If you walk around in Amsterdam you see construction activities everywhere: the city is growing rapidly and more and more people want to live and work in the city build on the water. This asks for more buildings, apartments, offices, schools, hospitals etc.. A great opportunity for many people: from architects and contractors to construction companies. However, there is one huge challenge for the city: circularity. How can Amsterdam make sure that the construction chain is fully circular and what can the municipality do to make this happen? Teun Verhagen, master student at TU Delft and currently one of students in our graduation hub: Resilient City Hub, conducted a research in this field with the help of Cirkelstad and provided some guidelines for the municipality.
What is the focus of your research?
The focus of my research is the role of the municipality in developing a marketplace for resources in the construction & demolition sector. The municipality has ambitious goals to become fully circular in 2030 and thus resources, from raw materials to products, should be reused as efficient as possible. Their question was: what was already done by stakeholders involved in this sector and what was needed from them – the municipality - to improve this reuse of resources?
How is the current relationship between municipality and this resources market?
Bluntly said: the municipality actually doesn’t know how this market looks like. They really needed this research to get a clear picture of the bottlenecks and the opportunities in the building materials business. They are aware of this lack of knowledge and that is why they asked Cirkelstad for help. Cirkelstad is a platform that supports cities in their quest to become fully circular.
How did you came up with this research topic?
As a student I was looking for a research topic and I asked Gertjan de Werk, Associate Director of Centre for Sustainability, for help. He then put me in contact with Rutger Büch, founder of Cirkelstad.
Tell me more about your research, what did you do?
First of all, I had to get a clear understanding of the market myself. I first wanted to know what kind of stakeholders were involved. It is quite complex market where a variety of stakeholders are involved: from construction companies and contractors to waste companies and resources marketplaces like “Grondbalans”, which deals only with the resource “soil”. After this I interviewed as much stakeholders as possible within the time to get insights in the main challenges.
What are the main challenges to close the loop of resources via Marketplace?
Time management is very important, especially on the level of products. The problem with products is that it is very hard to manage demand and supply. Take for instance window frames; when tearing down a building, you first strip it and take out the window frames. It would be perfect if there was immediately a place where you can use the window frames again. Since the frames are very specific (like the size and material they are made of), it is not easy to find a suitable fit. Also, it’s very difficult for products to store them for a long time, there isn’t a dedicated storage space for them and it mostly happens just before a building is being demolished.
On the level on raw materials, this is easier: concrete is a good example of a material which suits perfect for a closed cycle and which is already successfully incorporated by parties like Volker Wessel and PARO Amsterdam.
Can’t we just try to break these products down to raw materials?
This is energy consuming and far less sustainable than directly using the product. It is always better to use it with the same value or even add value.
What kind a factors determine if a marketplace will be successful?
For both products and materials, it is crucial to have a quality control and guarantee. We have no idea what materials are used in the current buildings, and what their current quality is. It would be convenient to have one standard in which everything is digitalized and which is also supported by all kinds of parties and software. Madaster is a company which is really trying to help achieve this standardization and uniformity in the digitalization.
For products, it is important to have ownership. An example where circularity for products is successfully implemented is at the municipality of Amsterdam itself. They have products like benches, lamppost and paving stones which are reused and refurbished on their own dedicated storage sites. This is possible because they know what to expect and because they have ownership of the product.
How can the municipality of Amsterdam influence this market of circularity?
Next to the field work I have done, I also studied a research by Dr. Erwin Heurkens on the role of local planning authorities as market actors. He distinguishes 4 tools to influence to influence the market:
Shaping: using policy and strategies. For example the municipality can define how many percent of the materials should be reused.
Regulating: using laws. For example the municipality can define by law how much percentage of the new buildings should be circular
Stimulating: subsidies. An example is the subsidies for solar panels. The downside of subsidies, is that it can disturb the market.
Capacity building: facilitate the market: for example by taking a broker role and bring together demand, supply or knowledge.
During my fieldwork, I noticed that the stakeholders were reluctant with subsidies, since it also can disturb the market. The government should take care of the demand side, so make it easier to sell products and materials again.
Okay, so subsidies should be avoided. But can you be more specific what the role should be?
The municipality of Amsterdam should not regulate from top-down, but be a part of the market and have an open role. Measurements can be building a digital quality standard, bringing together all variables and knowledge about the existing built environment. They can provide a platform in which all stakeholders communicate with each other to gain insight in each other’s existing initiatives and efforts. Also: they should define clear goals and standards in their policies, giving an inspiring role while giving an example to the market. All these roles combined should push the market towards a more circular role and stimulate demand for these solutions.
How important is this research for the municipality?
It gives the municipality of Amsterdam a guideline for their new policies and future plans. Hopefully some of it will be used to implement a new vision or plan and bring parties more often together to cooperate.
Could you give students some advice on finding an interesting and meaningful topic and how to do a complex research like you did?
Talk to professors and teachers, they have the most knowledge of which organisations exist and who to contact. Sometimes you can even help the professor with a research or problem, a capita selecta can be a lot of things and is flexible in execution. It can take some time to set up but it creates a lot of freedom in comparison with a normal course. My main motivation to undertake this project was to experience a more practical research and to understand how it is to work on your own as preparation for my thesis.