If the UK is to make a low carbon recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, then it’s essential that we reuse more materials and renovate existing buildings rather than constructing new ones, according to researchers from the University of Sheffield.

The call, made by engineers in the University’s Urban Flows Observatory, is in response to the built environment emitting up to 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions and using 60 per cent of materials. With the UK’s current construction practices being seen as unsustainable in a low carbon recovery, the University of Sheffield researchers have developed a new tool that could be used to design and construct buildings more sustainably. 

Developed in collaboration with the infrastructure firm AECOM, the tool draws on circular economy principles, which aim to eliminate waste and reuse resources in order to reduce carbon emissions. Named Regenerate, the practical design tool can be used by designers in the construction industry and aims to measure and assess how well projects fit into the circular building framework.

The framework consists of a series of Circularity Criteria (CCs), which are split into four categories: design for adaptability, design for deconstruction, circular materials, and resource efficiency. These criteria are then applied to the core building layers: site, structure, skin, services and space.

Dr Danielle Densley Tingley from the University’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, who led the design of the tool from Sheffield, said: “If the UK is to make a low carbon recovery post-Covid-19, then it’s essential that we implement more sustainable practices in our construction industry. Shifts to circular practices such as increased building retention rather than demolition, or designing new buildings for adaptation would enable building life extension and make positive steps to reduce material consumption and carbon emissions.

“We hope the tool will be widely used in the construction industry so that designers can continually assess just how circular their buildings are, from conception to completion. And whether the building can be sustainably repurposed for future generations.”

Mark Holden, Head of Estates Development at the University of Sheffield, added: “I’m delighted that our project managers have supported colleagues in the testing of Regenerate. It has offered useful insights into one of our planned developments, where we were able to note recommendations and record findings. We now intend to use the tool on all new projects over £2 million.”