Before the virus hit us, there was a lot of attention towards sustainability both coming from the governments and the general public. The Paris climate agreements are one example, the huge amount of new legislations by the various governments are another.

When it comes to these rules and regulations, a lot of attention went to the construction industry and for good reasons. The construction industry plays a vital role in our society and its impact is visible for all to see. It provides roofs above our heads and the infrastructure to make modern life possible. It does this against a cost though, as the construction industry is one of the major polluters. Some estimates state that at least 20% or more of all CO2 emissions can be traced back to the construction industry (as % of all global economic activities). Furthermore, valuable resources and unrenewable energy is consumed.

A lot of manufacturers of building materials now have sustainability and circularity high on the agenda, but to what degree has the demand caught up with the supply? In this article, we will be looking closer at the demand and willingness to pay for sustainable and circular solutions by the principles of European architects and contractors

Demand from an Architectural perspective for sustainability

The image below represents the demand and willingness to invest in sustainability, according to the European architects. Almost 4 out of 10 architects mention that sustainability is asked for and the principal is willing to invest in it. An equal amount of architects state that it’s asked for, but the principal is not willing to invest. In 27% of the cases, it’s not asked for at all.

Obviously, there are major differences between the countries. The lowest demand & willingness to invest can be seen in Poland (22%) and the highest in the Netherlands (54%) and Belgium (52%).

This represents the highest demand for sustainability seen in this research among European architects so far (European Architectural Barometer, this topic is repeated every two years)

Demand from a contractors’ perspective for sustainability

If we now switch from the architectural perspective towards the European contractors/general builders, then we can also see that the demand and willingness to pay for sustainability is also on an all time high. 45% of European contractors state that their principals are asking for and willing to invest in sustainability.  The highest demand can be seen in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The lowest demand is again in Poland.

Circularity, although a newer concept, surprisingly often taken into account in projects

As can be seen in the image below, the demand and willingness to invest in circularity is considerably lower then for sustainability. Circular construction is still a relatively new term/trend and this is reflected in the demand. 70% of European architects mentioned that their principals are not even asking for circularity. When looking at the various countries, German architects experience the highest demand. More surprisingly, the Southern-European countries score quite high as well, whilst this is not so much the case with sustainability.

The real surprise comes when we look closer at the share of projects where circularity is taken into account. This is higher than one would anticipate looking at the demand and willingness to invest by the principles. In almost a quarter of all projects, circularity is taken into account. This means that apparently architects are more pro-actively pushing and promoting circularity, instead of only reacting to market demand. Again, surprisingly, in Southern-Europe, circularity is taken into account in projects the most, closely followed by the Netherlands.

A similar image is visible with European contractors, although it’s not taken into account in projects that often

Just like with the architects, around 70% of the European contractors state that their principals are not asking for circularity at all. The highest demand can be seen in Spain, France and the Netherlands. The lowest demand yet again in Poland. As can be seen in the image below, the share of projects where circularity is taken into account is lower then the architects report. In most countries, it’s around 15%. There are 2 exceptions where these percentages are lower: in Poland and Belgium. Overall, it can be said that European contractors are more demand driven and are not pushing/promoting circularity as pro-actively as their architectural counterparts.

Who will drive the demand?

Both the European architects and the contractors state that national governments have a very important role in making the industry more sustainable and circular, mainly trough legislation. In line with what I said earlier about architects being more pro-active in pushing for more sustainability and circularity compared to the contractors, both groups agree that architects play a very important role as well.

The future

So what will be the future for sustainability and circularity in construction? Well, obviously the current coronacrisis has diminished the attention for sustainability and circularity somewhat, but I think this is only temporary. There is a lot of legislation already in place and the need for a more sustainable and circular construction industry is high. The willingness to pay is however still a bottle neck, but as national governments are pushing more legislation and architects are pro-actively promoting sustainable and circular solutions, this will continue to increase over time. Not unimportantly, from the supply side the manufacturers of building and installation materials are more and more pushing sustainable solutions as well. As always, the construction industry is a conservative industry, but in the upcoming years the trend towards sustainable and circular construction will continue and as more and more legislation kicks in, will accelerate.

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