In Interiors – The obstacles to the circular economy in a workspace development project

March 2020

On February 11, the law on the fight against waste and the circular economy was published in the Official Journal, It is the culmination of the circular economy roadmap set by the government with the desire to rethink economic linearity .

The circular economy is defined as “an economic model whose objective is to produce goods and services in a sustainable manner, by limiting the consumption and waste of resources as well as the production of waste” [1].

The circular economy has its place in workspace development projects because many materials and equipment are potentially reusable. But the will is not enough and the brakes are real. We have identified five.


Knowledge and awareness still emerging

More and more building owners are eager to implement an environmental approach in their projects, in particular by seeking certification. But the circular economy is still relatively unknown and it is not easy to know how to translate it concretely into a development project. A framework should make it possible to clearly identify the needs of the contracting authority according to the context of the project and the characteristics of the site. The level of ambition and knowledge of the client will then lay the foundations for the feasibility and the support strategy, which is necessarily personalized.


Behaviors difficult to change

Reluctance to change is still strong, both on the project owner side and the service provider side. Waste management on a construction site is a good example because the subject is not simple. As part of a circular economy approach, the question of waste leads to a global rethinking of the site process and the technical and economic brakes prevent behavior from evolving. When the economic gain is not obvious, when the approach is restrictive, behavior changes little! It is therefore necessary to educate all stakeholders on good practices to adopt, the opportunities offered but also the legal requirements. The brake only becomes an opportunity when it is no longer constrained at all.


Legal and insurance delays

Many materials are excluded from reuse due to a lack of adaptation of the regulations while many could be technically eligible and thus prolong their life cycle. In addition, the lack of insurance and warranty for certain equipment or materials can constrain re-use, particularly at the decennial level. In 2016, ADEME admitted that “platforms or resources dedicated to construction materials and products are struggling to place products with professionals”. The legal framework must accompany political ambitions and the legislator must make it evolve.


Binding implementation

We observe two cases in the implementation of the projects. The first concerns the search for materials on the re-use market. The reuse of construction or landscaping materials requires an additional time-consuming and somewhat tedious effort. It is indeed necessary to check the availability of products, their quantity and their characteristics. It is therefore important to assess whether the additional time required can be offset by the gain in material prices and especially that the approach does not add to the budget! The second case concerns the possibility that we have, after a resource diagnosis, of reusing a certain number of materials on site directly. But materials and equipment evolve quickly and obsolescence is hardly compatible with re-use. Each project is therefore currently subject to the pragmatic rule on a case-by-case basis.


Market still in its infancy

Any new practice requires time to adapt to the market. Admittedly, re-use platforms are being organized, but the volume and choice of materials are not yet sufficient to encourage project managers to resort to them naturally. The time of a development project is constrained and the circular economy approach should not add constraint. But its generalization should naturally lead to a more abundant supply of materials, which will develop demand. Environmental societal demand should speed up the process.

These are still early days, but the circular economy opens up real opportunities to concretely integrate sustainability into a building project, including its interior dimension. It remains for the actors of a project to dialogue and act on their scale …

[1] Ministry of the Ecological and Inclusive Transition