The building industry is material-intensive and has a significant impact on the economy and the environment. It is responsible for approximately 40% of the total waste generated across the European Union (Boorsma et al., 2019). Additionally, façades can account for up to 40% of a building’s total carbon emissions.

The building industry can be regarded as dynamic and highly fragmented in nature. There are many stakeholders involved right from the inception to the End-of-Life (EoL) of the building. The concept of Circular Economy (CE) is heavily debated and interpreted differently by numerous stakeholders. This suggests that while the concept of Circular Economy (CE) is well-established in theory, it lacks a transparent framework that can be translated into practice.

Circular economy value hill
Figure 1 – Circular economy value hill

The core idea of CE can be simply translated into three fundamental strategies towards the cycling of resources.

  • Slowing resource loops: extending the service life of a product through the application of strategies such as reuse, recycle and remanufacture.
  • Closing resource loops: recycling bridges the loop between post-use and production leading to a circular flow of resources.
  • Resource efficiency: narrowing resource flows with a goal of using fewer resources per product.

In the contemporary discourse, digital technology is increasingly recognised as a pivotal force fostering the seamless exchange of information among stakeholders throughout the value chain, serving as catalysts for the adoption of circular business models. The enhanced transparency and improved quality of information can boost decision-making processes to improve the value recovery of façade (building) components. Ultimately the implementation of circular strategies hinges on effective management of resources, highlighting the integral role of digital technology in shaping sustainable practices.

Ramboll’s area of focus for crafting sustainable solutions
Figure 2 –Ramboll’s area of focus for crafting sustainable solutions

Several digital innovations have emerged to support circular strategies in the built environment namely, material passports (MPs), Building Information Modelling (BIM). This has sparked the initiation of numerous funded projects such as BAMB and Platforms such as Madaster. They are leading the way in developing, testing, and promoting the use of material passports while also emphasising Reversible Building Design. The former will offer data regarding manufacturing processes, packaging, handling, and warranties, guiding manufacturers in implementing appropriate strategies at the end of the product’s lifecycle. Meanwhile, the latter will assist in disassembling and reusing building components.

Estimating baseline thermal performance of an existing building in Cambridge
Figure 3 – Estimating baseline thermal performance of an existing building in Cambridge

Additionally, Blockchain technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Façade as a Service (FaaS) are other enabling technologies that have the potential to streamline the transfer of information among stakeholders. Despite our awareness of viable solutions that could propel us to achieving a circular economy, the question persists: What are the current challenges and how does this shape our current design process? To answer the posed question, the following iterative concepts are explored: (1) Challenges with existing buildings (2) Lack of product data is one of the biggest inhibitors (3) Material passports and their role in implementing circular economy (4) Our Current design process must address these challenges in our new designs.


General challenges related to conducting technical assessments on the existing façade systems include:

  • Limited or no information available on the original façade manufacturer
  • Limited as-built information
  • Most of the façade components have reached their End of Life (EoL)
  • Challenges in coordination between various stakeholders of the value chain to disassemble the existing façade.

Challenges associated with the reuse of façade components include:

  • Reduced strength
  • Limited as-built information
  • Potential non-compliance with current regulations
  • Uncertain strategy to procure warranties due to varied approaches to residual service life (e.g., glass, perimeter seals, gaskets, etc).

Some of these challenges can be overcome by testing, validations, and or modelling to establish the baseline performance. However, these processes are often time-consuming and reliant on assumptions derived from limited existing information, thereby introducing uncertainty and commercial risk.


As mentioned in the previous section, lack of product data is a key obstacle to reusing, repairing and remanufacturing the product. Notably, one significant difference between building products and general consumer products is the short ownership period compared to the product’s service life.

Introduction of IoT in Façade Components by Schueco
Figure 4 – Introduction of IoT in Façade Components by Schueco (Source:

Consequently, original manufacturers lose control over the building products post-installation, with repairs typically handled by third parties who lack manufacturer status. This results in a knowledge gap, leaving manufacturers unaware of product drawbacks. At the product’s End of Life (EoL), a third party steps in to recover residual value, yet pertinent information such as packaging instructions, disassembly procedures, and maintenance documentation is often absent.

This communication gap poses challenges for disassembly and recovery, rendering repair and reuse unfavourable options. The industry’s initial step toward resolution involves integrating material passports into Building Information Modelling (BIM) models, thereby transforming existing buildings as material banks.


As defined by (Bokkinga,2018), “a Material passport (MPs) is a digital database with valuable information on materials, elements and components present in the building”. Its range is classified into different levels namely materials, components, products and systems that are present in the building.

The concept of a Material passport is increasingly being recognised as a crucial component within the construction industry as an integrated information system that will bridge the gap between physical materials and digital databases. They contain information on lifecycle management that can be used to recover a product at its EoL thereby reducing waste generation, pollution, and decreased landfill. This quality makes them crucial in steering the construction industry towards a circular value chain.

Façade Performance Outputs generated using in-house digital tools
Figure 4 – Façade Performance Outputs generated using in-house digital tools.

The advanced tracking features of MPs provide immediate information on location and material properties highlighting the risks associated and promoting sustainable recovery. While the potential of MPs is established in academic literature, there is a gap in realising its application. The selection of a suitable MP is vital due to the complex supply chain comprised of numerous stakeholders with variable data needs. One of the compelling options is the integration of MP with automatic identification systems such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) which provides an efficient method for managing the flow of materials and information. Façade system designers namely Schueco have already integrated this technology into their products, and a notable transformation is anticipated as these technologies become commonplace.


A notable disparity exists and we acknowledge this gap and are actively leading efforts to promote sustainable transformations across projects. Our façade design process fosters collaboration among diverse engineering disciplines, with project inputs and outputs mutually influencing each other—an aspect we are particularly mindful of.

It is crucial to bridge this gap and endeavour to narrow it as much as possible. To facilitate collaboration, several digital tools are developed which enable rapid and accurate assessments of various façade systems, generating essential data crucial for informed decision-making. These initiatives are guided by sustainable design principles and lay the groundwork for the future development of material passports.


RHEA ISHANI Graduate Engineer, Façade Engineering UK, Ramboll
RHEA ISHANI Graduate Engineer, Façade Engineering UK, Ramboll

Rhea, a graduate Façade Engineer with an architectural background, completed her studies at (Bouwkunde) Delft University of Technology, specializing in Building Technology. Her thesis centered on circular economy and remanufacturing of end-of-life façade products. Engaged in diverse residential and commercial projects, her focus is on crafting innovative solutions for an environmentally conscious and resilient built environment. Passionate about sustainability, she aims to contribute positively through her work.

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