Circular economy: a growing toolbox

The circular economy is gradually gaining ground. Builders, developers and local authorities are multiplying experiments, refining models and documenting good practices. Here is an overview.

Due to tensions on a large number of resources – materials, electronic components, industrial equipment – and a regulatory context tightening environmental constraints (RE2020, Agec 2020 law in France…), the principles of the circular economy are gradually spreading in construction and development practices. All over the world, builders are experimenting with new ways of building, deconstructing, and recycling, even going so far as to imagine multiple lives for buildings which, until now, have had only one use.

Of course, moving from the dominant linear approach to new approaches, aiming at an ideal of circularity of material and energy flows, on the scale of a project, a district, a territory, is not without creating new challenges. New economic models must be invented, the functioning of organizations must be questioned, distant actors must be brought together…

However, there is a great deal of feedback that is helping the construction and development sector move forward on the path to the circular economy. From the field, guides and recommendations provide the keys to new ways of building and developing. Economic and legal studies are multiplying, framing this evolution. Here is a selection.


#Guides and Recommendations

> Building circular development

This 12th “Cahier Pratique” from the Institut Paris Région, published in the 1st quarter of 2021, covers four “compartments” of circular development: building (using circular materials), deconstructing (to initiate circular development), producing (exchanging and transporting material flows and stocks) and saving (material sobriety). It offers a lot of figures (material flow balances) for the Île de France.

Paris Region Institute

> For resource-efficient and circular territories – Lessons and recommendations

In June 2020, the Île de France Regional Energy-Climate Agency (Institut Paris Région) published a study formalising the feedback from experiences in Île de France in the field of the circular economy. This study analyses the factors of success and failure, and makes recommendations, including a list of 5 main material flows to be reduced and optimised.


> Circular economy in urban renewal districts

This “Innovation Notebook” published in January 2020 by the National Agency for Urban Renewal (ANRU) recalls some basic elements of the circular economy (principles, regulatory framework) and, above all, presents 10 sheets detailing projects related to circular urbanism (reuse of building materials, recycling centres) throughout the country.


> What viability for circular economy business models?

In Occitania, ORDECO conducted the survey, in 2019, with around twenty companies, to analyse the brakes and levers associated with their business models, linked to one or more dimensions of the circular economy. The cases are very heterogeneous, but it emerges from the cases analysed that only some of the models specific to the circular economy (product-service approach, recycling…) are, in practice, mobilised by the companies.

Regional observatory of waste and circular economy in Occitania



> Circular economy in the construction industry: A systematic literature review

This systematic literature review, published in July 2020, combed through 45 studies deciphering circular economy models and practices in the construction sector. The analysis points out the research achievements and the questions still open according to 6 major issues: the development of the circular economy, the reuse of materials, the storage of materials, the integration of the circular economy of the building in its environment, the life cycle analysis and the materials “passports”.

Journal of Cleaner Production

> Circular Economy for the Evolution of the Built Environment

Two researchers from the Circular Economy Department of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, Energy offer a short summary of recent progress in the circular economy in the Indian building sector, highlighting initiatives that mark the still modest beginnings of this approach in the Indian peninsula.


> Global greenhouse gas emissions from residential and commercial building materials and mitigation strategies to 2060

In this paper published in October 2021, a Chinese-Dutch modelling team assessed the overall impact of different levels of implementation of circular economy models in construction, looking forward to 2060. In the best-case scenario, the construction sector would still need to halve its greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet the target of no more than 1.5°C global warming.

Nature Communications

> The circular economy, from economic concept to complex legal principles

In this article published in 2019 in the legal journal “Droit et Ville”, the jurist Marie Eude (Maurice Hauriou Institute, Institute for Advanced Study, Toulouse] explores the legal dimensions of the notion of circular economy, late and incompletely, according to the author, enshrined in law.

Droit et Ville

> Nature and dynamics of innovation in new growth models: the case of industrial ecology and the economy of functionality

The economist Céline Merlin-Brongiart (Centre lillois de recherche et d’études économiques et sociologiques) details, in this article published in 2017 in the journal Innovations, the economic mechanisms that are at the heart of industrial ecology and the economy of functionality. The author points out that the economy of functionality is not systematically synonymous with material sobriety, and that its scale of relevance is that of a specific territory.



#Documentary resources

> Urban metabolism and the sober and circular economy

The LABEX Futurs Urbains has set up a transversal working group on “Urban metabolism and the sober and circular economy”, coordinated by the economics researcher Corinne Blanquart, director of the Circular Economy and Urban Metabolism Chair (Gustave Eiffel University).

Futurs urbains


The Institute for the Circular Economy and the CIRIDD, with the support of ADEME and the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, have created an online access point to a wide range of circular economy stakeholders. It brings together regulatory, political and technical news from the sector, publications and announcements and invitations to events organised by its network of partners.



> We have reusable cups, bags and bottles: so why are our buildings still single use?

A young doctoral student in engineering at the University of Sheffield is concerned about this, but his view is nonetheless worth considering: he points out that an ever-increasing proportion of new buildings in the United Kingdom are rightly claiming “green” labels. Except that these projects are environmentally efficient during the operating phase, without taking into account their environmental footprint during construction. A plea to extend the lifespan of new buildings, particularly through reversibility.

The Conversation

> How circular economy can drive greater sustainability and new business opportunities in construction

In one of its recent “Insights”, Roland Berger looks at the circular economy of the construction sector in Europe. It notes that currently only 40% of construction waste is, on average, recycled or reused, but points to very important growth levers, estimating the opportunities of the circular economy at €240 billion by 2025 in Europe, and identifies 10 possible models for the circular economy in the construction sector.

Roland Berger


#We were already talking about it

The circular transition facing the challenge of business models (November 2021)

Building Beyond – Day 5 – Exploring new ways of planning territories (October 2021)

Platforms, accelerators of the circular economy in construction? (June 2021)

On stage – with Sylvain Grisot, author of “Manifeste pour un urbanisme circulaire” (April 2021)

Has circular economy come full circle? (December 2020)

Four jobs of the future for circular lands and cities (December 2020)

Urban metabolism and circular economy challenges on a city-wide scale (December 2020)

The circular economy of the building industry, no going round in circles (December 2020)

Building Beyond, day 2 – Biodiversity, circular economy, decarbonisation: territories and professions in transition (September 2020)

Startup pitches: players in the circular economy – Building Beyond 2020 (September 2020)

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