How to calculate the Circular Signature of your building?
Writer : Eric Allodi
Unlike the automotive or aeronautics industry, the construction sector still suffers from a lack of digitalisation and industrialisation of processes. Despite the advent of BIM, the management of construction sites remains complex, which has a negative impact on both the margin and the construction schedule.
These risks are further increased by growing pressure from the population (e.g. Extinction Rebellion) and regulations, even though construction is responsible for 70% of the waste produced in Europe and around 30% of annual emissions (not counting the carbon footprint of the products and materials used).
As an example, the Law for Energy Transition and Green Growth of 2015 establishes that :
– Article 70: as of 2020, waste from building and public works must be recovered in the form of material, and the quantities of buried waste must be reduced by 50% by 2025,
– Article 173: from 2016, information obligations for institutional investors on their management of climate-related risks, and more broadly the integration of environmental and social parameters in their investment policy. This implies that financial institutions should increasingly limit their investments in high climate risk activities and give priority to financing green sectors or sectors in transition to a decarbonated economy.
Finally, the bill on the fight against waste and the circular economy, adopted at first reading in December 2019, emphasises the eco-design of products by introducing a bonus/malus system and encourages the reuse, re-use and recycling of used products.
To meet these constraints, it is now becoming essential to monitor indicators, based on operational data and not on statistical approximations, which will make it possible to measure the waste and carbon impacts of buildings and to optimise their footprint over time. It is the concept of the Circular Signature of Buildings that is the subject of this article.
The circular signature makes it possible to :
– Dynamically measure the carbon footprint of building products and materials, and thus meet the Scope 3 objective of the carbon balance,
– To be able to compare buildings with each other,
– Track carbon progress and circular management of used products as the building is renovated,
– To measure and optimize the degree of non-toxicity of the building, based on the products that make it up,
– Measure and optimize the residual economic value of the building’s components at time T or over 30 years, depending on whether it is built or renovated.
The circular signature is a powerful marketing tool for the developer who can deliver a building with its data and demonstrate its environmental and health impact. It is also a valuable tool for the landowner or lessor who can monitor compliance with his specifications and follow the evolution of his real estate portfolio. Finally, it is an indispensable tool for the Board and its CSR manager who have to produce annual Sustainability reports.
The concept de Circular Signature
In a previous article, I explained how it was possible to reduce the carbon footprint of our buildings through the circular economy.
The answer was in 3 words: Cradle to Cradle, Data, Artificial Intelligence. In summary, to reuse or upcycle the used products/materials of a building, it is necessary to design it as a removable material bank, with healthy and circular products (Cradle to Cradle certified or equivalent), whose properties and next lives are characterized in Circular Passports (Data), and to combine these data to produce circular monitoring indicators and deduce regenerative ecosystems thanks to intelligent software (Artificial Intelligence).
I would now like to go further and detail the notion of Circular Signature. As soon as we have complete circular passports, duly informed deposits and tables for monetizing used resources, it is possible to deduce the carbon, economic, circular and health footprint of a building. This is called the circular signature of a building.
It is an eminently complex subject, and it has taken the company Upcyclea more than 10 years of research and experience applied to buildings and territories in the field of circular economy to produce the software and results that will revolutionize our management of resources and, beyond that, our ecological and social impact.
What indicators does a Circular Signature consist of?
The Circular Signature of a building or muncipality includes 4 indicators:
1- The carbon footprint: this is the carbon footprint of production of the resources of a building/muncipality, from the extraction of raw materials to the final integration of the product, including all the intermediate manufacturing stages,
2- The degree of non-toxicity: this is the proportion of products in a building/land that do not contain CMR substances (Carcinogenic, Mutagenic, Reprotoxic), and whose VOC emissions (Volatile Organic Compounds) are controlled for better indoor air quality,
3- Circularity rate: this is the proportion of products in a building/area that contain recycled materials and whose future lives are defined,
4- The residual economic value of a building’s used resources: these are the savings or revenues potentially generated through circular management of a building’s used resources.
Very few organisations really know how to calculate these indicators. Firstly, because current life cycle analyses are based on generic and partial hypotheses that do not reflect the reality of a building’s carbon emissions throughout its existence. Secondly, they do not have the necessary data to carry out precise calculations. Finally, the drafting of Sustainability annual reports is often entrusted to specialised companies that duplicate the reports from one company to another without any real appropriation by the organisations themselves.
In fact, in the face of complexity, it is a statistical and opaque approach that feeds reports that are often far removed from reality and that will not help us deal with global warming.
But it is possible to react because, in fact, the data exists. Manufacturers are able to measure the circular signature of their products, if the owners or territories require it. It can be collected in circular passports (see article) and verified by third parties so that it can be shared (see below).
Extract from the myUpcyclea library of circular passports and associated pictograms (Tarkett products)
Many manufacturers, often Cradle to Cradle proponents, now fill out passports that will allow construction players to dynamically and transparently calculate their own circular signatures. The following paragraphs explain how.
1- The carbon footprint of a deposit (building or municipality)
The carbon footprint is a measure of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. It calculates the carbon footprint of the production of the products making up the deposit(s) under consideration, from the extraction of raw materials to the final integration of the product, including all the intermediate manufacturing stages. It does not take into account transport, use or end-of-life phases.
The carbon footprint is expressed in total tonnes of CO2 eq. and in tonnes of CO2 eq. per tonne of product:
For the calculation it is necessary to have reliable data from the Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) database or information provided by the manufacturer directly in the circular passport of the product, as in the extract below:
Extract from the passport of the PREGYDRO plasterboard of the company SINIAT
This information is recorded in circular passports. Combined with the volume of products associated with such passports, it becomes possible to calculate the first indicator of the Circular Signature, globally or by categories of deposits considered, thanks to myUpcyclea:
Carbon footprint generated by myUpcyclea (fictitious figures)
2- The degree of non-toxicity (building or municipality)
The degree of non-toxicity is based on the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Standard, the international label for the circular economy, and in particular on compliance with the “banned list” of banned products by the C2C Product Innovation Institute, the public body that pronounces the certification of products based on a dozen evaluation laboratories (including Upcyclea) and a dozen international experts in materials chemistry.
The degree of non-toxicity distinguishes 4 categories:
– Healthy products: These products only contain substances validated as healthy: in addition to checking the C2C banned list (see extract below), they do not contain any CMR substances (Carcinogenic, Mutagenic, Reprotoxic) and their VOC emissions (Volatile Organic Compounds) are controlled for better indoor air quality. This corresponds, for example, to products having obtained a Gold or Platinum level in the Material Health category of the C2C Certified™ Standard,
Excerpt from the “banned list” Cradle to Cradle
– Products with controlled and verified toxicity: The manufacturer declares that its product does not contain any C2C banned list substances above the tolerated thresholds and this has been verified by an independent third party organization,
– Controlled Toxicity Products: The manufacturer declares that its product does not contain any C2C banned list substances above the tolerated thresholds, but this claim has not been verified by an independent third party,
– Products of known or unknown toxicity: The manufacturer has not provided sufficient information on the toxicity of its product OR the manufacturer has declared that its product contains substances from the C2C banned list above the tolerated thresholds.
This information is recorded in circular passports. Combined with the volume of products associated with such passports, it becomes possible to calculate the second indicator of the Circular Signature, globally or by categories of deposits considered, thanks to the myUpcyclea software:
Degree of non-toxicity generated by myUpcyclea (fictitious figures)
3- Circularity rate (building or municipality)
The circularity indicator is the result of an operation taking into account both the previous lives of the materials constituting the deposits considered and the next possible uses for these deposits of used products. This indicator gives the following information :
– The rate of deposits with identified future uses,
– The rate of recycled or rapidly renewable materials incorporated into products,
– The degree of demountability of products and deposits,
– The degree of reliability of the information available in circular passports.
For the calculation it is necessary to have reliable data provided by the manufacturer directly in the circular passport of the product, as in the extract below:
Extract from the passport of the ULTIMA+ ceiling tile from the ARMSTRONG company
This information is recorded in circular passports. Combined with the volume of products associated with such passports, it becomes possible to calculate the third indicator of the Circular Signature, globally or by categories of deposits considered, thanks to myUpcyclea:
Circularity rate generated by myUpcyclea (fictitious figures)
4- Residual economic value of used building components
The financial residual value makes it possible to assess what income could potentially be generated through circular management of the building’s used resources. It takes into account the value of the material at the end of the period of use, and includes the additional costs of clean disposal as well as the savings compared to conventional waste management.
The calculations are made according to 3 scenarios:
– Deconstruction: The residual value corresponds to an immediate recovery of all the used components of the building, from the structure to the furniture,
– Renovation: The residual value corresponds to an immediate recovery of all the used components of a building, except those of the structure,
–Renovation over 30 years: The residual value corresponds to a valuation of the totality of the used components of a building over 30 years, taking into account the frequency of renewal of the various trades during this period.
Example of assumptions for calculating residual values in myUpcyclea
For each of the scenarios, two residual values are generated: a maximum residual value of the used constituents favouring economic profitability, i.e. treating only the percentage of constituents with a positive residual value, and a minimum residual value covering 100% of the used constituents, including those with a negative residual value because their treatment costs are more expensive than conventional waste management.
The minimum and maximum residual values of the building components are cumulated and calculated as a percentage of the material/product acquisition cost:
In a simplified way, the residual value of a building is calculated by accumulating the recovery potential of its used components (via reuse or upcycling), by integrating the expenses avoided and the additional costs compared to conventional waste management, all weighted by the degree of demountability and ageing of the components concerned:
For such calculations, the difficulty lies in associating a used component (e.g. a wooden beam) with the product valuation table that Upcyclea has been building up for years. The solution consists in relying on IA prediction algorithms that will associate passports of used products with “generic passports” in which all the necessary composition, recovery (reuse/upcycling), expenditure and over-cost information will be found.
The use of this information by the Artificial Intelligence functions of myUpcyclea enables the calculation of the fourth indicator of the Circular Signature, i.e. the residual economic value of the building components, as a percentage of the material/product acquisition cost, in high and low hypothesis, for each of the 3 scenarios defined above:
Residual value of the building generated by myUpcyclea (fictitious figures)
The issue of climate change, resource scarcity and health concerns us all. It is also a matter of urgency, all the more so since, each year, around 500 millions sqm are built or renovated in the US.
Each square meter brings us closer or further away from a more desirable and sustainable future, depending on the construction systems we use, the products and materials we choose, … and the way we manage them over time.
But just as the transition from analog to digital has revolutionized the world of industry, the ongoing transition to healthy, circular buildings is likely to revolutionize the world of construction, and thus address our environmental concerns.
myUpcyclea was created to facilitate this transition. Click here to discover its functionalities.