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SBC in the World Urban Forum: Promoting Circular Built Environment

  • Published on February 17, 2020
The Sustainable Buildings and Construction Programme brought together policy-makers, civil society, academia and building professionals in the 10th World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi

The tenth World Urban Forum was held in Abu Dhabi 8-13 February 2020 with a theme ‘Culture and Innovation’. Over 13 000 delegates from 168 countries attended over 500 events and visited the exhibition space.                                                            

One Planet Sustainable Buildings and Construction Programme (SBC) organized a two-hour Networking Event ‘Circular Built Environment supporting Innovations in Cities’ 12 February 2020 that was opened by Martina Otto from UNEP and facilitated by Jesús Salcedo from UN-Habitat and Harri Hakaste from the Ministry of the Environment, Finland. Jeremy Gibberd’s keynote shared good practices from the Circular Built Environment State of Play regional reports from Asia, Africa and the LAC region prepared by the SBC Programme. Jeremy presented emerging implementation models related with building regulations, circular economy standards, informal systems, hybrid buildings and capable neighbourhoods. The audience was engaged in discussion with interactive platform using their smart phones.

                                                     The word cloud ‘key takeaways’ from the keynote

In the first expert panel, Naomi Keena from Yale Center for Ecosystems in Architecture presented their work on bio-based materials and Kranav Sharma from Development Alternatives use of waste streams in building products. The audience was asked which materials should be used more in their countries. Wood was mentioned number of times, also composite wood, reed, stone, clay and masonry waste.

                                                     The first panel debated circular building materials


Pekka Huovila presented the ongoing SBC Programme activities on responsibly sourced materials in circular built environments inviting the audience to join the work that will be carried out until 2022. Donoval Storey from GGGI, François Pitti from Bouygues Construction and Sanjay Seth from TERI joined him in the second panel to debate how to promote circular built environment to achieve transformative change. The importance of different phases in the life cycle of buildings were discussed as well as which actors should activate most urgently from the circular economy point of view.

The most crucial life cycle phases for circular buildings                                            Who should most urgently step up action?

In the event, all speakers emphasized the importance of local scale and context. When addressing the sustainability of buildings and construction sector, the knowledge about the local realities is crucial for the identification of effective solutions. From the point of view of circular economy, this means e.g. understanding of the waste streams managed by both formal and informal economy.

Focus on local context was also strong in the discussion on building materials: to build sustainably and affordably, the use of local materials is central. Our speakers showcased concrete examples of circular and local solutions, based on the use of wood waste, coconut shells and fly ash. What was especially relevant from the SDG perspective was the notion that the use of local and circular materials is often labor intensive, leading to positive economic and social effects locally. With local, low carbon building materials ecological, economic and social benefits can be achieved in an integrated manner. Another key point was the principle of modular design – when designing adaptable modules, the buildings can be easily updated and customized to match changing needs, raising the living comfort.

As regards to the promotion of circular built environment, governments were agreed to be the most important actors – building standards that promote circularity, regulation and public procurement schemes are crucial in steering in the construction sector as a whole to sustainable pathways. On the level of implementation, a broad-based collaboration bringing together policy-makers, businesses and academia was emphasized, as well as the need for a solid knowledge base that integrates sustainability, affordability and circularity. The SBC aims to fulfill this gap with a global report on the state of play of circular built environment, forthcoming in June in the World Sustainable Built Environment Conference Beyond2020.

                                                                        The SBC team planning the session

For more information about the event or sustainable consumption and production in the construction sector, please contact SBC Coordinator Pekka Huovila (

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