20 November 2020

Product-service systems enter the building!

Following on from the February, 2020 Circular Economy Act, the French government in its economic restart plan aims to speed up the development of a production and consumption model that is less destructive and wasteful. The construction industry, which reuses or recycles only half of the 225+ million tonnes of waste it generates yearly, is a prime culprit. Sophie Lambert, founder of Bobi Réemploi, airs her views on these issues.

Sophie Lambert, founder of Bobi Réemploi

Why did you choose to develop reuse in building?

After finishing my engineering studies, I was recruited by Eiffage construction as a superintendent of works. That’s where I realized waste management was a low priority in building and a lot needed doing. I therefore decided to leave Eiffage to go into building reuse. The building sector accounts for almost a third of French CO2 emissions, making it a key factor in the ecological transition, and today’s circular economy approach is one way of addressing such issues. I chose this path out of conviction. As a member of the younger generation, I am contributing to preserving the planet.  There’s no time to lose if we hope to have a future!

How can reuse help reduce this carbon footprint?

CO2 is emitted along the whole value chain of a building, from construction to use and beyond: manufacture of materials, transport from factory to building site, erection or installation using machinery running on fossil fuels, not forgetting the maintenance and finally the demolition of the building and evacuation of rubble using heavy plant and vehicles. Buildings must also answer for CO2 emissions from the heating and cooling during occupation. The reuse of in-situ or locally available materials cuts the generation of CO2 from manufacture and transport and the evacuation of debris.  

How does that relate to product-service systems?

The building reuse approach goes a step further, fitting into a product-service schema based on usage value. In office buildings, for example, the average business tenant changes carpets every three years or so. In a reuse scenario, carpets that would have been discarded can prolong their lifecycle and be used by another business. Product-service systems sell functionality instead of goods or services, so no one ever actually owns the material items. There’s a value shift from matter to grey matter because first of all, one has to imagine how these materials can be reused. Then local jobs are created to remove and recondition the materials. Reuse not only reduces pollution and lowers resource consumption; it also holds other advantages. It helps combat planned obsolescence since the item’s producer remains the owner and has every interest in offering long-lasting, repairable, reusable solutions. It breaks the bond between income generation and material consumption.

Building lifecycle – source: Construction 21

It’s barely a year since you created Bobi-Réemploi. How far on are you? 

I started my project in January, 2019 as a single-person business. Then in March, 2020, once my view of the market became clear, I formed a company and hired employees. We operate mainly in the Rhône department but also region-wide, with two divisions. In the first of these, engineering consultancy, we conduct waste analyses and demolition material resource analyses. We also provide assistance to project owners in the identification of reuse channels. Our operational division then takes over to deal with logistics, storage, transport, and transfer of materials. We intervene in demolition as well as in gutting (emptying out a building interior right down to the walls). Our clients are mainly public and private sector contracting authorities involved in office buildings, council flats, housing, business outlets.

The government’s economic restart plan includes major support for the circular economy. What do you think of that?

I get the feeling the support measures are aimed more at getting the big stakeholders involved. This will be an opportunity for them but much less so for smaller concerns. In the reuse field, SMBs are really up against it when it comes to project submission appeals. It’s the big boys who get the spoils. And it’s worth pointing out that these big companies don’t currently have any reuse expertise. Therefore it risks being a long haul, even with the business stimulus provided by the February, 2020 circular economy act, which makes pre-demolition diagnosis compulsory. Lastly, developers must be willing to pay the price, otherwise the quality and the expected benefits are going to suffer. When buyers do their calculations, they don’t bother with the social and environmental aspects of the circular economy, and that’s a real shame.  

Photo captions: 

Toilet bowls: Reuse also applies to new or near-new materials. 180 toilet bowls left on a new construction site thanks to a mistake in ordering

-        Insulation recovered from a dismantling  in Lyon

Carpet tiles being reused after recovery from a dismantling in Lyon


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