Circular Economy in Construction

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Circular economy in construction involves applying circular economy principles to the building industry, aiming to eliminate waste and keep resources in circulation throughout the entire building lifecycle. This approach promotes the reuse, recycling, and repurposing of building materials, reducing reliance on virgin resources and minimizing environmental impact.

Impact on climate action

Circular Economy in Construction under the theme of Energy-Efficient Buildings transforms climate action by promoting resource efficiency, reducing waste, and lowering carbon emissions in building construction and demolition processes. By prioritizing reuse, recycling, and materials recovery, this innovation minimizes environmental impact and accelerates the transition to sustainable building practices.


  • Design for Disassembly and Adaptability: Buildings are designed to be easily disassembled and adapted for different uses over time, extending their lifespan and reducing demolition waste.
  • Material Passports: Digital platforms and databases track the origin, composition, and lifecycle of building materials, facilitating reuse and recycling.
  • Prefabrication and Modular Construction: These methods can reduce construction waste and enable the reuse of building modules in different projects.
  • Building Information Modeling (BIM): BIM can be used to optimize material use, design for disassembly, and track the lifecycle of building materials.
  • Waste Management and Recycling: Advanced recycling technologies and waste-to-value solutions are essential for recovering valuable materials from construction and demolition waste.
  • Urban Mining: Recovering and reusing materials from existing buildings and infrastructure, reducing the need for virgin resource extraction.

TRL : 5-7 (depending on the specific technology or concept)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Circular Building Design Tools: Software tools and design methodologies are being developed to facilitate circular building design, including tools for material selection, disassembly planning, and life cycle assessment.
  • Digital Platforms for Material Exchange: Online platforms and marketplaces connect businesses and organizations to exchange and trade used building materials and components, promoting reuse and reducing waste.
  • Advanced Recycling Technologies: Innovations in recycling technologies, such as chemical recycling and robotic sorting, are improving the recovery rates of valuable materials from construction and demolition waste.
  • Bio-Based Building Materials: Bio-based materials, such as engineered wood and mycelium-based materials, offer sustainable alternatives to traditional building materials and can be more easily recycled or biodegraded at the end of their life.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Design for Disassembly and Adaptability
  • Material Passports
  • Prefabrication and Modular Construction
  • Building Information Modeling (BIM) Integration
  • Waste Management and Recycling Technologies
  • Urban Mining Strategies
  • Digital Platforms for Material Exchange
  • Advanced Recycling Technologies
  • Surplus Asset Management Solutions
  • Circular Construction Digital Platforms
  • Design for Lifecycle Management
  • Circularity Assessment Tools
  • Designing for Reuse
  • Resource Efficiency Metrics

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. Nornorm:
    • Technology Enhancement: Nornorm focuses on digital solutions for optimizing material reuse and recycling in the construction industry. Their platform facilitates the exchange of surplus construction materials among project stakeholders, enabling efficient resource utilization and waste reduction. Nornorm’s technology includes online marketplaces, inventory management tools, and tracking systems to streamline material transactions and promote circular economy principles.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Nornorm stands out for its emphasis on creating a digital marketplace for construction materials, fostering collaboration and transparency among construction professionals. Their platform offers a user-friendly interface and comprehensive features for sourcing, selling, and tracking materials, making it easier for stakeholders to participate in circular economy initiatives and reduce environmental impact.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Nornorm serves construction companies, contractors, architects, and suppliers seeking sustainable material solutions and waste management strategies. Their platform caters to projects of all sizes, from residential developments to large-scale infrastructure projects, facilitating material reuse and recycling across the construction supply chain.
  2. Rheaply:
    • Technology Enhancement: Rheaply specializes in circular asset management solutions for optimizing resource utilization and reducing waste in various industries, including construction. Their platform enables organizations to inventory, share, and repurpose surplus materials and equipment within their network. Rheaply’s technology leverages data analytics, machine learning, and blockchain to track and manage assets throughout their lifecycle, promoting circular economy practices and sustainability.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Rheaply stands out for its holistic approach to circular asset management, providing organizations with tools to identify, share, and track valuable resources across multiple sectors. Their platform offers insights into resource availability, usage patterns, and environmental impact, empowering users to make informed decisions and maximize resource efficiency.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Rheaply serves a wide range of industries, including construction, manufacturing, healthcare, and education, seeking to optimize resource management and reduce waste. Their circular asset management platform is adopted by organizations of all sizes, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, driving sustainability and cost savings across diverse sectors.
  3. Concular:
    • Technology Enhancement: Concular develops software solutions for sustainable material management in the construction industry. Their platform provides tools for assessing, selecting, and sourcing environmentally friendly materials based on lifecycle assessment (LCA) and circularity criteria. Concular’s technology helps construction professionals make informed decisions about material choices, considering factors such as resource efficiency, recyclability, and carbon footprint.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Concular stands out for its focus on integrating environmental impact assessment into material selection and procurement processes in construction projects. Their platform offers a data-driven approach to circular economy implementation, guiding users toward more sustainable material choices and practices.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Concular serves architects, engineers, contractors, and developers seeking to adopt sustainable and circular practices in construction projects. Their platform is used throughout the project lifecycle, from design and planning to construction and operation, helping stakeholders meet sustainability goals and regulatory requirements.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Delft University of Technology (TU Delft):
    • Research Focus: TU Delft is a frontrunner in research on Circular Economy in Construction, focusing on developing sustainable and innovative approaches to design, construction, and demolition processes within the built environment.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses the entire lifecycle of buildings, from material extraction and manufacturing to end-of-life recycling and reuse. They explore advanced materials, modular construction techniques, and digital tools for tracking and optimizing resource flows within the construction sector. Their interdisciplinary approach integrates engineering, architecture, economics, and environmental science to address the complex challenges of transitioning to a circular construction industry.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in sustainable building design, urban regeneration, and infrastructure development. By promoting circularity in construction, TU Delft’s research aims to minimize resource consumption, reduce waste generation, and promote the reuse of materials, contributing to the creation of more resilient, resource-efficient, and environmentally friendly built environments.
  2. University of Cambridge:
    • Research Focus: The University of Cambridge conducts pioneering research on Circular Economy in Construction, leveraging its expertise in materials science, structural engineering, and sustainable development to advance circular construction practices and principles.
    • Uniqueness: Their research explores innovative materials, structural systems, and design methodologies that prioritize durability, adaptability, and disassembly. They investigate the environmental impacts of different construction materials and techniques, as well as the economic and regulatory barriers to implementing circular solutions in the construction industry. Their research also examines the role of digital technologies, such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) and blockchain, in facilitating material traceability, product certification, and circular supply chain management.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in sustainable building certification, green procurement policies, and circular economy strategies at the local, national, and international levels. By promoting circularity in construction, the University of Cambridge’s research aims to foster innovation, drive market transformation, and promote sustainable development within the built environment.
  3. Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden):
    • Research Focus: Chalmers University of Technology is actively engaged in research on Circular Economy in Construction, focusing on developing scalable and replicable solutions for transforming the construction sector towards circularity.
    • Uniqueness: Their research spans multiple scales, from individual building components to urban infrastructure systems, and encompasses a wide range of disciplines, including architecture, civil engineering, materials science, and industrial ecology. They explore circular design principles, such as designing for disassembly, remanufacturing, and resource recovery, as well as policy frameworks and business models that incentivize circular practices and behaviors within the construction industry. Their research also addresses social aspects of sustainability, such as community engagement, worker safety, and equitable access to affordable housing.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in sustainable urban development, climate mitigation, and social inclusion. By promoting circularity in construction, Chalmers University’s research contributes to the creation of healthier, more resilient, and socially equitable built environments, while also fostering economic growth, job creation, and innovation in the construction sector.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Circular economy principles are being increasingly adopted in the construction industry, with several companies and organizations implementing circular building design, material reuse programs, and advanced recycling technologies. For example, the Circle House project in Denmark is a demonstration project that showcases circular building design and construction principles.