Globally, the built environment is a major contributor to adverse climate effects, emitting the sector’s highest-ever level of CO2 in 2019. According to UNEP’s Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative, buildings use about 40% of global resources in their entire life cycle. Importantly, building construction produces 40% of waste and 30% of GHG emissions globally. One piece of this is the housing sector, particularly in low-income communities which are disproportionately impacted by negative climate effects. Indeed, the housing sector has much opportunity to improve its impact on the environment, particularly in regions of material and economic scarcity.

In partnership with Habitat for Humanity, E4C Fellows sought to analyze sustainable housing solutions that enable circular economies in low-income communities. Each research was conducted independently; including landscape analysis of trends, enablers, and barriers to innovation of sustainable housing solutions that support circular economies. A combination of secondary research and semi-structured interviews with over 40 experienced practitioners in various housing sectors (with representation from the public sector, private sector, NGOs, and academia) were used to inform the findings and insights.

The Mexico and Kenya studies based their definition of Circular Economy and its methods on the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s guide for policymakers to design a strategy to accelerate the transition towards the circular economy. This methodology provides a broad approach of circular economy in contraposition to a linear economy based on a “take, make, dispose” model, which is based on three principles: preserving natural capital, by controlling the use of finite materials and using renewable resources; optimizing resource yields by circulating materials at the highest utility in both technical and biological flows; and fostering system effectiveness by eliminating negative externalities, like climate change. Guided by the ReSOLVE Framework, data were synthesized to assess barriers and recommendations across key categories: Natural construction materials, adjustments in the construction value chain, improving the reuse and recycling of building materials, and building materials from recycling plastics. The ReSOLVE framework offers six different business actions to achieve a circular system: (1) regenerate, (2) share, (3) optimize, (4) loop, (5) virtualize, and (6) exchange, and provides a step-by-step guide for mapping opportunities, trends, barriers, and policy opportunities to enable the transition to a circular economy.


In Mexico, a variety of technologies are available that can improve circularity in the housing sector, reducing the environmental impact while providing affordable and inclusive solutions. Further, there are vast opportunities and great impact in supporting initiatives that aim to reduce, reuse, or recycle construction and demolition waste in the country. However, financial and social barriers are blocking the penetration of circular solutions, such as the implementation of plastic building components or industrialized construction systems. Further research is required to consider additional potential impacts of other sustainable solutions in housing such as energy efficiency and net-zero buildings. In the final report on the circular economy landscape in Mexico, a range of technologies and solutions are presented. View the full report on Mexico here.


In Kenya, there also exists a wide range of initiatives and technologies aimed at achieving a circular economy. Notably, the importance of community participatory approaches to housing development is highlighted. Although there already exists a vast array of technologies suited for developing affordable housing (including financial platforms that serve the bulk of the population in the informal sector), these require support to scale at feasible speeds. In the final report on the circular economy landscape in Kenya, a range of technologies and solutions are presented. View the full report on Kenya here.


In India, a number of case studies were identified that illustrate positive growth towards promoting environmentally friendly materials that are also price competitive in the market. From this research there appears to be a positive policy push to support pilot projects and relevant seminars on sustainable construction, but there is still a lack of awareness among users and fraternity for promotion of these new materials. In the final report on the circular housing landscape in India, examples of organizations that are involved in sustainable construction solutions are benchmarked against national institutional guidelines and policies. View the full report on India here.


In the Philippines, the business case for green, while largely enabled by financing and policy, does not necessarily require newer construction technologies, they simply must allow for increased supply of housing units. Additionally, there is an opportunity to establish planning and design codes standards that are aligned to green principles. In the final report on the circular housing landscape in the Philippines, solutions and innovations across the value chain were identified, a Theory of Change was developed to explain activities and preconditions required to transform the housing market, and key recommendations are provided. View the full report on the Philippines here.

ADVISORS AND COLLABORATORS: Jennifer Oomen, Jacob SimweroAna Karen Medina, Juan Pablo Vargas, Fernando Medoza, Anoop Nambiar, Shyam Chander Kunagaran, Deepak Visvanathan, Jessan Catre, Jerick Axalan, Habitat for Humanity International

E4C 2021 PROGRAM MANAGEMENT TEAM: Mariela Machado, Senior Program Manager; Grace Burleson, Research Manager; Erin Peiffer, Research Manager; Marilynn Holguín Clover, Program Coordinator; Jonathan Kemp, Program Specialist; Carolina Rojas, Program Associate

This research was completed as part of the 2021 E4C Fellowship program. Learn more about the Fellows who worked on this research collaboration by connecting with them on LinkedIn: Martin Ignacio del PinoGuy MamboSudhamayee PochirajuDean Ashton Plamenco and Patrick Sours.

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