Criteria for buildings

Embedding circularity in the criteria of buildings

Buildings are not only one of the largest assets managed by city governments, they also have a large carbon footprint over their lifecycle and generate a lot of waste. Circular economy strategies could reduce global emissions from the construction and demolition of buildings by 2.1 billion tonnes of CO₂ by 2050.

Your city governments can, for example, make better use of existing buildings through space sharing models so that fewer new buildings need to be created. Your municipality can also procure the refurbishment and retrofitting of older buildings so that they meet new standards. This can also include procuring access to light, flooring, as well as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). City governments have the ability to optimise the economies of scale for this type of business model as most providers cite lack of demand as a major barrier to scale at the moment.

When you decide to procure new buildings instead of using the spaces that already exist, consider the sorts of materials that could be used. Reusing materials and choosing recycled materials is one approach but for those virgin inputs that are needed, looking to switch to regeneratively sourced inputs (where appropriate) will be critical. When procuring new buildings, consider ensuring that they are designed for flexible use and eliminate waste during the construction and deconstruction phases. If a building has to be deconstructed, your municipality can also promote the reuse and recycling of building materials so that they don’t end up in landfills or incinerators.

Cost efficiencies can be achieved when circular procurement criteria and outcomes are included as early as possible, allowing for a lifecycle approach to building projects. Further cost efficiencies can be achieved by pooling together tenders for lighting, fit-outs, or refurbishment to achieve economies of scale and cost reductions. When it comes to large-scale construction projects such as hospital buildings, your city government can make use of public-private partnership performance frameworks or Design-Build-Finance-Operate (DBFO) procurement models to help mitigate and share risk.

By applying circular economy principles to criteria for procuring new buildings and throughout a building’s life cycle, your city government can support its climate targets, improve material efficiency, and strengthen your local economy, while meeting the urban needs for built space. Your city can also embed circular economy principles into planning legislation and building codes to help encourage wider adoption of circularity among other developers in the urban space and to multiply its benefits.

Questions to consider:

  • Design + Can you incentivise the redesign/refurbishment of existing buildings for new uses? + Can you incentivise more circular design of buildings (e.g. modular design, designed for disassembly and reassembly, consider changing user needs)? + Can you use certifications such as cradle-to-cradle, EPD, LEED, or BREEAM for the criteria + Can you require that the geometry of the building is documented through open Building Information Modelling (BIM)? + Can you use Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) as a price criterion?

  • Materials + Can you procure construction materials that enable circularity (e.g. mono-materials, locally-sourced, low-carbon, made from recycled content, or regeneratively produced)? + Can you have a take-back scheme or extended producer responsibility with material manufacturers/suppliers? + Can you require the use of life cycle analysis (LCA) to choose the construction materials that will be used? + Can you require that a digital material passport is created for the building?

  • Construction techniques + Can you incentivise more circular construction techniques (e.g. use of reversible connections, prefabrication, and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC))? + Can you require the reduction of transport of bulk / heavy materials from and around the construction site?

  • Operation + Can you have product-as-a-service leasing agreements with manufacturers and suppliers for the procurement of services and maintenance of the building? + Can you use the following circular real estate business models: flexible spaces, adaptable assets, relocatable buildings, residual value, or performance procurement?

  • Deconstruction techniques + Can you procure a deconstruction contractor to recover materials from the building at the end of life? + Can you arrange for the sorting of materials on the deconstruction site?


1) The Ecobarrios in the City of Bogotá aim to reduce the environmental impacts through sustainable practices while improving the livelihood of families. The participatory project promotes the use of green infrastructure, such as the use of native species on green walls and roofs as well as urban gardens, and material efficiency.

2) When the City of Brummen procured the extension of their city hall, the winning proposal offered a 20-year service contract for a modular extension that could also pilot “building as material banks” practices. The extension was designed for disassembly and reuse, and made use of high-quality, renewable, and re-fabricated materials. At the end of the contract, building components can be returned to their suppliers.

3) From the outset, it was decided that the design of the new Venlo City Hall would be cradle-to-cradle (C2C) certified. The design tender included a brief to provide the most innovative vision for a C2C town hall that would benefit people, the environment, and the economy. The tender also included a take-back scheme for high-quality furniture that would be easy to disassemble, repair, refurbish and reuse, and use non-harmful materials

4) The Mayor of London has released its 'Designing for Circularity Primer' to help support organisations in the built environment sector to understand how they can embed circular economy principles into their projects and design processes. Also, London’s spatial planning strategy – the Mayor’s ‘London Plan’ – requires all developments above a certain size to produce a ‘Circular Economy Statement’, detailing how they will minimise lifecycle impacts and the consumption of resources and carbon.


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