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Embrace the circular economy to #MoveTheDate of Earth Overshoot Day

Earth Overshoot Day was July 29th this year, which means the global population is now using more natural resources than our planet can renew in a whole year. As of now, that gives us another 154 days of eating into the planet’s ecological overdraft before we start the count down again.

It sounds like an extreme predicament, but the body behind the metric – Global Footprint Network – believes we can act to mitigate it, pushing the date back to December 31st to represent equilibrium with ecosystem regeneration. As a major source of carbon emissions, the built environment has a major role to play in delivering this.

Our normal mode of living, which relies on the consumption and disposal of energy, water and materials, means we are on track to vast resource depletion, wide scale accumulation of solid waste in landfills and waste mountains, pollution across all natural cycles and, of course, global warming and the resultant climate change.

The behaviours driving the change are systemic across our lives and industries, and to common practice in the development and management of buildings.

While government regulations for sustainable construction are running late and still not ready to be issued, leaders in the building industry should be proactive to shape a restorative environment, both socially and ecologically, which fairly consumes and distributes resources.

Some parties are making these steps. But for those who aren’t, how should they proceed?

The circular economy has recently gained momentum among industry professionals and the media as a solution to waste and carbon reduction. Yet our industry is still far from closing the waste gap, because of a deeply ingrained culture of disposal which is hard to transition to a ‘reuse, recycle, repurpose’ model. This is a potentially complex transition, on which TFT is working with the UK Green Building Council to create guidance for the industry to navigate.

The pursuit of a fully circular economy involves safeguarding resources, minimising waste and considering local labour – which requires thinking more broadly beyond traditional silos.

For instance, our industry is well aware of regulations and design guidelines which set targets for energy efficiency and thermal comfort in use. However, the design approach often makes these targets hard to achieve, or even works against them.

One issue is the disproportionate amount of glass often used for tall and medium density buildings, which is not in line with the basic principles of energy conservation and environmental architecture. This design can lead to a higher energy demand to achieve optimal thermal comfort, causing additional carbon emissions in the process.

We need to design for the climate and location the building will be in, allowing enough flexibility to account for climate change adaptation in any future refurbishment. This will help to reduce our buildings’ energy demand and air pollution, with a positive contribution to thermal comfort as well.

Better collaboration and systemic understanding of the drivers and challenges to account for is essential to making the changes required to get our industry closer to circular economy.

TFT is currently involved in supporting our clients to define their climate change impact and reduce it by sustainable practices and procurement and energy efficient measures across the whole life cycle of a building.

We know that lifestyle changes can contribute to reduce global heating but changing our approach to the work we do can take longer and have a far bigger impact. As more developers and investors recognise how sustainable practices can be integrated to the built environment, we can as an industry help #MoveTheDate back to equilibrium, the 31st of December.