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How the construction sector can increase the reuse of building components

Reusing heavy building components such as concrete frames will help the construction sector achieve net zero emissions by 2045 – while increasing the number of homes. Efforts are now underway to shape the market. 

The construction and real estate sector is responsible for about one fifth of Sweden's climate impact. Over a 20-year period, the sector will gradually reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 25% by 2030 and net zero by 2045. At the same time, housing construction is expected to increase.

A "paradigm shift" that challenges all stakeholders 

To succeed in this seemingly impossible equation, the industry needs to get better at recycling the most climate-intensive materials.

"In many ways, this is a paradigm shift that requires coordination, a shared vision and pragmatism from all stakeholders," says Andreas Johansson, Marketing Manager at RISE, who is working on the issue.

So far, reuse in the construction sector has largely been limited to small parts such as windows and doors.  

"A lot of work is being done, but the carbon footprint is only a few percent of the total potential."

To have a real impact on the carbon footprint of the construction industry, it is therefore necessary to systematically reuse heavier building components, such as load-bearing structures made of wood, steel or concrete. The technology is there, the know-how is there, and there is a growing willingness to address the issue. But ingrained patterns point in a different direction.  

"The demolition process is not designed for reuse, but for landfill. Valuable structures are then easily crushed to make them easier to transport. Procedures are also being developed to ensure that reused parts are not damaged and meet current requirements."

It is also difficult for an architect working on a new building to reuse heavier components without knowing what is available.

"If you don't know what you can work with, you won't think about reusing building components to the extent necessary."

Common digital infrastructure for accessible building components 

The solution is a common digital and physical infrastructure:  

  • A searchable database - a place to store the data of available building elements for reuse. This data includes not only what is available, but also the location, price and quality of the components. 
  • Reuse depots - giant 'warehouses' where building elements are stored awaiting appropriate reuse. 

"To create such a digital infrastructure solution, and to start with larger intermediate storage facilities for heavier building elements, we need common images and visions," says Andreas Johansson. "We believe that we should look at this as an infrastructure project and that the public sector is needed to make it happen. Parallels can be drawn with other infrastructure such as roads, power grids and waste management."

The biggest impact on the sector's carbon footprint will come when we can start reusing concrete frames and steel girders

Large interim storage facilities for reusing building components 

One challenge to getting started is the size of the proposed interim storage facilities. For example, a demolition project such as Snäckan 8 - a large office and commercial building in the centre of Stockholm - would require a temporary storage facility of around 60,000 square metres.  

"The smaller depots that exist today, for example for the reuse of windows and doors, are far from being able to handle this volume."

In order to get things moving, it is therefore necessary not only to get industry and municipalities on board, but also to promote the use of reused building components. Mr Johansson cites the example of adjusting municipal land allocations to make it easier to use recycled materials.

"Industry and the construction sector want to reduce their carbon footprint. Cities want to do the same. At RISE, we are therefore holding joint discussions with actors who can take the lead and get the first recycling depots up and running.

This is a large and complex undertaking in its infancy. But the potential is great, says Andreas Johansson, who sees several future implications of increased reuse of heavy construction elements.

"Around 14 million tonnes of construction waste is generated today. This is about three times as much as Sweden's total household waste. The biggest impact on the sector's carbon footprint will come if we can start reusing concrete frames and steel girders."

"At RISE, we want to help ensure that the work in progress contributes to the whole. If you are a responsible person in a construction company or municipality and would like to contribute or find out more, please contact us."  

Andreas Johansson

Contact person

Andreas Johansson


+46 10 516 51 73

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