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Circularity in construction can benefit both the environment and the economy

Construction is one of the most important sectors of our economy, contributing more than $148 million to Canada’s GDP in June 2023 alone¹. At the same time, the industry ranks third among greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters² and generates one-third of total solid wastes³. Adopting circular approaches can help the industry lessen its impact on the environment and, at the same time, open new economic opportunities by extending the life and value of materials and resources.

Stack of fallen bricks with concrete from a fallen chimney
Circular economy presents a more sustainable option

The traditional linear ‘take-make-waste’ approach relies on extracting and processing natural resources to create value and discarding products when no longer functional or needed. Out of half a trillion tonnes of virgin materials consumed globally between 2015 and 2021, only 8.6% were cycled back into the economy³. The rest mostly ended up as ‘unrecoverable waste’; in other words, it became garbage in our landfills, plastics in our oceans, and carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

Contrary to the linear model, circular economy principles promote the reuse and recycling of materials in a closed loop, which preserves energy, resources, and materials embodied in products and reduces the amount of waste. A circular economy plans for every stage of a product’s lifecycle, including what happens after it has fulfilled its original purpose. One of the places where the transition to circularity can have a huge impact is the construction sector.

Standards can help realize the potential of circularity in construction

With great challenge comes a great opportunity to make a real impact in both material recovery and GHG reduction for construction. That requires collaboration of experts, novel approaches, and leadership. CSA Group standards solutions can foster cooperation, innovation, and consistency to help the construction sector progress toward more sustainable, low-carbon, and net-zero practices.

Standards supporting circularity in the construction sector have been available for a number of years. First published as a guideline in 1995, the standard CSA S478 for durability in buildings supports construction with materials and elements that can help prevent premature degradation throughout the intended life of the building.

In 2006, CSA Group published the guideline for disassembly and adaptability in buildings, CSA Z782. This guideline encourages design of buildings that considers how the space can be converted and how materials and components can be recovered and repurposed at the end of their useful life.

CSA Group standards also address the end of life of buildings. CSA Z783, a guideline for deconstruction of buildings, provides recommendations and best practices for the recovery of materials when buildings are being torn down so that these materials can be reused with minimal reprocessing.

More recently, a series of CSA Group research studies examined the opportunities to apply circular strategies to existing office buildings and how a whole-life carbon emission assessment of building projects can help inform decisions about whether to demolish and rebuild or retrofit commercial office buildings.

CSA Group’s project supports creating a circular construction ecosystem

Canada can showcase many impressive examples of circularity in construction. Deconstruction demonstrations are being carried out to realize material value in cities like Vancouver and Guelph, and design for disassembly principles are being applied by owners and their design teams across Canada.

However, construction companies are not yet able to fully embrace the best practices and guidance that standards bring forward. In the absence of an ecosystem where they can trade or purchase deconstructed materials for reuse, their options are still limited.

CSA Group has started to explore the need for a standards roadmap on circular economy in Canada’s built environment covering the full value chain in construction, from the extraction of resources and use of materials to construction and deconstruction methods and the diversion of waste from landfills. We are engaging experts in these areas to map the current state and identify opportunities where standards can further support creating the ecosystem for circularity in construction.

A circular construction ecosystem can help shift the construction sector in Canada to more sustainable practices, helping our country take larger strides to reduce waste and carbon emissions and use natural resources in a more responsible and efficient way. Visit our website to learn more.


¹ Gross domestic product at basic prices, by industry, monthly, Statistics Canada, 2023
² A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2021
³ Circular Economy & the Built Environment Sector in Canada, Delphi Group, 2021

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