Climate Mitigation from Circular and Sharing Economy in the Buildings Sector

The buildings sector is a major consumer of energy and resources throughout the entire life cycle of the buildings (materials sourcing, design, manufacturing, distribution, consumption, disposal) with corresponding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The contribution of the sector is therefore key to achieving ambitious climate targets. In particular, to maintain global warming below target of 1.5 °C, a carbon dioxide emissions reduction of 9 Gt is required just from the global building sector (Wang et al, 2018). This will need to be achieved by a reduction in energy consumption and decarbonization of electricity production. Equally substantial reductions are required from the other life cycle phases: materials production, construction and demolition phases, which are typically accounted as changes in the industrial sector. The improvement of resource flows through a Circular Economy (CE) approach that includes reducing, reusing, recycling and recovering materials and products, facilitates a decoupling of growth from resource consumption (Kalmykova et al, 2018). This can provide clear advantages from an environmental perspective, contributing to Sustainable Development Goals and to climate change mitigation. However, the literature has identified that despite a global trend of improved operational performance, there are rising “embodied” emissions from processing and manufacturing of building materials. Industrial recycling and energy recovery are the most common practices, even when reuse is believed to have higher economic and environmental value (Eberhardt et al, 2019). The Sharing Economy (SE), offers several opportunities for the building sector by promoting reuse, enabling shared ownership, access or use to increase the utilization rate of products and systems (e.g. shared accommodation, social spaces, offices or tools). Recent literature clearly highlights for the building sector the urgent need for a range of actions across the life cycle such as reduced operational and embodied impacts, as well as strategies to increase alignment of goals and action from numerous stakeholders along the value chain (Röck et al, 2020). This needs to be implemented with specific reference to people, cultures and norms in which the strategies are deployed. The pressure on the sector to embrace its role as provider of critical climate mitigation solutions, is expected to increase. There are however few explicit links to sustainable development and climate mitigation, and little common ground for the variety of analytical approaches and tools. The main aim of the CE in the literature is considered to be economic prosperity, followed by environmental quality; its impact on social equity and future generations is rarely mentioned. Circular and shared economy imply the adoption of cleaner production patterns, an increase of producers’ and consumers’ responsibility and awareness, the use of renewable technologies and materials as well as the adoption of suitable policies. It applies to different systems levels from the macro (neighborhood, city, region, nation and beyond) to the micro level (consumer, product, company). It requires the engagement of all actors in society and their capacity to create and exchange transformative patterns. In all, transition to the era of circular and shared economy aligned with climate goals requires more knowledge on the necessary changes in household’s behavior, design practices, construction and de-construction methods, business models and legal frameworks (Laurenti et al, 2019). This Virtual Special Issue (VSI) calls for new research contributions on mitigation potentials from the Circular and Sharing Economy in the buildings sector worldwide.

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Last updated: 2021-05-17

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute

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