28 May 2020

regenerate - a tool that encourages construction designers to engage with the circular economy

Researchers in the department have worked with industry to develop a tool that encourages those involved in the design and construction of buildings to engage with the circular economy and build more sustainably.

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Our current construction practices are unsustainable, with the built environment emitting up to 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions, and using 60% of materials. Shifts to circular practices such as increased building retention rather than demolition, or designing new buildings for adaptation would enable building life extension and make positive steps to reduce material consumption and carbon emissions.

In collaboration with AECOM, academics and PhD students from Sheffield’s Urban Flows Observatory saw the need for a practical design tool that could be used by designers in the construction industry.

The tool, regenerate*, draws on circular economy principles, which aim for a system that eliminates waste and reuses resources, in order to reduce carbon emissions.  The tool aims to measure and assess how well construction projects fit into the circular building framework.

The framework consists of a series of Circularity Criteria (CCs), which are split into four categories: design for adaptability; design for deconstruction; circular materials; and resource efficiency.  These criteria are then applied to the core building layers: site, structure, skin, services and space.

The framework can be applied to all building types, retrofits and new builds, and also provides practical examples and case study references. The tool highlights design strategies that should be embedded into a construction project to ensure that the least material is used, over multiple lifecycles. It aims to encourage the design of adaptable, deconstructable buildings that make use of existing resources and materials.  For example, building foundations can be designed for future reuse, or if existing buildings are renovated, facades can be stripped away and the fundamental structure retained.

The University of Sheffield’s own Estates & Facilities Management intend to incorporate the tool into all future building projects.  Mark Holden, Head of Estates Development said: "I'm delighted that our project managers have supported colleagues in the testing of regenerate. It has offered useful insights into one of our planned developments where we were able to note recommendations and record findings. We now intend to use the tool on all new projects over £2 million."

And AECOM, who worked with the University on developing the tool, believe it offers an invaluable framework for future construction projects.  Dave Cheshire (regional sustainability director at AECOM) comments: “We conceived and developed this tool with the University of Sheffield to give policy makers and project teams that we’re working with a tangible way to systematically apply the principles of the circular economy to what they do and benchmark their performance. The idea was to answer the question: how circular is your building?  This tool gives an answer which is fundamental to embedding best practice.”

It is hoped the tool will be widely used in the construction industry so that designers can continually assess just how circular their buildings are, from conception to completion.  And whether the building can be sustainably repurposed for future generations.

*regenerate was developed by Dr Danielle Densley Tingley, Will Mihkelson, Charles Gillott (all University of Sheffield) and David Cheshire (AECOM), funded by the University of Sheffield’s EPSRC Impact Accelerator Account.

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