Reuse, Recycle and Whole Life

The UK government recently published its response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on the sustainability of the built environment. In its response, the government appears willing to explore whole-life carbon assessments and ratcheting targets to reduce emissions. They say: “Our choice of materials, and the way we design and construct buildings will also need to change to reduce their embodied carbon.”

While we agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment, how it is implemented will be critical. We understand that the government intends to consult on their approach to embedded carbon next year.

Standards already exist in the built environment to assess the environmental impact of products and buildings, notably EN 15804 and EN 15978 respectively. Several voluntary groups have already developed guidance for assessing sustainability using these standards. Unfortunately, all too often these focus on Module A (manufacturing) in the language of EN 15804, and there is a need to ensure any legislation also fully considers the circular economy to avoid any unintended consequences.

Hence, we need a way to distinguish between a good (= circular) and a bad building design and this is where “Module D” as per EN 15804 comes in. Two designs can have the same footprint in Module A, however the demountable and recyclable design distinguishes itself in Module D (reuse and recycling potential). This must be reflected in any legislation.