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Updated: Jun 16, 2023

With permission we are posting the recording and summary from the third webinar in the PEFC Circular Talks series where SirkTRE was represented on the panel by Kristine Nore in OMTRE.

Moving toward more circularity in construction industry is not a silver bullet issue, but an array of renewed tools and a different mind-set. It might challenge existing business models but offer competitive advantages to the innovative and smart ones.

Yet already a familiar concept, circularity is at its infancy, also within construction industry. To gain insights into barriers and not at least uncover tools and actions needed to achieve more circularity, PEFC Nordic initiated a panel discussion amongst key representatives across entire value chain in Finland, Norway and Sweden. Here are the key take-aways:

The construction sector accounts for almost 40% of CO2 emissions and 50 % of extracted resources. Concrete, steel and wood are the main material categories. First of all, we have to lower our carbon-footprint and maximising carbon storage by our choice of material categories and products. Circular economy is then essentially about using materials in a smarter way and many times over. And new materials, like virgin wood, must come from sustainable sources.

Barriers toward more circularity fall into three main groups: regulations, attitudes and money. Too often, regulations seem to know only fresh new products. Take CE labelling for example, impossible to get on reused wood remarks Anri Linden, head of city planning of Turku in Finland. And we need to change our thinking from “what we want” to “what do we have”.

The linear business model is dominant because it is the most profitable way of doing business, observes Åsa Lindell, national project manager at Byggföretagen in Sweden. It is cheaper to demolish and tear down existing buildings and use new materials. The whole system has to shift; regulations, building processes and business models.

Substantial changes in how we think and do are needed. So, what are changes required?

Better design and architecture are obvious start. Instead of designing for life span of 60 years and cradle-to-grave thinking, we must plan for hundreds of years and think cradle-to-cradle advises Jørgen Tycho, architect and partner of OsloTre in Norway. We can’t have buildings 30 years old impossible to reuse due to poor construction system and floor heights.

And with that comes a key word; flexibility. Buildings must be possible to adapt, renewed and even moved from one place and usage to another. For example, day-care centre one day, elderly home next day exemplifies Mikko Leino, CEO of the producer Puurakentajat Group in Finland. Wood and CLT comes with great flexibility, it even allows some mistakes as it is reasonably easy to repair.

Circularity has to come. We need to think reuse of wood instead of merely use of wood, insists Kristine Nore, research manager at Omtre in Norway. Projects are already on exploring possible new value chains for reused wood. Products of reused wood don’t necessary be the same as of virgin wood. It doesn’t need to be structural products, yet it can.

An important aspect of circularity is more efficient use of materials. First of all, the right material at the right place. For example, what material or combination gives the best climate effect. Then optimization and standardisation come into play. Maybe we should harmonise across the Nordics? At least we should share and learn from each other.

There are also many enablers and drivers on industry level, for example know-how, quality vs guarantee, logistics & stockholding, information-management. There is great potential in the field of AI and virtual tools. With scanning and digital material bank architects and engineers could use this when designing new buildings with reused wood, perhaps with RFID chips.

Changes always come with opportunities. Also, this time around. To foresee more prefabrication is a no-brainer. We will definitely see new production methods, eg modularity and even new business models eg renting. Distribution channels could merge new and old. And for contractors wood industry might represents a new business investment opportunities.

In the end of the day, moving toward more circularity in construction sector is a question of will; political and business-wise. Regulations and policies are powerful tools. What if we forbid demolition or put a price on knocking down? At least we should use public procurement to create markets for reused building materials and circular solutions.

Given timber comes from sustainable managed forests, wood is perfect as material in the circular economy. The Nordic countries are blessed with lot of natural forests, and it is growing every day. Wood is climate-friendly material, light, flexible and great for cascading – for example from load bearing columns, to panels, to boards before burning it. Be smart - rethink and reuse wood.

Kredit: PEFC is the biggest forest certification system in world, having partnership and collaboration at its heart. This article is based on a webinar hosted by PEFC Finland, Norway and Sweden and moderated by Aasmund Bunkholt, Managing director at Trefokus (Norway). Text serves as digest of the conversation among the five panellists, however with only PEFC to be hold accountable.

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