From leasing building facades to hiring carpet, some of Australia’s biggest property players are innovating to cut waste in a bid to unlock Australia’s $2-trillion circular economy.
While Australia’s built environment is making great leaps forward in sustainable design, Australia ranks third in the world for its materials consumption, measured at 38 tonnes per capita.
NSW Circular chief executive Lisa McLean says the circular economy is worth $2 trillion to the Australian economy and that the property industry is innovating to try to mine those seams of gold.
McLean says the industry is working to “shift the dial”. In London you can hire a building facade, in offices around Australia you can hire carpet and other fixtures.
Now retailers will be able to hire fixtures and fittings when they rent a retail space in shopping centres on the eastern seaboard.
Stockland’s retail arm is launching a pilot program to trial a de-fit and re-fit program where fixtures and fittings will be audited and stored, and reused.
Stockland sustainable projects manager Katherine Featherstone says it is all about extracting as much value out of materials before they ultimately end up in waste streams and ensuring they are disposed of appropriately.
Masonry materials from small-scale projects make up 20 per cent of landfill, while it’s estimated about 150,000 tonnes of store equipment is sent to landfill annually in Australia, but this project could help extend the lives of these materials before they become waste.
The pilot project will be carried out at four shopping centres, including Green Hills Shopping Centre in East Maitland, for a six months which, Featherstone says, should provide a proof of concept for a nationwide roll-out across more than 20 shopping centres.
“This is a major opportunity for organisations like Stockland to really make a difference in the way that we work,” Featherstone says.
“We have identified four regional assets where there will be defits coming online during the pilot period.
“We are excited to be the first to trial this, but we are also excited to unlock the knowledge to start sharing the learnings.”
Through the trial materials will be audited ahead of the de-fit, itemised and then stored on site for future tenants to shop from.
Featherstone says the logistics and storage of fixtures and fittings will be challenging at some sites, but they have the benefit of nearby logistics parks to lean on where necessary.
Stockland national manager for tenancy delivery Michelle Biruski partnered with Featherstone to dream up the pilot project and help implement it across the retail centres.
“It’s kind of a reverse turn-key process, we want to make the process seamless for the exiting tenant. We want to try to do 50 per cent of all our defits for our tenants,” Biruski says.
“We are trying to skill up defitters so that we can retain as much of the materials as possible. We need to build a workable and scalable solution to take out the thinking of 'what do I do next', and make these processes embedded.”
An average shop fit out can cost up to $2000 per square metre, but salvaging fixtures and fittings for re-use could provide cost savings for retailers too as part of the trial.
NSW Circular chief executive says focusing solely on recycling and the end of life of materials we will only realise a small fraction of the $2-trillion circular economy.
Material circularity, the reuse of materials that would usually end up in waste streams, is gaining pace in Australia, with more materials producers committing to adopting a material circularity indicator.
McLean says the Material Circularity Indicator is a step forward in understanding how recycled and recyclable materials are.
“If we can’t measure it, we can’t change it,” McLean says.
“There needs to be an understanding of how products are used upstream and downstream. There needs to be more transparency about where materials are coming from and where they end up at the end of life, what is their embodied carbon.
“There’s an economic opportunity to extract value out of our waste streams. There’s now more gold and silver in a tonne of iPhones than in one tonne of ore mined from the Earth.”
The Materials Circularity Indicator developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation allows companies to identify and extract additional circular value from their products and materials, which could help mitigate price volatility, something Australia’s construction industry is grappling with right now.
InfraBuild sustainability manager David Bell said the MCI was something they would be adopting in their recycled steel products to help their clients understand embodied carbon.
InfraBuild recycles scrap metal, 80 per cent of which ends up back in the Australian built environment, according to Bell.
The MCI ranks a product from 0 to 1, where 0 is not recyclable and 1 is completely recyclable.
But McLean says the problem with the indices is not Australian producers, but rather our reliance on imported goods.
“We don’t really know what’s in materials that are imported from overseas … so much of the products we use are imported,” she says.
“There’s more things in the world now than there is natural capital. The true cost of making those things is not borne by throwing them in the rubbish … particularly in construction, service industries in material waste circularity will be a business opportunity.
“There’s a huge business model for providers to recover products to extract more life out of the materials before they eventually reach end of life.”
McLean says material circularity and the circular economy will be an important aspect of getting to net zero by 2050.
Finland has committed to a 100 per cent circular economy by 2025. There are examples for Australia to look to globally in its pursuit of a more circular economy.
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