BTR and Embracing the Circular Economy

By Ben Lovedale, Associate at Sheppard Robson

The burgeoning Build-to-Rent (BTR) sector’s emphasis on community and long-term stewardship of an asset means that it is well placed to prioritise efficiency and environmental performance, making it fertile ground for sustainable innovation.

As an industry, we are looking at ways to kickstart the circular economy and BTR seems like a natural place where leaps forward can be made. Long-term vision and investment are embedded in new BTR developments alongside the shorter-term need to adapt to the evolving needs of communities and residents. The buildings and spaces need to endure for decades, but the character, finish and operation need to adapt regularly. During these cycles it is in the interest of operators, residents, and the environment for value to be retained and for resources to be recirculated.

This opportunity is supported by the core principles of the circular economy in design. Leasing aligns well with BTR’s service and performance-based model, including fixtures and fittings but could even extend to structure and services. For instance, lighting performance could be procured delivering an environment rather than a fixture and no longer rewarding redundancy. Furniture could also be leased allowing for regular change whilst the custodians remain those who know best how to refurbish or remanufacture and recirculate items.

Building in layers would help maintain the core value of the BTR spaces whilst acknowledging lifespans and the need for adaptability. Construction methods, materiality and detailing will support this. For example, composites and glues should be avoided favouring simplicity and mechanical fixings. During renewal of homes this can facilitate simple deconstruction, refit and recycling and a faster, cost-effective process maximising value retention and flexibility.  

Designing for adaptability will also allow dwellings and community spaces to accommodate evolving lifestyles and needs. This will require circular economy thinking to be embedded from the start of design process, so the superstructure is enabling rather than constraining. 

For example, recent trends towards home and local co-working might revert to more office-centric practices in the future, which is likely to lead to a recalibration of the spaces within a BTR development.  This could result in a looser fit, but longer life, solution. Through co-design the project team can work together to envisage these future scenarios and plan for them to optimise the longevity of spaces and resources.

This thought into the cycle and layers of design does not mean compromising on design quality. It will inform a design language that celebrates appropriate materials and considered construction, helping express the environmental credentials of a development which are increasingly a deal-breaker for consumers. 

Ben Lovedale, Associate at Sheppard Robson