The Sustainability Awards 2017 are only a few months away, and Architecture & Design is proud to announce Weathertex as the official sponsor for the ‘Multiple Dwelling’ category.

Architecture & Design spoke to Jason O’Hagan, Weathertex’s managing director, about the value of third-party certification and the history of Weathertex’s manufacturing processes.

Weathertex recently received the first Platinum certification from GreenTag globally for their ‘Natural’ range of timber products. In light of that, could you explain the difference between an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) and a Lifecycle Analysis (LCA)?

Essentially, an EPD is a lifecycle assessment, although an LCA can be produced by a manufacturer, who may be making favourable assumptions about a product that can skew the results (regarding its longevity, [for example]).

On the other hand, an EPD is issued by an independent programme operator, such as Global GreenTag. [It follows] a set of product category rules [that ensure] the products are assessed in a consistent and unbiased manner. This process is controlled by International (ISO) and European (EN) standards. An EPD assesses the environmental impacts of a product through its entire lifecycle, taking into consideration the manufacturing, transportation, assembly, use and disposal of the product.

What makes Weathertex’s cladding more sustainable than other products?

We’ve been through a rigorous evaluation from Global GreenTag to determine our “green performance” compared to others in the market. [We] were the first manufacturer globally to receive a GreenTag Platinum certification with a GreenRate Level A for our natural range products. We also received Gold certification for our primed flat cladding and wall panel sheets, which is also a great achievement.

In order to obtain those accreditations, GreenTag had to perform a lifecycle assessment, and evaluate the environmental and health impact over the life of our products as well as eco-toxicity. Our manufacturing process, which uses 97 percent sustainably-sourced Australian hardwood timber and 3 percent added paraffin wax (without any added chemicals or toxins) – paired with our product being 100 percent biodegradable and our better than zero-carbon footprint, meant that we excelled in these categories. All of our timber is PEFC-certified [meaning] we can support the sustainable management of Australian forests and the workforce of Australia.

For the same reasons, we’ve been able to meet the requirements set by the Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star program [and achieve] maximum rating points for wall cladding and panels. We were also the first company to obtain a Global GreenTag Product Health Declaration (PhD), and the first cladding company to be [listed] in the Declare Label Program.

In terms of design, what type of projects are your products mostly used in?

We predominantly supply [for] detached housing and multi-dwellings, [meaning] apartments or town houses up to four storeys high. However, our products are extremely versatile due to their flexibility, light weight and durability, so they are also often used on pre-fabricated buildings, internal applications, school halls, exhibition centres, shop fit-outs and ceiling linings.  

How has GreenTag certification helped your brand?

It [has] certainly played a large role in being voted Architecture & Design’s #1 most-trusted brand, and it goes to show how consumers today want to make responsible purchase decisions that benefit the wider community. Our transparency and ability to provide our customers with certifications from independent reputable third-party programs has undoubtedly given us a competitive edge in the market.

I suppose it also gives consumers some peace of mind.

Definitely, it’s one thing to say your product is sustainable, but it’s another to actually back it up with third-party independent certifications. This, coupled with our recent PhD accreditation and [listing in] the Declare Label program, again shows how Weathertex is committed to providing transparency of our products and manufacturing processes.

Have you found there are a lot of issues with non-third-party certification?

There’s always been an issue – especially in the building industry – with “greenwashing”. [This is] where companies can talk about their products being sustainable without substance. What we decided to do was spend the money and investment on third-party certifications in order to provide our customers full disclosure on our products through independent evaluation programs and EPD accreditation.

Have you found that your undertaking with the certification has expanded that venture within your market?

What it’s done is [create] a higher level of credibility and trust in Weathertex and our products, evident in us being voted the number one most-trusted building brand, both overall and in the exterior cladding category. This is particularly true for specifiers, who have real accreditation certifications they can rely upon with the Weathertex products. When they specify us, they can see that accredited, sustainable, quality products can still be competitively priced in the market.

Have other brands since followed suit?

It’s probably best to ask GreenTag.  But we’re proud of being the first cladding manufactured product globally to achieve a Platinum certification for our Natural range.

Looking back, when did Weathertex first begin to focus on sustainability as a key pillar of its product messaging and positioning?

Our factory was built in Raymond Terrace [in] NSW in 1939. Since 1964, Weathertex [has] shifted focus to be at the forefront of environmentally sound building products. As I mentioned previously, our manufacturing process is the only one of its kind in the world, making our products entirely unique to the market. We only use certified state forest or private hardwoods from controlled sources, and that makes up 97 percent of all our products. The logs are then chipped, pulped and pressed with natural wax – the remaining 3 percent – to make Australian timber products that are all natural and extremely durable.

What are the biggest changes that you would say have happened within your product segment in the past decade?

I’d say the biggest changes that have happened – and still are happening – are around greenwashing, because it is a very topical subject. Most manufacturers or suppliers within the building industry – not just cladding – have typically focused on environmental manufacturing and bringing sustainable building products into the marketplace. At this point, ‘sustainability’ and [similar] words get bandied around a lot. [We] wanted to get our third-party certification to show that what we’re saying about our products is true. We can vouch for it now with GreenTag, the Declare Label and with PhD.

PhD is the first of its kind in the world and is intended to help consumers make healthier buying decisions by rating businesses on the amount of toxic ingredients used in building materials.

Declare is also a world-renowned certification scheme. It’s similar to GreenTag’s PhD program, although Declare looks specifically at products. [It displays] all the raw ingredients and [provides] transparency in that way.

People might wonder why it’s worth investing in certification schemes that address similar areas. Our thinking behind it is that, as more people are clued in, customers and specifiers will be asking, “What products can we specify that specifically [have] this Declare label, or GreenTag label?”

Despite the prevalence of greenwashing, do you see the future of sustainable design as being a positive one?

Consumers want ‘healthier’ eco-friendly products. This can be seen across their personal and business purchasing decisions. Businesses these days don’t have much of a choice but to implement environmental sustainability strategies as part of their standard practices.

Affordable building designs that are sustainable are a positive aspect and it’s here to stay. Consumers are savvier these days and expect businesses to be transparent about their products and services. 

Do you have any plans in the future moving forward with Weathertex?

Without any glues or chemicals needed, our manufacturing process is exceptionally unique – and this process will never change. What we want to continue to do is [to] lead the way in the field of sustainable building practices and provide transparency to our customers and those in the building industry.

Lastly, are there any standout projects from an environmental or social perspective that you’ve seen recently?

The prefabrication market in Australia is evolving. You can see prefabrication of housing and units, and medium-density is gathering momentum, and that [in turn] lends itself to [builders and specifiers] using sustainable building materials as part of their product selection and construction processes. Strongbuild is building the first eight-storey timber high-rise, with a focus on timber and the sustainable building practices that go with it. That’s probably the most recent [that is] at the forefront of innovation, design and sustainability.