PhD course: Circular economy and the built environment

Governments and organizations around the world are encouraging the transition to the circular economy with measures to cut resource use and reduce waste to make the economy more sustainable and stimulate green growth. The transition is one of the most pertinent, yet difficult, societal grand challenges we face, as it involves major changes in existing patterns of supply, demand, and allocation of resources. This challenge is particularly difficult to meet in the construction industry, as its highly fragmented nature poses a barrier to the common, long-term pursuit of green targets and the diffusion of new approaches that focus on the sustainable supply, demand, and allocation of finite resources. Construction and the built environment are responsible for large share of carbon emissions in the world and is moreover a major contributor to environmental degradation due to its consumption of non-renewable resources, generating nearly 40% of all waste produced, 40% of all resource consumption and being responsible for 40% of global GHG emissions. Approaches to embed circular principles throughout the industry by reducing, reusing, recycling and rethinking waste and resources therefore play a key role in the sustainable transformation of the industry. This process is partly driven by European legislation and initiatives. In the Circular Economy Action Plan, the EU has drawn up guidelines for how to achieve the transition, and the European Green Deal specifically addresses the role of the construction industry, highlighting the need for stimulating the development of markets for circular products and developing cross-sector structures that bring together private and public sectors. Yet, numerous obstacles discourage or inhibit the fulfilment of these ambitions of ‘greening’ the built environment.

Aim and learning objectives

This course introduces and familiarizes participants to a set of analytical perspectives, which can be used to understand the circular economy in context of the built environment. The core idea of the course is to give the participants a systemic and socio-technical perspective on the circular economy and provide an opportunity to engage in cross- and interdisciplinary discussions of contemporary research and concepts within this field. After the course the participants are expected to be able to:

  • Define and apply primary principles of circular economy in a building context
  • Account for sociotechnical perspectives on circularity and sustainable production and consumption
  • Critically analyze and assess aspects of contemporary rationalities, practices, policies, and market mechanisms for circular construction
  • Apply theoretical tools to own projects
  • Discuss and critically assess suggestions for the transition to the circular economy and their viability
  • Apply life cycle thinking to own projects and understand the value of applying material flow analysis (MFA), and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to projects.