The future of the construction industry needs to be based on circular economy principles

During his visit to Malta on 18 March, Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella underlined the importance of aligning circular economy principles with the European construction sector priorities. As an architect, Commissioner Vella knows the importance of well-designed and well-renovated buildings, not just for aesthetics and comfort, but also for the environment. At ISOPA we strive to make buildings more resource efficient and constantly look for options to “close the loop”. However, we shouldn’t be alone in this; it is important to get all stakeholders in the construction industry on board. In the words of Commissioner Vella:

  • “It’s about the whole lifecycle of products. It is about rethinking and incorporating sustainability into products from the very outset – rethinking design, rethinking production processes, educating and giving better choices to consumers, and it is about changing our existing business models.”

This is absolutely true. Since 1995, ISOPA has made use of Life Cycle Thinking to better understand the environmental impact and the benefits of a holistic approach to product development. This enables all members of the value chain to make more informed decisions when it comes to environmental protection. Going forward, Life Cycle Thinking will guide initiatives to further innovate and enable polyurethane to maintain excellent qualities while limiting its environmental impact.

  • “For Europe to regain its competitiveness, we must use our resources more efficiently. For Europe this economic model is not an option – it is a must.”

The future will be about efficiency. Polyurethanes use less than 0.1% of oil consumed worldwide and can save up to 100 times more. However, we can always do better. The polyurethane industry invests heavily in research to continuously improve the sustainability of its products through the use of renewable and bio-based raw materials.

  • “Across the EU, the construction sector uses half of all our materials, half of all our energy and a third of our water. It generates a third of our total waste.”

Polyurethane producers are always concerned about their products’ quality and end-of-life. Over the years, they have made sure polyurethanes can be recovered and recycled, thus cutting down waste and improving resource efficiency. Furthermore, the qualities of diisocyanates, the chemical substances used to make polyurethane, can facilitate the development of new applications from other unrelated products that have reached their end-of-life. For example, diisocyanates make it possible to produce high quality, water resistant, bonded construction products from wood that would have otherwise been discarded and burnt as waste. That means, compared to 50 years ago, fifteen times more useable wood per square kilometre logged can be obtained.

  • “The prediction showed a 10% higher asset value after the green retrofit as opposed to the conventional retrofit.”

Polyurethane has increasingly showed its relevance and importance in the building sector at local, national or European level, thanks to its versatility and sustainability. For example, the Polyurethanes Passive House features polyurethane solutions in an extremely efficient and optimal building envelope. Besides using up to 85% less energy than a conventional building, passive houses “only require[e] the capacity of an iron to maintain comfortable warmth throughout the winter.” That’s good news for both the regulator and for the consumer!

The construction sector is vital to the European economy. Nevertheless, it has to adjust to the current realities and harness opportunities to remain competitive in the future. For those who are willing to start innovating today, polyurethane is ready to support them!

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