While climate may be the major factor to consider when assessing the sustainability of building products, it’s not the only concern. As this selection of some of the latest arrivals shows, other factors like deforestation, toxicity, and recycling are also critical.
Around the world, things are slowly changing. Vaccinations rates are rising, there’s light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, and we are starting to think about a ‘new normal’ future.
Meanwhile, however, that other great global crisis – climate change – has not gone away. While COVID-19 has taken centre stage for the past 18 months or so, things like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report have occasionally (and dramatically) returned our attention to climate.
Sustainability is particularly relevant to the architectural and construction sectors. As the EU Energy Commission has noted, when the global construction and materials manufacturing industries are considered from a demand side perspective, they together account for largest human contribution to global net CO₂ emissions.
The built environment, in other words, is a huge part of the problem. And Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD) is the solution. Put simply, specifiers need to reduce energy consumption. Naturally this involves employing things like thermal efficiency, but importantly, it also involves understanding the concept of ‘embodied carbon’ – i.e., all the carbon emissions associated with a product, including those linked to extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, transport and so forth.
Of course, climate isn’t the only environmental issue. ESD must also address broader concerns, such as deforestation, the use of toxic chemicals, waste products associated with manufacturing, species loss, and more. With all of this in mind, here follows a broad selection of the latest sustainable building products and their suppliers.
Bluescope’s Colorbond Coolmax steel is a tailored roofing product designed to provide and maintain high solar reflectance. Available in a single colour, known as ‘Whitehaven’, Colorbond Coolmax is designed to reduce roofing temperatures, and in so doing, improve the overall thermal efficiency of the buildings on which it is used.
Manufactured locally and compliant with all relevant Australian Standards, the product is the result of real-world exposure testing and accelerated laboratory testing at BlueScope sites in Australia. As a result, it has achieved a Nominal Solar Reflectance value of 0.77, a Solar Reflectance Index (SRI) of 95, and a three-year-aged SRI of 92.
To put that into context, a Nominal Solar Reflectance value of 0.77 means that the product in question reflects 77% of the sun’s heat. In other words, Colorbond Coolmax steel is an ideal product for those seeking to maximise thermal efficiency and mitigate the impact of Urban Heat Islands (urban areas that, because of the nature of the built environment, become significantly warmer than surrounding undeveloped areas).
On top of that, specifiers who incorporate this roofing product into their projects receive the benefits of potentially earning provision points with Green Star and improving their NABERS rating.
Windows are another important part of the thermal efficiency equation. However, while most tend to think immediately of glazing when windows are mentioned in this context, glazing is not the whole story. The most energy efficient windows feature quality glass, as well as insulated frames.
Because aluminium is an excellent conductor of heat, standard aluminium frames are not an energy efficient option. Broken aluminium frames – which include a reinforced polyamide strip that is fixed between the inside and outside aluminium profiles and creates an insulated barrier within the frame – are a better option.
The Thermaframe range of thermally broken windows and doors from Alspec, a market leader in the design and distribution of aluminium systems, is a good example. Specified along with quality glazing, products from the range can reduce heat flow by up to 35%. But that is not their only benefit. Apart from reducing energy consumption, they also carry low levels of embodied energy. They reduce condensation, deliver a high ROI, and future proof real estate assets.
Solatube Australia’s Integrated LED Light Kit allows the integration of natural and electric light from a single fixture. The product works by harnessing the sun’s natural light during the day and providing energy-efficient LED lighting at night.
The lighting system includes a dimming option that can be paired with manual and automated dimming controls, which is perfect for offices and schools where lighting control and comfort is important.
The commercial Integrated LED Light Kit was developed in response to the demand for technology that would provide optimal lighting and energy savings. It’s an intelligent fusion of natural light and LED lighting that makes for a clean ceiling design.
The kit’s tubular daylighting devices (TDD) harvest daylight at the rooftop, transfers it down a highly reflective tube and distributes it evenly into an interior space through a diffuser at the ceiling – on both sunny and cloudy days – with virtually no commissioning or maintenance required.
While energy efficiency and cost savings are one thing, the Integrated LED Light Kit also delivers in terms of functionality. According to the company, the TDD provides the highest Light Transfer Efficiency (LTE), the most consistent colour Temperature Maintenance (CTM) and the best light-to-solar heat gain ratio of any daylighting system on the market.
Ecopact is a low carbon concrete available from Holcim, a supplier of aggregates, readymix concrete, concrete pipes, and associated products. Even though it matches – or even outdoes – conventional concrete products in terms of performance, Ecopact uses fewer natural resources and includes less embodied carbon than those products.
This is possible because its manufacture involves replacing some standard cement with industrial by-products like fly ash, blast furnace slag, and silica fume. Available in a variety of strength classes, Ecopact can reduce embodied carbon by 30 – 60%, compared to the Australian National Life Cycle Inventory Database base case. Compliant with industry standards, Ecopact can be handled, pumped, and finished in the same way as conventional concrete. The type and strength of the product required depends on the specific application.
Importantly, Ecopact is the first low carbon concrete brand to be backed by a third party verified Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), which means that the embodied carbon reduction figures quoted by the company have been independently validated.
For those wishing to go even further in the cause of sustainability, Holcim now provides the opportunity to offset any remaining embodied carbon from its ready-mix concrete. Known as Ecopact Zero, this provides full offsetting of cradle-to-gate carbon emissions through environmental projects that are certified by the Australian Government’s Climate Active program.
A sustainable flooring solution, which has been manufactured according to the same formula since 1898, Tarkett linoleum combines natural beauty with comfort and durability. It is made from 94 per cent natural raw materials and is available across a range of traditional marbled patterns and colours. Treated with the company’s xf² surface protection it can be relied upon for its durability, easy cleaning, and cost-effective maintenance.
With a focus on all stages of the product lifecycle, Tarkett is committed to sustainable production and the transition to a circular economy business model. As such, its linoleum flooring is not only fully recyclable but also the first product of its kind, anywhere in the world, to have received Cradle to Cradle certification.
Further initiatives at its plant in Narni, Italy include an ambition to achieve net zero emissions, the use of heat exchangers that recover and reuse heat from ovens, and the installation of both a biomass boiler that produces hot water to heat the ovens and a closed-loop water recirculated industrial water system. On top of that, the plant produces 34 per cent of the energy it uses on site and recycles 1,600 tonnes of materials recycled annually.
House of Bamboo
Suitable for the construction of battens, slatted privacy screens, flooring, decking, cladding, benchtops, acoustic panels, shelves, steps, railing, partitioning, planters, feature walls and more, engineered bamboo delivers the look and feel of timber, but far outscores that more traditional material in terms of environmental friendliness.
Completely biodegradable, engineered bamboo offers greater tensile strength than concrete and oak but is lighter than maple. On top of that, it absorbs four times the carbon and produces 35 per cent more oxygen than trees. And, while forest products require trees to mature over a period of 25 - 80 years before they can be harvested, short harvest cycle bamboo is normally ready for harvest in just 5 - 7 years.
A simple grass plant, renewable harvest bamboo naturally regenerates itself after harvesting, is resistant to termites, and has a complex root system that helps prevent soil erosion and inhibit flooding.
Those sourcing engineered timber products from House of Bamboo can do so in the knowledge that it is the only Australian supplier to have achieved both Greentag Level A certification and the Platinum Healthrate. This means that their products rate well not only in terms of sustainability but also in terms of non-toxicity.
Available from Futurewood, Enviroslat is a composite timber building material typically used for decking, screening, and cladding applications. Made from up to 90% recycled materials (namely HDPE/PP plastic, wood flour from sawdust, and rice husks), outdoor products carrying the Enviroslat branding require far less maintenance than timber products, do not require painting, and have no need for any other chemical finishes or coatings.
EnviroSlat is rot proof and termite resistant. A Long life, pre-coloured material, it will not cup or crack, and is UV stable. Tested to suit Australian conditions, it represents a reliable, sustainable alternative to traditional timber products.
Altro Flooring and Walling
With twelve colour choices, 14dB sound reduction, and excellent slip-resistance, Altro Wood adhesive-free is a safe, durable, decorative, and sustainable flooring solution for busy spaces. in terms of applications, it is recommended for bedrooms and ensuites in care homes and hotels; as an alternative to LVTs in student accommodation; for common rooms and staff rooms in schools; and for cafés and dining areas.
Employing an adhesive-free installation method, it can be welded and walked upon on the same day, and at the end of its life can be removed easily, allowing it to be reused or recycled. As such, it is ideal for busy public spaces where disruption needs to be minimal, plus there are no associated adhesive odours.
Altro Flooring and Walling manufactures and recycles its traditional safety flooring in-house. On top of that, the product meets low VOC guidelines and does not contain phthalates. Made with bio-plasticizers, it is 100% recyclable post-installation and can be lifted and reused after initial installation. Installed using a tape system instead of adhesive, it is available with EPD, HPD declarations from the company.
Considering that leaks account for a significant percentage of total water consumption, particularly in commercial buildings, it follows that preventing leaks and using technology and data driven insight to drive efficiencies represent the next frontier in water sustainability.
Born out of a desire to monitor and improve sustainability, user experience, and maintenance regimes, Caroma Smart Command is an eco-system of Bluetooth enabled bathroom fixtures which relay water consumption, leak detection, behavioural trends and more in near real-time to the Caroma Smart Command Cloud and/or a building management system (BMS).
More an amalgamation of fixtures than a single product, the Caroma Smart Command eco-system consists of touchless tapware, touchless toilet flush panels, automated urinal flush valves, an intelligent touch-screen shower interface, and leak detection and prevention valves.
Overseeing these various fixtures, the Caroma Smart Command Cloud (the only device of its kind on the market) collates all data points, provides access to insightful reports, and enables proactive management of bathroom fixtures.
Caroma Smart Command Eco Valves learn building consumption patterns and warn of potential minor leaks; and also alert and isolate supply when major leaks are detected.
On top of that, by tracking hand washing activations, Caroma Smart Command can allow targeted preventative maintenance to prolong the life of fixtures and reduce emergency call outs. The data generated by fixtures can also help inform cleaning cycles and efficiencies.
House of Bamboo
Altro Flooring and Walling
Image: BlueScope / Supplied