Housing in the circular economy, lessons from value network mapping as a transition experimentation tool

Waldo Galle, Wim Debacker, Yves De Weerdt, Niels De Temmerman

Onderzoeksoutput: Conference paper


In Belgium, about 70% of all households own the house they call their home. Private ownership is strongly encouraged by governments, although the price of houses and apartments has more than doubled since 2000. As a result, the affordability of housing becomes a challenge for increasingly more families. 13% of those who enter a loan, pay more than 40% of its income to a mortgage, and the past year 8% had difficulties paying fixed or additional housing costs.

In the frequently discussed transition towards the circular economy opportunities are identified to make housing affordable again. When closing material loops by designing waste out, the value of construction products is maximised over time. That could turn housing from a capital-intensive commodity into a sustainable investment. But although promising, practice has shown little evidence so far. Consequently, the question crystallises: how can we capitalise on the opportunities of the circular economy for making housing affordable again?

In the idea of circularity, one implementation strategy is to hold producers responsible for their products by introducing a service-based economy. During a Belgian transition experiment that was set up to give shape to this strategy and answer our research objective, we were challenged by the recurrent question of how to finance that economy. To tackle that challenge, we broadened the perspective from cash flows to all exchanges between the actors in a housing project and used network analyses to map those roles and flows.

In the present paper we sketch our lessons learnt after adopting value network mapping during this transition experiment, as the basis for unlocking pathways, interactive co-creation, and reflexive monitoring. During two workshops, various steering group meetings and a series of face-to-face interviews, we used value networks rendered in maps: schemes showing the different roles and transfers of cash, goods and services. Based on existing analyses of the conventional construction sector and emerging businesses, we started with 7 different maps, conventional as well as ‘circular’ ones and developed variants during the course of the experiment.

Our adoption of network maps led to a wide stet of observations, including the following three. First, value network maps were easily adopted by the participants of co-creation workshops, and actively supported discussions at system and organisational level. Second, they allowed identifying gains and losses for all actors when switching from one (conventional) to another (circular) network. And third, the drawings allowed imagining new roles and discussing the redistribution of gains, losses and risk – an essential feature to establish transitions in practice. Altogether, with the aid of value network maps, it was possible to co-create an alternative value network, while balancing ambitions and expectations with practical limitations. Social, economic as well as technical aspects found their place in the analyses, allowing the experiment to evolve from a systemic challenge to an innovative construction project.

As a conclusion, this experience serves as a validation of network analyses as a supporting tool in the context of a concrete transition experiment, while rendering a series of user guidelines and advices. It encourages us to use this method further, particularly in experiments wherein conventional roles and rules can no longer be relied on. Following on our experiment, it is planned to have the first pilot project constructed during the autumn of 2019.
Originele taal-2English
TitelProc. of the International Sustainability Transitions Conference 2019
UitgeverijCarleton University
Aantal pagina's16
StatusPublished - 24 jun 2019
EvenementInternational Sustainability Transitions Conference 2019 - Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
Duur: 23 jun 201926 jun 2019


ConferenceInternational Sustainability Transitions Conference 2019
Verkorte titelIST2019
Internet adres


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