Circular Construction

Published on Monday, 24 October 2022

Circular Construction is framed within the principles of Circular Economy and aims to reduce the use of virgin raw materials and reuse products whenever possible. It also has an impact on the intelligent use of built-up space. The goal is to design homes, neighborhoods, highways, and larger engineering structures to meet the needs of both people and the environment.

The adoption of a circular economy in construction is gaining headway. The sector is responsible for a large part of the use of natural resources, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy and water consumption. Its diverse activities lead to an intensive consumption of raw materials and the production of a large amount of Construction and Demolition Waste (CDW). The sector is estimated to be responsible for 54% of global waste in operations and packaging.

Despite the urgency, switching from a linear economic model to a circular one implies changes in complex paradigms, so the process has been slow. The first step in this transformation was introducing concepts like Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle as guiding philosophies for top construction companies. This is because they already understand waste as a financial loss and see materials as a precious bank of raw materials that can be reused to maximize their circulation within the economy.

Brazilian Context 

According to data from the Brazilian Center for Sustainable Construction, Brazil alone represents 75% of the consumption of natural resources, 12% of potable water, and 50% of electricity. The results of the National Civil Construction Index (SINAPI) survey concluded that, during the pandemic, the construction industry grew by 8.30%, led by the renovations and the new role played by homes during this period.

The construction sector accounts for 7% of the Brazilian GDP and is responsible for several impacts, as already mentioned. Therefore we must evaluate the CDW problem as one of the most significant issues in the production of waste in Brazil, identifying the need for innovative and sustainable strategies. The greatest challenge is to develop constructions that allow for the reuse of materials in new cycles, with the same or higher quality, in a process known as upcycling

The predominance of scrap proves just how hard the sector has been to keep materials in the supply chain. Considering how to use all materials must start with the project design so that all materials continue to be used in cycles with the same or higher quality. It is essential to propose new construction processes that do not have such a negative impact on society and the environment to change the current scenario and involve the entire production chain, better-trained professionals, and investment in innovation and technology.

Currently, there is a solid push to rethink the circularity of this industry, led by three significant components. The first ESG criteria (Environment, Society, & Governance) involves banks' and investors' increasing demand to verify companies' compliance and reputation in ESG management and mitigate potential risks. The second aspect is related to a circular economy from the perspective of innovation through identifying and incubating businesses that help bridge gaps within the chain. The last component is associated with a final user who is conscientious of the products and their uses to minimize the environmental impact and potential harm to human health.

A successful transformation means using sustainability as a lever for innovation in the construction system and supply chain to expand the possibility of business continuity.

Sustainable Construction Sites: Large-Scale Solutions


The sustainable construction site is based on two pillars intrinsic to Enel's sustainability vision: the creation of shared value (CSV) and circular economy. The challenge is implementing a new substation construction model, and other distribution works considering the local reality. In a large-scale project integrated with different vendor areas, a pilot project began to build the Lagos Junction Substation in Rio de Janeiro.

The company's different areas, contractors, and vendors were able to identify improvements to the construction process. Also, adopt methodologies and monitoring indicators to detect opportunities to reduce the project's impact on the site. For example, advancements in the excavation, earthworks, and construction methods or potential reuse of materials optimize costs.

With this, they identified innovative improvements to the processes. They obtained significant earnings: over R$4 million (Brazilian reals) in cost savings throughout the construction process and 61 tons of recycled or reused materials. Thanks to the commitment of Enel's partners and their employees and the contribution of the local community, they were able to design flows for the reuse of materials. The interaction with local communities was also meaningful since the project created 3,500 jobs in 2022.

The company performed internal document reviews to create new standards and establish baselines, thus adding even more value to the buildings, facilitating the interaction with our partners, and bringing sustainable development to the grid and its surrounding community. In this way, we are working with all areas to review and create specific documents for the new upcoming construction projects.

More Results Achieved:


Reuse of soil for earthworks, innovation in large projects, with over ~30,000 m³ (30%) of recycling, and reduction in the cost of waste transport

Reuse of wood: Slope containment to avoid materials being carried away by the current. Construction of molds for foundations and furnishings. Approximately 2.2 tons of recycled wood. Planting of native flora and recovery of the local environment with contributions to the wildlife biodiversity.

Circular construction is about building to avoid losing valuable resources along the way, not even when a building or part of it has fulfilled its purpose and will be destroyed in the future. We hope the construction industry makes more significant strides in a more sustainable direction.

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