20 November 2018
By Diana McHugh

A social, circular economy - The benefits of a unified approach on construction projects

Traditionally, circular economy principles aim to maximise the value of material resources at the end of their first useful life and reduce waste at each step of the value chain, by establishing process improvements, new business models and redesigning products and services. Simply put, the circular economy aims to minimise waste.


Social value (or impact) is the measurement of the contribution that development projects, investments and other mainstream businesses make to society. In part due to the Social Value Act, companies in the UK construction sector have become more interested in measuring social value, often through the development or support of a social enterprise. It can be argued that social enterprises are key in transitioning from a linear to a circular economy; social enterprises use environmental business values to achieve social good while maintaining financial sustainability.


Meanwhile uses are becoming more commonplace in large construction and regeneration projects, as the social value agenda seeks to keep the local community engaged and the area vibrant during long construction programmes. Meanwhile use refers to the short-term use of under-utilised space during a construction programme to deter anti-social behaviour and provide community facilities and business opportunities, until the buildings are either demolished or brought back to permanent commercial or residential use.


In identifying Meanwhile uses that use waste materials from construction, clients can simultaneously pursue their social and environmental objectives and deliver a true Circular Economy, where waste is dealt with in the upper echelons of the Waste Hierarchy to the benefit of local communities and the local environment.


Two great examples of such an approach are:


- The Kings Cross Skip Garden and

- Frontside Gardens, a temporary skatepark on an unused parcel of land in Hackney Wick, largely constructed largely from waste materials from the Olympic Games.


There are endless opportunities for construction and regeneration projects when a social, circular economy approach is taken. However, due to storage, material segregation and logistical constraints, it is challenging for the developer to do this alone. Support from local councils as well as other key stakeholders such as local volunteers, principle contractors and their waste management providers is crucial.


As the new London Plan emerges, we expect there to be an increasing focus on all thing’s material, as increasingly ambitious waste and recycling targets are set, a Circular Economy Statement becomes a requirement of planning and embodied carbon reporting enters the mainstream.


KLH Sustainability recently embarked on a journey to develop a Circular Economy Strategy for a client with a strong social purpose. This bespoke Circular Economy Strategy aims to reduce waste generation and materials consumption at all stages of the building life-cycle, while maximising social impact and economic return on investment. Through this systems-thinking approach a robust Circular Economy Strategy emerged. Our client is currently phasing implementation of their Circular Economy Strategy into a large regeneration project in South London, including the exploration of Meanwhile uses, delivered as a social enterprise. Stay tuned for KLH’s reflection and lessons learned based on the successful implementation of the Circular Economy Strategy!  

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