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Blogs 4 mar 2024

The Netherlands is ready for circular construction

Living in a democracy is a privilege that gives us both strength and voice. Sharing my expertise during the House of Representatives’ roundtable discussion on ‘circular construction’ was an inspiring experience. This topic, which is very close to my heart, formed the core of our discussion.

Preparing for change

Together with other leading experts, Madaster took the lead by presenting its position paper on the subject. It will be absolutely worth your while to dive in and discover our insights and those of the other participants. House committee members used up-to-date information to sharply question us, the experts, and to critically scrutinise and challenge the government. Find out how our contributions led to an informed and dynamic discussion.

It’s the government’s move

The highlights: The Netherlands is ready to take the leap to circular construction. Real estate owners, manufacturers, consultants, architects and developers unanimously agreed that the future is circular, and the time to act is now.

The call to action is loud and clear — it is time for the government to not only affirm but also encourage and embrace this crucial transition towards circular construction. This will require radical reform with respect to procurement policy and a transformation of laws and regulations that encourage circular construction, as well as a strong emphasis on reuse and efficient use of raw materials and energy.

Concrete actions and financial impact — the need for governance

Committee members had been well-briefed by TNO and professors Tom Coenen and Hans Wamelink. They had a clear idea of what circular construction entails. The questions were focused on why circular construction is not yet common practice, what would need to happen to really get this off the ground, and, of course, what the financial burdens and benefits would be.

Using powerful examples, the speakers illustrated the financial impact of circular construction practices. For example, producers of concrete, such as BTE and Bosch Beton, showed that large-scale production is needed to achieve substantial cost reductions. Arend van de Beek of Lagemaat confirmed the importance of such a scale-up in production, illustrated by his wonderful case, in which he became a developer using materials ‘harvested’ from existing buildings. And Onno Dwarsof Ballast Nedam explained how a clear course and vision will certainly lead to financial benefits. He made the comparison with energy-efficient buildings: thanks to the cooperation between government, financiers and builders, energy-neutral houses are now even cheaper than those with traditional heating and energy supply. This shows it can be done!

All experts, incidentally, made it unequivocally clear that carbon pricing is at the core of how to achieve large-scale reuse of materials. Why pay hundreds of millions for capturing CO2 and storing it underground, when the reuse of materials in construction could save an enormous amount in CO2 emissions and new building materials (e.g. hemp, flax and timber) are a great way of storing CO2?

The importance of digitalisation

Digitalisation was yet another importance theme. Madaster, which is the platform in Europe for the registration of materials and products in the construction sector, obviously benefits from further digitalisation. The essence, however, is the fact that it is indispensable and will add real value for the entire sector. Because, these days, the real estate and infrastructure sector is using data and technology in abundance. From computerised design to digital application for permits and quality certificates, such as BREEAMCradle to Cradle and DGNB.

Circular construction is about using and reusing physical stuff — and keeping digital records is a must; not only to measure and report impact in design, construction and maintenance, but also to enable reuse of products when they are removed during maintenance, renovation or redevelopment. For example, take the information that is needed to sell a used car; without a service book, photos, inspection reports and digital mileage, it is worth nothing and a car dealer will definitely not be interested in buying it from you. It is exactly the same with construction products — thus, we need to demand that what is built and renovated is also digitally recorded and preserved for future use and reuse.

Environmental performance tools

Experts also and elaborately explained the government measurement toolbox, including that for the environmental performance of buildings (i.e. Milieu Prestatie Gebouwen). This measurement tool provides each building with an MPG score, which is a valuable benchmark. Madaster also plays a crucial role as an official tool for calculating the MPG. But we also need to point to the impact of, for instance, reuse potential, detachability and embodied carbon. This ‘development’ can also be found in the public debate on timber versus steel, or the MPG score of buildings that contain only new materials versus those constructed using reusable products. Perfect examples of a desired transition that is supported by the sector include the work by DGBC with the Quick Carbon Indicator or by Cirkelstad with Het Nieuwe Normaal.

The future of circular construction

The roundtable session revealed the reality: the Netherlands is at the dawn of a circular construction revolution, ready to maintain and strengthen the country’s leading position. The Netherlands excels in innovation and creativity, drawing global admiration. This is why Dutch circular initiatives are recognised internationally, and why Madaster has the potential to grow not only in Europe but also elsewhere in the world. Experts recognise the economic benefits of circular construction, a sector with great potential both now and into the future. This market is poised to grow, especially if the government contributes to facilitate this development.

The next step

The Dutch Government needs to commit to a forward-looking strategy that focuses on reuse and efficient use of energy and materials, and their incorporation in all policy areas, from research and subsidies to procurement and regulation. It should embrace the impact of financial incentives by actively introducing carbon pricing, increase the impact by seamlessly aligning with digital transformation in design, construction and management, and make digital registration of materials and products mandatory. By being in sync with international and European trends, the country is not only positioning itself at the forefront of circular construction, but is also contributing to the global success of the circular economy.
Let’s shape the future together — a future where sustainability is the norm!

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