Giovanni Impoco, Circularity Lead, IGBc.

GIOVANNI IMPOCO, Circularity Lead, Irish Green Building Council, writes about how the IGBC is supporting the construction industry’s transition to more sustainable practices and details some of the programmes it has introduced to facilitate greater circularity within the sector.

One-fifth of all the enterprises operating in Ireland are in the construction industry, employing nearly 160,000 people (CSO, 2023). As one of the fastest-growing sectors and with 500,000 homes to be delivered in the next decade, our industry has a vital role to play in delivering the infrastructure we need. Doing so while remaining within the planet’s ecological boundary presents a significant challenge: Our sector is both carbon and resource-intensive.

Circular Built Environment Roadmap

Construction and the built environment are responsible for 37% of Ireland’s national emissions. This comprises about 23% operational emissions and 14% embodied carbon emissions from the production and transport of construction materials, construction processes, maintenance, repair, and disposal of buildings and infrastructure (IGBC, 2022). Construction and demolition (C&D) waste is also the largest waste stream in Ireland, with 6.2 million tonnes produced annually (EPA, 2021).

A different approach to the current linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economic model is needed to support Ireland’s green transition while delivering the homes and infrastructure we need. This transition is already supported through several policies adopted in recent years, including Ireland’s Climate Action Plans, the National Development Plan, the Whole of Government Circular Economy Strategy, and the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy.

Transitioning to more circularity in construction can bring several benefits to society. It can provide economic opportunities by unlocking economic gains in material savings and new job creation, especially in the design, reverse logistics, and investment spaces. In addition, Irish organisations can benefit from increased resilience, both in terms of costs and security of supply and from a transition to new and innovative business models to match growing green consumer demand.

Definition of circularity in construction

When applied to the built environment, circularity is defined as: “The design, construction and demolition of a building in such a way that it incorporates not only the high-value use and reuse of materials, and an adaptive and futureproof design, but also ambitions for sustainability in relation to energy, water, biodiversity and ecosystems at the building and area level” (EIT Climate KIC, 2019).

This definition differs from the better known: “Reuse materials as much as possible to reduce waste, eliminate the emissions from reprocessing, and conserve materials through their extended use” (Kirchherr et al, 2017).

One specific challenge in this transition is that the construction sector is highly complex. Its supply chains are fragmented and involve many parties with different purposes. It also relies heavily on subcontracting. On medium- and large-size construction projects, the main contractor may have over 40 subcontractors and suppliers.

A lot has changed in the construction sector and its supply chain in the past few decades. For instance, the tender selection process is no longer based on price only. Significant changes in different supplier selection criteria have been introduced, such as performance in terms of sustainability. Cost, quality and delivery time are also taken into account, as well as social, environmental and ethical considerations.

These changes happened because the construction supply chain is characterised by high customer influence and project uniqueness – Each project is tailored to its customer’s requirements. In recent years, the focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting and new regulations, such as the EU taxonomy for sustainable activities, have also led to a greater interest in circularity.

The supply chain has had to adapt to this changing environment. It reacted by redesigning its structures and replanning its performances with a stronger focus on long-term impacts, resilience, innovation, and sustainability.

However, a few issues remain to be addressed:

  • There is limited overarching information available on the use of material stocks and flows along the construction value chain
  • Data at the different stages of the value chain on resource use and environmental impacts are missing or partially missing.
National Circular Built Environment Roadmap workshop event.

Developing a National Circular Built Environment Roadmap

In line with this need, the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC) is currently developing a ‘National Circular Built Environment Roadmap to 2040’, which will set out key milestones, targets, and stakeholder responsibilities. This work, developed through the CircularBuild initiative, with support from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), involves an extensive engagement process with the industry and its value chain.

A first series of workshops in Dublin, Cork and Limerick brought together professionals from the whole construction value chain with different expertise and roles. Financial institutions, insurance providers and manufacturers, designers, contractors, representatives of academia, and local authorities contributed to the roadmap’s development by providing feedback and expertise.

The workshops aimed to deliver a series of actions, strategies, and timelines for their implementations at different levels. Key learning so far includes:

–  Thinking and acting circularly early in the process is critical for saving resources and avoiding waste generation and associated emissions. This is key to reducing costs and improving processes.

– Switching from ‘value capture’, the process of retaining some percentage of the value provided in every transaction (eg,recycling), to ‘value creation’, the process of turning resources into something valuable with work, is crucial. This can facilitate innovation and the creation of new business models.

– There are general challenges in adopting and implementing circular economy principles, starting from lack of information, lack of digitised data, poor collaboration, circular material supply risks, negative public perception and a lack of market readiness.

The project team will be in touch with stakeholders again in the next few months as they will be disseminating a questionnaire to determine the awareness, knowledge, attitudes, and current practices of the Irish construction sector about circularity. Interested stakeholders will also have the opportunity to provide further feedback during the public consultation on the draft roadmap and on specific toolkits being developed for circularity.

Construction Material Exchange (CMEX)

One of the tools developed by the IGBC to support circularity is the Construction Material Exchange (CMEx). This pilot project is an online platform that allows trading, exchanging and reusing of construction materials. The marketplace aims to ensure materials continue to have a value beyond their initial life cycle. Since the launch of the pilot, more than 130 companies have shown their interest in using the platform. The IGBC is now trying to scale up operations, ensuring a critical mass of high-quality, high-volume materials are made available on the platform. The next phase will also include an awareness campaign to engage the main stakeholders in the sector and the use of AI technology to widen the scope of exchanges.

Build Green Now 2024

The supply chain has a vital role to play in transitioning to a more sustainable and circular built environment. Its critical function will be extensively discussed at Build Green Now 2024, the IGBC’s national conference dedicated to sustainable building, which will be hosted on 03 May at Croke Park (Dublin). Urban planner and writer Sylvain Grisot ( will talk about the importance of better using and reusing of our building stock, while Patrick Daly, Lecturer and Lead Researcher, TU Dublin; and Patrick Moloney, Market Director, Strategic Sustainability Consulting, Ramboll; will focus on actions needed to reconfigure the supply chain for a more circular construction industry.

Other topics to be covered include ‘Transitioning to zero-emissions buildings’ and ‘How the new European policy landscape will impact the industry’.

For more information on Build Green Now 2024, please visit

Organisations interested in learning more about Circularity in Construction and the development of the Circular Economy roadmap and CMEx platform should contact Giovanni Impoco, Circularity Lead, IGBC, by emailing

Irish Construction News, Latest, Opinion, Sustainability