Adaptive Reuse Report

Adaptive Reuse

The Solution to Waste in the Construction and Demolition Space

Anyone working in construction & demolition (C&D) knows how much scrutiny their industry is facing from a sustainability standpoint.

As the world mobilizes to reach ambitious goals around net zero emissions by 2050 (or even earlier), many are focused on the C&D space, which is currently the single largest global consumer of resources and raw materials, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Depending on the source, the construction industry generates 30-40% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Plus, construction waste is expected to increase up to 2.2 billion tons every year by 2025. Not only are the environmental costs clear, but this growth in waste is negatively impacting the industry’s bottom line. Between tipping fees and raw material extraction costs, the C&D industry is pumping billions of dollars annually

into practices that directly affect the health of the environment. With 15% of building materials being wasted during the construction process and only 20–30% of C&D waste getting reused or recycled, there has to be a better solution. Constructing and designing new buildings with reuse in mind is critical to reducing waste and long-term costs, but what about existing infrastructure? How can the C&D space reduce costs and material waste? This paper will outline the cost of failing to incorporate reuse into the built environment and present adaptive reuse as a strategy for more resilient, sustainable and cost-effective C&D programs.

The Cost of Not Reusing


Most construction and demolition waste (CDW) ends up in landfills, which levies heavy costs on both the business and the environment. From a business perspective, there can be expensive tipping fees, which are the expenses paid for disposing of waste in a landfill. According to EREF, the current average national tipping fee is $55 per ton. Combine that with the fact that 145 million tons of C&D debris ended up in landfills in 2018, tipping fees alone are costing businesses $8 billion annually. From an environmental perspective, CDW that is sent to landfill has generated about 6.6% of total GHG emissions since 2010 and is expected to increase as industrialization and urbanization grows. Aside from the waste generated in landfills, there are also high costs associated with material extraction. According to the World Green Building Council , 11% of global energy-related carbon emissions come

from building construction and the production of building materials. Plus, cement manufacturing alone produces 2.2 billion tons of CO2 every year, which is 8% of all CO2 emissions. In addition to these devastating costs to the environment, extracting raw materials for building construction tallies up quickly. During 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic, several materials were in short supply due to shutdowns. Plastic and lumber were particularly impacted with prices rising by as much as triple the typical cost. Between material extraction at the beginning of a building’s life cycle and landfilling waste at the end of life, there are hefty costs that C&D businesses are incurring internally and levying on the health of the planet. To reduce the waste associated with the C&D industry, organizations need to be more resourceful. Adaptive reuse can be the saving grace to a business’ bottom line and help reduce their carbon footprint.

Each year, tipp fees alone are costing busine sses $ 8 BILLION.

What is Adaptive Reuse? Adaptive reuse is the act of taking an existing building and repurposing it for something other than what it was designed for. Old warehouses in New York’s Soho neighborhood have been transformed into luxury lofts and some decommissioned prisons in the UK have become high-end hotels. While the architects and engineers of these buildings likely didn’t design with these second lives in mind, contractors and designers today can and should plan for reuse. Designing for adaptive reuse enables a building to go through

have shown that permanent and temporary adaptive reuse structures have been able to reduce material costs in construction projects by up to 60%. Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification provides a framework for designing with circularity and adaptive reuse in mind. Two of the five categories for certification, material health and material reutilization, focus on reducing material toxicity and improving reusability of built environments. By 2050, the global building stock is expected to double in size and the upfront carbon costs of extracting resources needed for construction will encompass half of the entire carbon footprint of a new construction project. Adaptive reuse can help C&D organizations work towards net zero embodied carbon emissions targets.

several iterations of space utilization, which maximizes the initial return on investment of the infrastructure. Adaptive reuse structures can be designed to be permanent or temporary. Creating temporary modular structures allows for easy relocation for their next use instead of demolishing them. Studies

Methods of Achieving Adaptive Reuse

Achieving circularity in the C&D space means making the most of assets and resources that already exist and giving them new life. Not all buildings will have been constructed with modularity in mind, so businesses in this field need to make the most of existing structures. One way to extend the life of a building is to refurbish by repairing broken assets and retrofitting to prepare the structure for its next use. This is more cost- effective and less resource intensive than designing a new building from scratch, even with adaptive reuse in mind. The savings to the business and the environment go even further if contractors are able to source materials from local entities. Sharing assets within a local economy reduces the emissions caused by shipping materials and begins to establish a reuse-focused community. Aside from sourcing locally, material selection should be carefully considered when retrofitting. To ensure the existing structure will last as long as possible in its next use, updated components should be high quality in order

to maintain durability and eliminate toxicity over time. For example, remanufactured wood is less resource intensive but it doesn’t sacrifice quality, and it can be easily used for key elements of a retrofit, such as framing and finishing. In order to actually source quality and local materials, the C&D industry needs to understand what’s available and accessible to them. This is where markets for secondary materials can create new revenue streams and reduce supply-chain disruptions by making recycled or remanufactured materials more readily available. Markets such as these allow the idle or unneeded assets of one organization to be utilized by another without the need for further virgin material extraction. Organizations, like WGBC, see this as an opportunity to facilitate circular buildings by enabling greater reuse of materials from existing assets. Platforms for exchanging reusable assets can also integrate material passports to allow contractors to understand the composition of reusable elements.

The biggest hurdle to achieving circularity in the built environment is engagement and commitment from stakeholders. According to a survey by EMF & ARUP, more than 75% of respondents believe increased engagement is needed with stakeholders along the value chain to increase asset exchange. Platforms, such as Rheaply’s AxM , work best when they become the first stop in sourcing materials for an adaptive reuse project. To amplify the effectiveness of these exchanges, organizations have to focus on sharing their own idle assets in addition to buying assets for their next project. Take furniture as an example. Not all furniture is designed for adaptive reuse, and so leveraging existing assets that are nearby can help reduce costs and environmental waste. In the United States alone, 15 million tons of furniture are wasted annually and only 2% is recovered for recycling. Yet, people are constantly moving around the country, and so the used furniture market is estimated to be worth $10 billion. This highlights why an effective circular economy for the built environment is not just about using others’ secondary materials. It’s also about sharing your own, which can generate significant profits for your business while reducing stress on the planet.

2 percent

enters the $10 billion used furniture market

15 million tons of furniture are wasted each year

98 percent

goes to a landfill

Results of Adaptive Reuse The construction and demolition industry should make adaptive reuse a top priority because greater material circulation could reduce GHG emissions and disposal fees, which saves businesses money and lessens environmental harm. Extending the life of existing buildings could reduce GHG emissions by 1.3 billion tons of CO2e per year by 2050, and ensuring all building materials used in construction are necessary and utilized can reduce emissions by another 1.2 billion tons of CO2e annually. Aside from lowering carbon emissions, adaptive reuse results in cost reductions. Current steel costs hover around $1,300 per ton so designing steel for reuse could generate up to 25% savings in material costs per ton of steel. Since the US uses 40 million tons of steel in building construction, total savings in steel production costs could reach $13 billion through reuse. In addition to designing for reuse, studies show that designing buildings for disassembly can

from the COVID-19 pandemic have shifted the ways in which society utilizes space, leaving many buildings sitting idly, especially offices and schools. With 40% of Europeans and 72% of U.S. white- collar workers now working from home, vacant office spaces are being considered for housing development to address global housing shortages. Since schools were also forced into closures, cities like Lagos have converted these spaces into markets so that people can buy goods closer to home and avoid crowding in central markets. Leveraging adaptive reuse principles can support the reopening of spaces and enable circular cities by focusing on flexible space design. This aligns with initiatives, such as the Circular Chicago Coalition, that are working towards maximum utilization of commercial and residential spaces. Adaptive reuse projects serve to re-allocate important physical and human resources, but over time they can also improve urban flow of goods and services, contributing to major economic development wins: competitiveness, jobs creation, sustainable development, and innovation.

Total savings in steel productio n costs could rea ch through reuse. $ 13 BILLION

be 5% more cost-effective than demolition. While adaptive reuse will remain an important method towards enabling circularity in the C&D industry, it can be highly effective in aiding post- pandemic recovery efforts right now. Lockdowns

About Rheaply Rheaply is the technology for connecting professionals with resources and catalyzing the circular economy. As the only market solution that combines an asset management system with an online marketplace, Rheaply’s Asset Exchange Manager (AxM)™ enables organizations to manage and transact physical assets more effectively, eliminating unnecessary waste and spend. To learn more about Rheaply, visit​​ ​or follow ​@RheaplyInc​.

According to the WGBC, the first principle to achieving net zero embodied carbon is “prevent.” Adaptive reuse can significantly reduce the amount of carbon used in the life cycle of a new building by leveraging secondary materials markets for construction inputs. Increasing the availability of building materials through connected reuse networks can result in more resilient, sustainable & cost-effective C&D programs, while boosting economic mobility within the community.


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