From Trials to Triumphs in Building Materials Circularity

Feb 1, 2024

Demand for low-carbon buildings could be three times higher than supply, thereby driving the circular transition. This is just one finding from our panel on circularity in the built environment at the 2024 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Markets and economies all over the world rely on the movement of materials. For instance, for every person in Europe, more than two metric tons of materials such as metals, cement, plastics, and wood are used per year—the equivalent of about 90 bags of cement. On a global scale, materials usage contributes around one-third of total CO2 emissions, which is more than six times the emissions of Switzerland over the past 50 years.

At the same time, materials circularity has shrunk by more than 10 percentage points, from 31 percent in 2018 to 20 percent in 2023. Factors contributing to this decline might include increased waste streams from rapid urbanization and growing populations, both of which are increasing the extraction rates and use of materials. And considering that materials circularity is crucial for reducing emissions, reversing this trend could be an important step in helping the industry move closer to a 1.5° pathway.

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