For Scott Gibson, the reasons for opening Australia’s first Green Star-rated manufacturing plant were both obvious and multi-pronged.
As the managing director of Kingspan – an international building materials company – in the Asia-Pacific region, it made sense on several levels.
“[There are] a few sides to [going green],” says Gibson. “There’s a social and corporate responsibility. We’re large users of energy. When I say corporate, I mean we’re looking at a global level, but we’re looking at a community level as well. We’ve got a responsibility to inspire the way. We need to show we can walk the talk.
“It is also a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy working environment for our people. We want to be an employer of choice. The generation of people entering the workforce now hold value in knowing the organisations are socially responsible; that we aren’t wasteful.”
Gibson says that the aim is to get the manufacturing plant, which opened in Melbourne earlier this year, net zero by 2020.
“We need to ensure [all of our facilities are] as energy-efficient as possible.”
The effort to get the Melbourne plant Green Star-rated was an envelope-first approach, but subsequently touched on technology and renewable energy sources.
“The Kingspan path to net zero – and we’re really employing this [across our facilities] – starts obviously with the design itself,” says Gibson. “It starts with the building’s envelope. Using our own insulation, we want to create it as air-tight and energy-efficient as we can. The manufacturing area requires consistent temperatures, whereas the office environment has to be both air-tight and energy-efficient. High-performing glazing allows natural light to come through.”
The next stage of the greening process was the optimisation of services. For lighting, Kingspan’s own range of photo-sensitive and motion-sensitive lighting was used.
“The light system will pay itself back within two-and-a-half to three years,” says Gibson. “The climate control systems, we’re looking at systems that re-use their own generated heat.”
For hot water, Kingspan had planned to rely on solar. However, they got a recommendation from their architect, Tone Wheeler, for a system that generates energy through the atmosphere and heat pumps. For heating systems in Kingspan, natural gas has been used, equipped with a recirculation system in the plant’s ovens so that as much heat as possible is recovered from the process.
“There’s a lot more to a Green Star rating than energy efficiency, and our approach to that – for instance, with water – is a rain harvesting system that holds 75,000 litres of water at any one time,” says Gibson. “That runs our toilets, our grey water, and also reticulates into our garden, which is a very low water use, native garden.
“We’ve not emptied the tanks yet and we don’t think we will.”
On a smaller, internal scale, Kingspan ensured that responsible materials – such as timber and steel – were procured for the factory wherever possible.
“We had selection criteria around office furniture and the interior fit-out follows a path to low VOC laminates and floor coverings and paints and it’s encouraging, as well, to note that many of the suppliers are Australian-based.”
The next step will be to become a net exporter of power and electricity. And, in the months when the sunlight levels are less than optimal, Gibson says they’ll start looking to buy green power from their electricity suppliers.
Aside from the social responsibility aspect of the greening, Gibson says the decision “just made good business sense”.
“We want to make the working environment as healthy to people as possible. The area is open plan and part of our brief was that every person has a direct line of sight to outdoors – to natural sunlight – and we put a lot of effort into ensuring a fresh circulation of air,” says Gibson.
“It makes good business sense. It makes good sense to have a highly efficient building; to have a highly insulated and consistent operating temperature in your operating area; to provide a clean work environment for your employees. We have a very low level of employee absenteeism compared to where we came from because our office environment is very healthy.”
As much as the implementation of green systems and services is often portrayed as a costly and time-consuming process, Gibson believes that Kingspan’s Melbourne factory will pay itself off sooner rather than later.
“The payback on the technology we introduced to get us to a net zero position will probably be less than five years,” he says. “And at the same time, we’ve just created a wonderful working environment for our people.”