“Are we there yet?” asked Australian
gumnut classics Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, in the 2007 musical adaptation of
their adventures. Similarly, manufacturers, suppliers, environmentalists and
engineers talking about their sustainable products and materials at the latest
in the Green Building Council of Australia’s Innovation Series want to reach
their destination – but there is still a way to go.
Hosted at Interface’s office in
Sydney, Tom Davies, Environment Edge founding director and chairman, began the
evening’s life cycle and waste reduction thrust. He was followed by Interface’s
sustainability and lean manager Aidan Mullan, who explained that the company’s zero
waste to landfill program at its new factory in Minto, separates difficult
wastes at source and aims to emulate nature, wasting nothing, or as little as
possible. It is best to reuse and recycle and educate, train and engage
employees along the way, he said.
Although the company has made big
impacts, Mullan admitted they are possibly still
another 20 years away from their goal. The yarn itself is still a significant
emitter, and replacing petro-chemically
derived fibres with recycled fibres is one of the biggest challenges, as the
website also notes. Reprocessing the product at the end of its life
and co-innovation across Interface’s global offices in research and on to manufacture
are promising endeavours.
Scott Clarkson, CSR project manager and civil engineer, spoke
of energy saving product integration to increase energy efficiency and monitor cost,
with development of an 8 -star energy rating home consuming 70 per cent less energy
than more common equivalent-sized new homes.
CSR’s product-centred approach
competes against greenwash, he said, while the focus is on whole-of-building
performance, looking at wider product applications (Viridian’s triple-glazing ,
for Australia, would be something quite new), developing then implementing
solutions, focusing on the quality of construction and backing up with
warranties. Clarkson suggested that sustainability may have to be delivered as a
Trojan horse, with more confronting concepts such as thermal comfort bursting
from more general concepts such as comfort.
Bluescope Steel’s Nicole Sullivan spoke of the next
generation of Zincalume, with an improved metal coating formula, using less energy,
and responding to the maxim of getting more out of each product. Life cycle
assessments cut across 18 different categories and the company’s “industrial
ecology” focuses on ways to make products more efficient, using less materials and
energy, for instance replacing fresh water from dams with recycled tertiary-treated
water. Looking ahead, “where to now” includes horizontal, modular solar roof
Nanotechnology for Laing O’Rourke innovation engineer, Dr
Monica Hanus-Smith, has excitement and potential, improving concrete strength,
or leading to materials with self-cleaning surfaces feeding off external light
(and to excited speculation among some attendees about the possibility of
self-cleaning nappies). However, there is still limited awareness – and
embracing – of nanotechnology, she said. It suffers from false expectations
with a failure to distinguish between what is available and what people think
might be – or is – available.
The message from all was positive but cautionary with
realistic, rather than overly optimistic, appraisals.
Deborah Singerman is a Sydney-based journalist and editor,
specialising in architecture and design, including city, community, society,
economy, sustainability and culture.