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IStructE Circular economy and reuse: guidance for designers

March 2023
Andrew Croft and Harry Coates

In late spring/early summer 2023 the Institution of Structural Engineers are to publish their new guidance focusing on the circular economy (an economic model based on the tenets of reuse, refurbish and recycle) in part to help answer the problem of climate change. The guidance is split into four parts and provides engineers, designers and construction professionals with guidance as to how best to incorporate circular economy principles into their work and also to enable structural engineers to take a greater role in driving construction projects to net zero.

• Part 1 looks at the concepts, the barriers to adopting the principles, and provides a quantitative analysis of the impact that a circular economy approach can have.
• Part 2 focuses on the reuse of existing buildings and structures looking at the various stages such as feasibility, analysis, design and construction.
• Part 3 contains detailed material-specific subsections and develops the thinking around reusing components and assemblies, audits, and the legal considerations to be aware of.

• Part 4 contains a number of case studies which demonstrate successful design strategies and adoption of circular economy principles such as longevity, reuse, deconstruction, and resource efficiency.

The guidance is a composite work made up of contributions from engineers and advisors to the construction industry, such as Griffiths & Armour who have advised from an insurance angle. Andrew Croft, Ellie Eastwood and Harry Coates of Beale & Company, were pleased to contribute to the drafting of a chapter on the legal considerations to be aware of in Part 3.

The Circular Economy:

The circular economy challenges the traditional linear model, in which natural resources are extracted, used and transformed and produce waste. In a circular economy, the emphasis is on repair, reuse and recycle, with the aim to limit natural resource extraction and waste, and to regenerate existing products.

Within the built environment this may look like re-using existing structures and building materials, and designing so that products and buildings can be deconstructed in a manner that minimises waste and enables reuse.

Using a circular economy approach on construction projects will enable the industry to tackle the challenges presented by climate change, resource scarcity and biodiversity loss.

In this chapter, we highlight the risks that may be most prevalent and pertinent when adopting a circular economy approach.

The main legal areas to consider are how the circular economy impacts the procurement timing and process and to make clear how any work or services being carried out will change due to the adoption of the circular economy principles.

It will also be important to consider how the circular economy approach impacts the key parts of any contract and to consider the duties and obligations that will arise outside of contracts. As an example it will be important that where parties decide upon the reuse of materials that are not consistent with current Building Regulations, the parties consider the effects upon the underlying contract and appropriate consideration is given to a variety of standard clauses such as the deleterious materials clause. As an additional consideration, the parties will need to consider and understand how the testing process of the reused materials aligns with the contract and agree how the risks of reuse are allocated or mitigated.

Additional risks and other impacts from a legal perspective associated with the circular economy should be considered at every stage, mitigated and reflected in contractual arrangements and the approach on the project.

The full guidance will be available to buy from In late spring/early summer 2023 and can be accessed here.

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