Institutional changes in construction waste management
Sammanfattning: The construction industry is a major contributor to both environmental degradation and resource depletion. The industry responsible for more than 30 percent of the total amount of waste generated within the European Union relies on a linear mode of production where waste is considered as materials end-of-life, resulting in excessive consumption of natural resources. To improve this situation EU has proposed to apply the principles of Circular Economy to the management of waste. The circular economy builds on the decoupling of economic activity and consumption of finite resources. It is described as a novel production model that promises substantial environmental benefits by bridging the tension between business prosperity and its environmental impact. The European Commission has made attempts to increase resource management efficiency by incorporating these principles in action plans and directives, but Sweden still struggles to diffuse them within the sector. This thesis therefore addresses the gap between the actual practices of construction waste management and the transformations the sector is expected to carry out to implement these principles. In order to understand and analyze the barriers and enablers (what is preventing and what could foster the transition) to a circular economy, I build on the two concepts of institutional work and institutional logics. The concept of institutional work focus on the role of actors and the actions carried out that either maintain the existing or create new conditions for construction and demolition waste management. The concept of institutional logics is mobilized to explain the institutional context by focusing on sets of material practices and symbolic constructs that constitute organizing principles and constrain behavior amongst field members, including individuals, groups and organizations. The research draws on a social constructivist approach and qualitative research methods that shed light on two central actors in the construction waste management process, the demolition companies and the contractors. The empirical material consists of 31 interviews, site visits and meeting observations. My results show that there are two confronting logics that draw on different sets of assumptions, values and beliefs, where the established waste management logic clashes with the emerging circular economy logic. This creates tension as actors need to balance between contradictory organizational demands. The institutional work perspective shows how the different actors respond to these contradictory demands and how actions at the micro-level, may have implications at the level of the field. Much of the efforts to challenge the established practices are carried out by the environmental managers. Though assigned formal responsibility to implement more sustainable waste management practices within the organization, their positioning in the organization together with an unsupportive legislative frame makes it difficult for them to diffuse elements corresponding to the emerging logic. The individuals operating at the level of projects are therefore able to dismiss the proposed improvements that are not aligned with the existing structures, ideas and values of the field. Part of the environmental managers' efforts is therefore directed outside the organizational borders as they engage in inter-organizational networks and development projects that contribute to the spreading and normalization of sustainability initiatives within the field. This thesis shows that even though improvements can be identified, in increasing sorting ratios and reducing waste generation, the institutional work carried out by the actors seems to maintain the predominantly linear waste management processes in the industry. However, the transition towards circular principles is a long-term endeavor that requires change across the whole field, where efforts within inter-organizational networks show promising avenues for development.
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