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Applying circular economy principles to building materials : Front-running companies’ business model innovation in the value chain for buildings

  • Julia Nussholz
  • Leonidas Milios
Publishing year: 2017
Language: English
Document type: Conference paper

Abstract english

To meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) on sustainable production and consumption (goal 12), the construction sector should be considered a key area to improve efficient use of natural resources (goal 12.2) and reduce waste generation (goal 12.5). With buildings being more energy efficient during their use phase, the relative importance of embodied energy and natural resources is becoming more significant to enhance resource efficiency of buildings. To save embodied energy and resources, scholars in the resource efficiency field have studied and developed a range of strategies that cycle resources at product, component or material level (circular strategies). These circular strategies aim to first prolong the useful life of products and components (e.g. trough repair, refurbishment, or remanufacturing), and then close material flows (through recycling) once the end-of-life is irreversibly reached. This has the potential to maintain the quality of resources over time beyond a single life and reduce resource extraction and waste generation. Recently, circular strategies have gained renewed attention under the concept of a circular economy. However, for the construction sector to transition towards a circular economy requires systemic innovation throughout the value chain. Resources recovered at the end-of-life (components or materials) need to be reintegrated into the value chain. To aid such innovations, the recently advanced concept of a circular business model might be useful. Innovating the business model presents a way to embed a circular strategy into a company’s logic of doing business in a more holistic way. In the construction value chain for buildings, a number of front-running companies have successfully devised business models that aid the implementation of circular strategies. Understanding is still limited about what changes in business model elements can aid companies to successfully implement circular strategies. Therefore, this research aims to provide an overview of business model innovations that facilitate adoption of circular strategies for building materials, employing a comparative case study design with six cases of companies operating circular strategies in the Dutch, Danish and Swedish construction sector. Findings include an overview of business model innovations throughout the construction value chain for buildings and adjustments in business models that were identified to support the application of circular strategies.


  • Environmental Management
  • Circular economy
  • circular business model
  • business model innovation
  • construction sector
  • sustainable building design
  • resource efficiency


SustEcon Conference
Julia Nussholz
E-mail: julia [dot] nussholz [at] iiiee [dot] lu [dot] se

Doctoral student

The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics

+46 46 222 02 28



International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE)

Lund University P.O. Box 196, 22100 Lund, Sweden
Visiting Address: Tegnérsplatsen 4,Lund

Telephone: + 46 46 222 00 00 Fax: + 46 46 222 02 10