Guide steers Wales towards circular economy

Recently published guidance aims to encourage the Welsh construction industry towards low-carbon procurement


  • Bettina Gilbert

08 September 2022

Roundabout in the middle of a forest in Belgium. Circular road surrounded by trees

While significant improvements have been made in the energy efficiency of building operations, there is growing recognition of the need to tackle the carbon embodied during construction. Reducing its impact through better sourcing of raw materials as well as manufacture, use and disposal of construction products will be critical in reducing overall carbon footprints.

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) recognises that targeted procurement across the built environment life cycle – through design, construction, renovation or demolition – and facilities management can reduce a building's carbon impact.

In March this year, WRAP published the Low Carbon & Resource Efficient Construction Procurement Guide to help public- and private-sector clients and contractors consider the whole-life carbon impact of purchasing built assets. It offers advice on design and construction and, in particular, on selection of materials with lower embodied carbon by helping organisations set targets on the amount of recycled content included in building materials.

Funded by the Welsh government, WRAP Cymru – the programme's dedicated team in Wales – has been providing free, sustainable procurement support to public-sector organisations since 2016. The Welsh public sector spends around £8bn each year on goods and services, and as such there is a significant opportunity to use procurement to benefit environment, economy and society, as set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

This approach is consistent with the Welsh government's commitment to decarbonise Wales by 2030, and becoming a zero-waste, circular economy by 2050.

Advice applies to whole industry across life cycle

The guidance is applicable to the construction and maintenance of buildings, civil engineering and infrastructure. It advises how to prepare circular and low-embodied-carbon procurement requirements for such projects, and how to evaluate corresponding bids from design teams and contractors.

The document also sets out how contractors can apply these requirements and evaluate bids when appointing their own supply chains. It is suitable for tender managers, supply chain managers, sustainability managers, project managers, design teams and contract managers, among others. An easy-to-use, interactive map helps navigate the guide quickly and effectively.

The guide recommends practices that can support a circular economy, including keeping buildings, infrastructure, resources and materials in use for as long as possible to get maximum value out of them. This approach may be applied in designing for durability, flexibility, disassembly and deconstruction, alongside reuse, repair, refurbishment and remanufacture of materials or equipment. Remanufacture extends the useful life of products by restoring them to a 'like-new' state, or making them into new products altogether. Remanufactured products should be sold as new and with an equivalent warranty and can have a competitive price.

It also includes recommendations, key actions, model procurement wording, and advice to promote reuse and recycling while avoiding waste being sent to landfill. This can be achieved, it says, by techniques to design out waste and implementing resource management plans. Information on the importance of contract and supplier monitoring is included as well, with the recommendation that key performance indicators and other targets are set.  These recommendations ensure that buyers and suppliers will have the tools needed to set and report on sustainability targets throughout the project.

The model procurement clauses and accompanying evaluation guidance is set by project stage, based on the 2020 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Plan of Work. Therefore, the guidance can be used at any time during built assets' life cycle, regardless of the procurement route taken.

Organisations are not expected to use the guidance in its entirety, though, but in combination with pre-market engagement and strategy research to identify and prioritise relevant opportunities for procurement.

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Helping public and private sectors become sustainable

To help put Wales – and the world – on a trajectory to a net-zero future, we need to accelerate the move to a more sustainable, resource-efficient circular economy. WRAP can help organisations increase the amount of material reused or recycled, minimising waste and reducing reliance on virgin materials.

WRAP Cymru offers free strategic support to the public sector in Wales to increase procurement of low-carbon and sustainable products, and to foster cultural change and embed sustainable procurement across organisations.

Meanwhile, WRAP Cymru's Market Development Programme is in place to increase the supply of products with recycled content that can be recovered at the end of their useful life. This is vital to achieving a circular economy and will contribute to reaching the net-zero goals set by the Welsh government.

Bettina Gilbert is head of technical support and financial mechanisms, WRAP

Contact WRAP: Email

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