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The Circular Built Environment Playbook

The WorldGBC global Circularity Accelerator programme is catalysing action for the uptake of net zero whole life resource depletion in the built environment, as well as the restoration of resources and natural systems within a thriving circular economy. 

The Circular Built Environment Playbook report, launched by WorldGBC in May 2023, presents market-leading circular principles and strategies in action, calling on the building and construction sector to accelerate the implementation of circular and regenerative principles. Through this publication, the WorldGBC network aspires to increase awareness and accessibility of circular economy solutions for the built environment sector in order to guide all stakeholders towards sustainable, circular decision making. We are driving action towards our guiding goal for resource efficiency and circularity: “A built environment that facilitates the regeneration of resources and natural systems, whilst providing socio-economic benefit through a circular economy.”

Our homes, localities and infrastructure cover less than 2% of the earth’s surface, yet our cities produce an estimated 70% of all global greenhouse gas emissions and are responsible for almost half of all natural resources consumed [1]. Today the expansion of urban land consumption outpaces population growth by as much as 50%, which is expected to add 1.2 million km² of new urban built-up area to the world by 2030 [2].

Globally, our linear take-make-waste systems are putting us on track to environmental, social and economic disaster, with the use of materials and products trending in a dangerously unsustainable direction – 2023 estimates calculate the world is only 7.2% circular (a reduction from 8.6% in 2020 and 9.1% in 2018). Five of the nine key ‘planetary boundaries’ that measure environmental health across land, water and air have been broken [3] and in 2022, a year’s worth of biological resources were used in just 7 months [4].

Efforts to combat climate change have focused predominantly on the critical role of renewable energy and energy-efficiency measures; however these measures can only address 55% of all greenhouse emissions. Meeting climate targets will also require tackling and prioritising the remaining 45% of emissions – which are associated with the products and things we make and use, including building materials [5].



1 UN Habitat (2022)

2 The World Bank (2022) Urban Development

3 Circular Economy (2023) Circularity Gap Report 2023

4 Earth Overshoot Day (2022)

5 The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2021) Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change

Unlike linear economic models, in which resources are typically disposed of at the end of initial functional use, a circular economy optimises the use of resources whilst minimising waste throughout its whole lifecycle. 

WorldGBC analysed a cross section of academic and industry definitions and frameworks of the circular economy to establish the fundamental principles. From this analysis four primary and unifying principles of circularity for the built environment have been presented.

The core principles of a circular economy for the built environment sector are:

  • Reduction in consumption of materials and resources 
  • Optimisation of lifespan for material and product use 
  • Design for disassembly, reuse and the elimination of all waste
  • Regeneration of nature

The built environment strategies underpinning these principles are examined in detail in the subsequent sections of this report.

A circular built environment will require action at every stage of the building and construction lifecycle.

The call to action and key outcomes for the The Circular Built Environment Playbook report can be analysed in detail within the industry-specific WorldGBC Circular Ready Checklist.

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