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Designing and Planning for Circularity

A circular economy requires changes in the way products are designed, produced and used. Sound design principles strive for durability, repairability and recyclability of products. Reducing the use of hazardous substances in various types of products not only lowers risks for health and the environment but also makes recycling and recovery of secondary products much easier. Mandatory requirements can also include minimum standards of efficiency.

Vehicle regulations

  •  A United Nations regulation adopted at UNECE in 2013 requires 85% of new vehicles’ mass to be reusable/recyclable and 95% reusable/recoverable, thereby reducing overall environmental footprint by influencing the design process. This binding regulation covers one quarter of all vehicles sold globally – some 23 million vehicles in 2019. 
car recycling
  • Design is also important to prevent the programmed obsolescence of vehicles and extend their life. A United Nations Regulation on Software Updates facilitates vehicle upgrades that will limit the premature obsolescence of vehicles.
  • Mandatory performance requirements can be imposed on certain products to increase resource efficiency and reduce pollution. For these requirements to be effective, accepted standards and testing methods for verification are essential. UN Regulations and Global Technical Regulations enable harmonized measurement of fuel consumption and tailpipe CO2 emissions from cars and vans.


  • National planning frameworks can serve to anticipate the consequences of different choices, plan for their long-term implications and ensure coherence among various types of interventions, including in a transboundary context. The Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the Espoo Convention provides a practical tool to improve the quality of such decisions.
  • The design of infrastructure and the way it is used determines its longevity and the overall needs for materials through the lifecycle. UNECE transport infrastructure agreements define key parameters for the construction, maintenance and upgrade of international networks in all inland transport modes.
  • Buildings account for around one third of the global consumption of materials and are responsible for 40 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions through the energy services they require. The Framework Guidelines for Energy Efficiency Standards in Buildings developed by UNECE provide a set of principles to improve sustainability in the conception/design, construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning/recycling of buildings and their components. The Guidelines provide the basis for the High-Performance Buildings Initiative (HPBI) that seeks to improve health and quality of life while advancing decarbonization of the global buildings supply chain.