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PhD project within Circular Built Environment


Andreas de Gier,
Industrial PhD


Enemærke & Petersen A/S,
Aalborg University,
Chalmers University of Technology


From policy to practice: Regulating for sustainability in construction

Global environmental conditions are degrading at an alarming pace, leading the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to shift its narrative with additional warnings and critical consequences of global warming. This crisis calls for immediate action, prompting both global policymakers and the European Union to introduce a series of regulatory initiatives and agreements. Within the European Union, the Commission has presented an extensive array of legislation and action plans designed to align with these political ambitions and pave the way for a climate-neutral continent by 2050. A specific portion of the European engagement in sustainability laws focuses on sustainable finance. This entails new economic demands on private market participants, encouraging them to find economic advantages in investing in sustainability. These laws are intended to incentive all levels of the value chain, encompassing investors, building clients and construction companies, to embrace sustainability as a common objective.

However, there is limited qualitative research examining the practical implications of sustainability regulations and the link between policy and practice in the construction industry. This research project seeks to bridge that chasm by exploring how the industry tackles new laws and regulations and examining their impact at multiple levels, from construction clients to organizational structures and on-site practices. Specifically, the research explores three different perspectives, an industry, a company, and a project level of analysis, to understand how different areas are affected by sustainability-focused laws.

The first level (industry) focuses on the dynamics of construction as a field, examining how different types of construction clients (public, private, and third sector), with varying operational practices, economic focuses, and business structures, are differently affected by sustainability regulation. As construction clients are typically dominant in defining the degree of sustainability in construction projects, they often set the tone for the industry’s response to sustainability demands. This part of the analysis thus seeks to unravel how clients of various profiles influence the construction industry’s approach to sustainability leading to a new common ground or divergent clients demands.

The second level (company) zooms in on the internal policies of a large construction organization as it seeks to comply with the EU taxonomy. It explores how interorganizational dynamics and competing priorities within the organization create challenges when implementing strategies and internal policies to comply with regulatory demands. For example, on-site management finds it difficult to balance compliance with EU taxonomy requirements with the need to meet project timelines and cost-efficiency targets.

The third level (project) examines a construction site to study the direct implications of waste laws and internal policies aimed at increasing recycling percentages. Here, the study identifies various issues as well as the on-site management’s practical focus and lack of access to waste data and statistics. Furthermore, the classification of waste categories faces some practical limitations for the contractor as large amounts of mixed waste leave the construction site unnoticed.

The overarching implication of this study is that the downstream impacts of political sustainability laws are complex and protracted, and implementation Is impeded by similar issues across the three levels of analysis, highlighting similar issues as policies undergo an array of industry-specific processes, norms, and routines. The nature of environmentally-oriented regulations and these industry-specific dynamics creates and sustains a gap between policy and practice that could limit political ambitions and obligations around sustainability.


Buser, M., Gottlieb, S. C., Gier, A. J. D., & Andersson, R. (2021). From Concept to Practice: Implementation of Circular Building as a Process of Translation. I L. Scott, & C. Neilson (red.), Proceedings of the 37th Annual ARCOM Conference (s. 584-593)
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