Barriers and Enablers to Circular Building Design in the US: An empirical study

Authors: Fernanda Cruz Rios, David Grau, and Melissa Bilec.

Abstract: As discussions around the circular economy (CE) start to move beyond Eurocentric approaches, US stakeholders are left with the mission of carving their way into CE. The US building sector has substantial impacts in resource use, waste generation, and carbon emissions, and a long way to go on the path towards CE. Circular building design involve strategies such as design for disassembly (DfD) to allow future repair, remanufacture, and reuse of building components, building adaptive reuse, and using salvaged materials into new construction. Although strategies like DfD have been discussed for the past two decades, they have failed to gain traction in building design. Recent empirical studies in European countries have identified barriers for circular building design, which in this study were categorized into regulatory, economic, technical, educational, cultural, technological, and environmental barriers. However, given the different regulatory, economic, and cultural contexts in which the US is situated when compared to European countries, the barriers identified in past studies and their respective enablers may not apply to the US. In this study, the authors interviewed architects across the US to understand the perceived and experienced barriers to circular building design in the American building sector, and which enablers can help overcome these barriers. The barriers different in nature from those found in European countries: although the share of technical and economic barriers were similar, more educational and cultural barriers were found in the US, as oppose to larger shares of regulatory and technological barriers in European countries. The authors discussed the most mentioned barriers in the US (e.g., cost and schedule constraints, lack of clarity on what CE entails, existing regulations and codes hinder reuse and repair), and the barriers that were new to literature (e.g., belief that DfD compromises building durability and resiliency, conflicting goals between pre-engineered structures and future reuse, the widespread use of nondurable building components). Finally, the authors proposed enablers to address each barrier and discussed the role of different stakeholders in implementing enablers. Policymakers, NGOs, industry associations, and researchers were the stakeholders with the highest leverage to enable CE in the US building sector.

This publication was submitted in October 2020. Come back soon for updates!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: