EU Circular Economy Action Plan: Climate-friendly real estate
The ecological circular economy in Europe
The real estate industry is one of the most resource-intensive sectors. The potential for savings here in terms of material and energy consumption is enormous. Therefore, the circular economy is an increasingly important topic for the real estate industry. In order to implement this on a large scale, uniform standards and norms are crucial. For this reason, the German Institute for Standardization (DIN), in cooperation with the German Commission for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies and the Association of German Engineers, published a so-called standardization roadmap in January 2023. This so-called EU Circular Economy Action Plan sets out technical rules for circular economy and construction.
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Circular construction: Smart, resource-efficient, social
Circular construction serves the purpose of keeping materials in a closed technical cycle for as long as possible, with the least possible loss of quality. This approach saves costs, reduces waste and thus contributes to climate protection in the long term. In addition, this makes the real estate industry less dependent on supply bottlenecks, as the materials used do not need to be extracted and travel long distances, but are rather located in the immediate vicinity. The closed-loop principle involves planning and using raw materials from their first use in such a way that they can maintain consistent quality and be reused. The circular economy is considered an important approach in terms of climate and resource-friendly construction. This holistic planning of the use of raw materials considers not only ecological aspects, but also the requirements for living quality and long-term usability. Thus, the importance of the circular economy also extends to social aspects.
Building sustainably: The cradle-to-cradle concept
The cradle-to-cradle principle serves as an approach to a comprehensive circular economy. All resources used must be used as effectively and cyclically as possible and be reusable without limit. This approach works in almost any industry. In the construction industry, recyclable materials that are free of harmful substances offer ecological as well as economic advantages. The idea behind this concept is quite simple and describes a circular economy that is adapted to the material cycles in nature. Thus, resources are used in an endless cycle. For this to be effective and sustainable, buildings constructed according to the closed-loop principle must meet five criteria. They must be able to be dismantled into their components without leaving any residues and must not contain any toxic or harmful substances. In addition, construction must be as CO2-free as possible using renewable energy, the natural water balance must not be disturbed, and construction activities must be socially acceptable.
Examples of circular real estate management
There are already some examples of the circular economy that demonstrate the benefits in the real estate sector. The circular economy is gaining momentum in Germany, even if it is only just beginning here. One of the most prestigious projects in this country is the planned transformation of Tegel Airport into a new phase of use. All planning and measures are aimed at ensuring the subsequent use of existing resources. The core topics of the project include efficient energy use and climate-neutral energy systems, recycling, clean water, environmentally friendly mobility, networked control of systems, and the use of new materials for sustainable construction. Plans include establishing a university here, using the property as an industrial site, building residential neighborhoods, and creating a large amount of green space.
Obstacles to achieving the EU targets
The greatest difficulty in implementing the circular economy in the real estate sector is currently the very high requirements imposed by the EU. A study by the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB), which examined 38 properties from six countries in terms of their compliance with the EU's Circular Economy criteria, revealed that there is still enormous potential here. None of the participating properties, although almost all were sustainably developed and certified, met the requirements set by the EU, and some met less than half of the criteria. The use of components regarding reuse is proving particularly difficult, as all materials must be at least 15 percent reusable, 15 percent recyclable and 20 percent renewable, reused or recycled. However, such materials are currently not available in sufficient quantities. One way to counteract this would be to develop a so-called resource passport containing detailed information and data on the recyclability of raw materials and maintenance, as well as possible dismantling measures.