can be seen in how the Netherlands is regarded a global leader in circularity, with examples such as CB’23 and Madaster.
    Therefore: Adopt policies that steer towards digitalisation, so that information becomes available and will be preserved.
    How: Require information to be recorded and stored in digital format.
  3. Whenever you are building or managing, do it well
    If you enter into a contract, make sure it meets the principles of circularity. In other words, no waste, no toxins and suitable for reuse. Keep it simple and do not get bogged down in doubts about standards, norms or definitions. Each new contract — and there are many of them — offers an opportunity, particularly for government authorities.
    Therefore: Be aware of what is being procured and clearly define the contract agreements about waste, toxins, environmental (carbon) impact and reuse.
    How: Before entering into a contract, demand insight into waste, toxins and reuse.
  4. We are prepared for circular construction; the brakes need to come off
    Architects, manufacturers, builders, investors, developers, policymakers and consumers know the possibilities. Not everything can be done, but certainly more than we are doing today. Past regulations, ingrained habits, old interests, existing subsidy schemes and limited experience are causing delays and further research. In particular, when linear construction methods remain allowed and change-related costs can thus be avoided.
    Therefore: Prevent any delaying and avoiding tactics — make circularity the norm and linear methods the exception, rather than the other way round.
    How: Make circularity mandatory and change rules and regulations that slow down reuse.
  5. Determine the course, the market will do the rest
    Sector players continuously see and experience opportunities that support circular construction. But there is also uncertainty about possible changes in regulation, new government, or unfair competition with players from other countries not complying with the rules and thus taking all the profits. So, determine the course and make clear — as a government body or business client — what is required, so that the market can act accordingly.
    Therefore: Clearly state that reuse and efficient use of energy and resources are the norm and that circular construction will pay off.
    How: New products and materials should be taxed heavier than reused ones.

Madaster is a platform for registering the materials and products used in both new and existing buildings and infrastructure. Our platform generates material passports, calculates MPG and detachability, provides input for EU Taxonomy and CSRD reports, and shows the salvage value of materials. Madaster started in 2017 in the Netherlands, is now active in 7 European countries, and has registered millions of products and >25 million m2 of real estate and infrastructure.

This position paper was submitted by Madaster to the members of the Dutch parliament and explained by board member Pablo van den Bosch during the roundtable discussion on ‘circular construction’ on Wednesday 28 February 2024. Read more on his blog ‘The Netherlands is ready for circular construction’.

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