What does “circular economy” mean? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “an economic system based on the reuse and regeneration of materials or products, especially as a means of continuing production in a sustainable or environmentally friendly way.”

PCL’s construction experts can apply innovative circular construction practices to significantly reduce carbon emissions throughout the life cycle of a building, thereby delivering clients with cost savings while contributing to their sustainability goals.

Construction waste comprises 30-40% of landfilled waste across North America. Circular construction works to close building material loops by reusing, sharing, leasing, repairing, refurbishing, upcycling or recycling materials rather than continuing the linear take-make-consume-dispose process. By proactively assessing each step of the production cycle, PCL’s sustainable construction experts create solutions to reduce waste at each stage from product sourcing to construction.

When engaged early in the process during preconstruction and design, PCL’s project teams can contribute significantly to efforts to reduce waste. By thoughtfully aligning with material suppliers, subcontractors, and local partners, we can identify opportunities to eliminate waste and reuse products and materials. From whole products to components to recycled primary materials, reducing resource requirements helps to preserve environmental biodiversity and prevent unnecessary waste.

Whether steel piles gathered from the deconstruction of an existing building sold for salvage, or stone waste material used for parking lot toppers, PCL’s team of professionals are continuously looking for opportunities to cost-effectively repurpose materials.

“On each job site, we've got somebody handling the complexities of waste management,” says Stephen Montgomery, PCL’s mechanical and electrical pursuits manager. “We constantly look for post-consumer value in structure, excavation and waste for our clients. We are opportunity generators.”

Additionally, limiting stick-built and on-site construction minimizes waste. Modular and prefabricated assemblies constructed off-site and then installed on the project limits site waste, increases quality, improves scheduling, reduces material and leverages lean manufacturing practices. These are all key components to circular economy construction.

PCL has always been committed to environmental stewardship. As part of this, PCL has sustainable construction experts and advisors in each office to help its clients build sustainably.

“Our tailored approach to meet client goals on complex projects uses PCL’s sustainability expertise to source and procure recycled products, assess demolition and deconstruction options, and calculate embodied carbon inclusive of supply chain considerations to lower each project’s carbon footprint,” says PCL’s Director of Sustainability Scott Beckman.

When working with the Calgary Zoo to complete the Panda Passage project, PCL directly reclaimed waste materials by reusing deconstructed windows and repurposing salvaged pipes into enclosure décor, in addition to waste from demolition and construction being almost entirely diverted from landfills.

For the Burwell Center for Career Achievement in Denver, Colorado, the project team reduced the overall carbon footprint by building the structure solely out of mass timber — a rapidly renewable resource with a low production impact and inherent ability to sequester massive amounts of carbon. Capable of being disassembled and reused at the end of its life cycle, the LEED Platinum-certified building highlights PCL’s lasting commitment to environmental stewardship.

Implementing circularity in the built environment has economic benefits in addition to the positive environmental and social factors. Circular practices can improve market competitiveness for building assets while providing direct economic benefits, including:

  • Potential for direct energy savings
  • Cost savings from avoiding carbon taxes
  • Increased competitiveness with the rising desirability for sustainable rental spaces
  • Market differential and rapid sales through enhanced branding and local community buy-in
  • Increased asset value by residual material valuation and component value after deconstruction
  • Overall decrease in acquisition and maintenance costs, as well as decreased embodied carbon compared to a standard building

Construction methods and materials that minimize harmful effects on communities and environments include:

  • Optimizing the amount of steel and concrete needed
  • Increasing the use of recycled and repurposed material
  • Revitalizing and renovating existing buildings
  • Using sustainable and lower carbon structural materials
  • Improving building performance
  • Reducing or eliminating waste through prefabrication or modular construction

Inspired to reduce the carbon emissions of  materials on the Capital Power Genesee Repowering project in Warburg, Alberta, PCL’s Industrial team chose EcoPact concrete instead of traditional mixes. The swap resulted in a 20% reduction in emissions compared to standard mixes — a savings of more than 340,000 kilograms (340 tons) of carbon for the scope of work.

“PCL’s sustainable construction practices improve our operations while creating lasting value for our clients and shareholders because it’s no longer about the products or resources. It’s about new profitability models and a shift in behavior,” Beckman says. 

PCL can assist owners to lengthen the lifespan of their existing structures by identifying cost-effective retrofit opportunities. For the Ken Soble Tower at 500 MacNab, the first retrofit of its kind in North America and the largest residential EnerPHit retrofit project in the world, PCL installed a new high-performance building envelope on top of the existing masonry walls and modernized the tower’s building systems and amenities including new air handling units, insulated mechanical piping, electrical systems, fire alarms and elevators. The end result is an ultra-low-energy rehabilitated building has seen a remarkable 94% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Leveraging its broad experience with sustainable construction methods, PCL collaborates with and guides its clients in making fully informed sustainability decisions on their projects. PCL’s teams strive to understand their client’s budgets and business needs fully, so they can deliver high-performance, low-impact sustainability solutions that provide exceptional performance and the best life-cycle cost. 

“Our integrated construction process brings expertise in building systems, building envelope, renewable energy, off-site manufactured building solutions, structural design, technology, green building certification and net-zero construction practices to meet our client’s goals cost-effectively.” Beckman says. “Our comprehensive technology tools allow us to calculate the impact of our efforts on building performance and service life by tracking factors such as building energy usage, HVAC systems performance, solar UV exposure, and temperature and humidity.”

“We have worked with sustainability standards for a few decades now, and we know the construction skills required to realize a client’s environmental vision,” Montgomery says. “We’ve found that responding to sustainable complexity means a willingness to re-examine construction fundamentals: to adapt to new contract variables through process innovation and adaptation.”

As a leading North American contractor, PCL knows construction. Its teams are excited to tackle complex projects, helping its clients to reduce their emissions, while creating a greener built environment for all.