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What is the Circular Economy?

The circular economy is an economic model that is restorative and regenerative by design. It tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.

Put simply, it means designing out waste.

A product will now be designed in such a way as to;

  • be of high quality to allow potential to be reused
  • be easily repairable
  • have the potential to be refurbished or upgraded
  • be suitable for recycling if required

Through product re-design, new business models, and new technologies and processes, circularity aims to optimize every part of a product's lifecycle, from raw material extraction to production and initial use, and several use-lives thereafter. This will help ‘’close the loop’’ of product lifecycles and bring significant benefits to the environment and the economy.

A green and white diagram depicting the circular economy process

The role of standards

The standards that are developed in the context of the circular economy are in the domain of developing frameworks, guidance, supporting tools and requirements for the implementation of activities of all involved organizations, to maximize the contribution to Sustainable Development.

Standards help to implement the sustainable use of resources and energy while protecting consumers, workers and the environment. This objective can be best reached by closing resource loops and maintaining the value and quality of materials all along the cycle.

The role of NSAI

NSAI is deeply involved in the development of additional international and European standards related to sustainability in the area of the circular economy. Technical committee 323 within ISO is developing standards at the international level to develop frameworks, guidance and requirements for the implementation of circular economy activities of organisations, to maximise the contribution to sustainable development.

A circular economy will deliver social and economic benefits, as well as the obvious environmental advantages. However, the changes will be significant and noticeable by all. It is for this reason that consensus and buy-in is attained from the wider public via consultation and engagement. NSAI will continue to help in this regard by promoting engagement from industry experts in the drafting of circular economy standards at the international and European levels, and by giving all members of the public opportunities to comment and provide input through regular public consultations of draft standards.

At the European level, within CEN, there is a technical committee TC 350 which deals with the sustainability of construction works. This committee had published documents such as EN 15643:2021 Sustainability of construction works – Framework for assessment of buildings and civil engineering works and EN 15978:2011 Sustainability of construction works – Assessment of environmental performance of buildings – Calculation method among others, all of which have been adopted as Irish standards by NSAI.

In addition, under CEN/TC 350, a new sub-committee (CEN/TC 350/SC 1) was established in 2021 to produce standards in the field of circular economy in the built environment, specifying principles, guidelines, and requirements to facilitate the transition to a more sustainable circular economy in all stages of current and subsequent life cycles, from design to de-construction and end-of-life scenarios. Both new and current construction projects will be subject to these guidelines.

NSAI has national specialists engaging in much of the aforementioned activity, and the national mirror committee for circular economy NSAI/TC 66 keeps track of all advances.

NSAI National Committee on Circular Economy: NSAI/TC066

The structure of the National Committees is as follows:

NSAI/TC66 is the overarching committee on the Circular Economy (CE) and 2 subcommittees (SC) report to it.

  • NSAI/TC66/SC1 “Circular Economy”
  • NSAI/TC66/SC2 “Circular Economy in the construction sector”

NSAI/TC66/SC1 “Circular Economy” facilitates participation by Irish experts in standards development under ISO/TC323 “Circular Economy” the international technical committee.

NSAI/TC66/SC1 has established 5 working groups (WG’s) to facilitate national experts with particular expertise to engaged in the various standards under development.

  • NSAI/TC66/SC1/WG1 :Terminology, principles, frameworks
  • NSAI/TC66/SC1/WG 2 : Practical approaches to develop and implement Circular Economy 
  • NSAI/TC66/SC1/WG 3 :Measuring and assessing circularity
  • NSAI/TC66/SC1/WG 4 :Specific issues of Circular Economy
  • NSAI/TC66/SC1/WG 5 : Product circularity data sheet

An image of half of the earth. Sitting on top of it is a tree, a building and a windmill. The background contains the outline of a city skyline with clouds above the buildings

This committee is developing the following standards

  • ISO/WD 59004: Circular economy — Framework and principles for implementation
  • ISO/WD 59010: Circular economy — Guidelines on business models and value chains
  • ISO/WD 59020 ; Circular economy — Measuring circularity framework
  • ISO/CD TR 59031 : Circular economy – Performance-based approach – Analysis of cases studies

NSAI/TC66/SC2 “Circular Economy in the construction sector” facilitates participation by Irish experts in standards development under CEN/TC 350/SC 1 –“Circular Economy In The Construction Sector”. Its parent committee is CEN/TC 350 - Sustainability of construction works.

CEN/TC 350/SC 01 has established 2 working groups (WG’s) and the NSAI/TC66/SC2 participates in those 2 WG’s.

  • CEN/TC 350/SC 01/WG 01 "Framework, principles and definitions"    
  • CEN/TC 350/SC 01/WG 02 "Gap analysis, conclusions and recommendations"

Standardisation in the field of circular construction can support

Relevance for circular construction (e.g.):

  • (Mandatory) use of CE product certificates (e.g. recycled content, requirements for next life cycles)
  • Agreement on how to measure and assess circularity (for the whole life cycle including procurement.)
  • Circular data formats and basic requirements

For more information about the CPR including a CE marking “step by step” guide, see the European Commission’s DG Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs website.

CE marking for construction products - video

NSAI/TC066 Engagement by stakeholders

Stakeholders that are engaged in this work include the following :

  • Industry
  • County Councils
  • Research Centres
  • Academic
  • DCCAE / EPA
  • IBEC
  • Circulaire (IMR)
  • ReDiscovery Centre
  • Consultants
  • Department of Housing / OPW
  • Construction Industry Federation