The future of construction is circular 

Sustainability has finally hit the construction mainstream, but the industry still needs to get a grip on its waste problem—fast.  

The built environment continues to be one of the largest consumers - and wasters - of raw materials and energy, representing almost 40% of total global emissions. For Joe Karten, Head of Sustainability and Social Impact at Australian-owned diversified contractor Built, the solution lies with circularity. 

Joe explains: “Change is an inevitable part of our industry. Typically, offices will swap hands or undergo a refresh every five to seven years and most commercial buildings are only designed to stand for sixty. Yet demolishing a building or disposing of furniture and fit outs without considering what happens to them next is the equivalent of throwing money away. Traditionally, the built environment will destroy the raw materials, squander the embodied carbon, and most importantly for many businesses, the dollars associated with the materials that make up the building.” 

On the other hand, circularity retains the value of products and materials by making them repairable, reusable or – as a last resort – recyclable. Not only does it tackle climate change and other global challenges associated with finite resource loss, but it can make a real difference to the bottom line. 

Joe says: “Carbon cutting is relatively easy to quantify, recently stirring serious interest in reducing the emissions associated with a new build and fit out. However, the full value proposition of circularity is harder to communicate and measure, putting some decision makers off investing in its potential. A good starting point is to look at buildings as material banks, considering the Circular Transition Indicators of every single component going into the design.   

“For example, the effort of turning iron ore, into iron, into steel, into the very components we need to construct a building is mammoth. So, imagine the impact if at the end of a building's life, we could instead unbolt existing steel beams and bolt them back in somewhere else. This is what we call designing for disassembly.” 

The Brummen Town Hall in the Netherlands is just one recent build that makes the case for designing for disassembly. A new community hub was needed for the next twenty years (no more, no less). Foreseeing that change, the design took on a Lego-like structure, swapping elements like poured concrete for prefabricated timber, meaning 90% of materials can be dismantled and rehomed at the end of its life.  

Joe explains: “Circular practices like designing for disassembly, embracing products as a service, and refurbishment and repairs have the power to revolutionise construction and fit outs by keeping value in the hands of those most likely to benefit from it.” 

Built’s recent revitalisation of Sub Station No. 164 in Sydney’s CBD is a great example. After sitting unused for decades, the team breathed new life into the historic substation and former tobacco warehouse, transforming it into a unique cultural and event precinct – Machine Hall – as well as an innovative commercial office development that combines the original heritage features with a floating state of the art seven-story glass office above. Retaining as much of the original timber, bricks, concrete and steel as possible contributed to a 25% reduction in the project’s upfront carbon footprint all while sustaining the value of the materials for decades to come.

 “When starting on a new build or new fit out, think about the ten Rs of sustainability before anything else. First “refuse” - reject the idea of needing something new. Then if change is still needed, “rethink” the design process. Knock-on higher costs, landfill waste, poor air quality, destruction of nature – the list goes on – can all be avoided if we think of circularity first in the design of every beam that supports our buildings, down to the work booths and beanbags that fill it,” he concludes.  

According to Koskela’s calculations, furniture contributes to nearly half of the embodied carbon in a fit out, meaning the finishing design touches within a building are as important as its bones.  

“Circular practices like designing for disassembly, embracing products as a service, and refurbishment and repairs have the power to revolutionise construction and fit outs by keeping value in the hands of those most likely to benefit from it.”  - Joe Karten, Built.

Like Joe, we know that circularity starts with design, which is why we are working to make our furniture repairable, reusable or, in the worst case, recyclable. This year, for example, we integrated removable covers into our sofa range meaning businesses can save 83.9% of carbon by simply changing the cover on their Quadrant Soft Single sofa rather than buying a new one. With more exciting launches coming soon!  

With circularity at the core, we are working to eliminate waste and pollution in the production of our furniture, ensure maximum durability, and offer repairability and innovative circular services to help construction solve its waste conundrum.  

Get in touch with our team at to hear more about our commitment to becoming a fully circular business by 2027 and how we can help your business do the same. 

Reach out to Joe Karten at if you would like to receive Built’s new design for disassembly resources or if you have any questions.