In the ever-evolving architecture and design industry, sustainability has experienced a remarkable transformation. Once viewed as a mere technical requirement, a box-ticking exercise or an optional add-on, it has now become an essential, value-driven and intrinsic element of every considered design process. The emergence of the Australian Architects Declare Climate & Biodiversity Emergency has certainly augmented the local context of this global transformation, and today – more than ever before – industry professionals keenly prioritise sustainable design principles, recognising the environmental, social, and economic benefits they offer.
“Architects and designers have gained a deeper understanding of what sustainability means to them as practitioners and how it influences individual projects,” says Aidan Hill, Group Technical and Sustainability Manager of Autex Australia, a leader in the development and manufacturing of non-woven acoustic textiles. “The focus has shifted from general sustainability inquiries to more specific and nuanced questions about product specifications and sustainability processes. Similarly, questions about our sustainability processes and credentials have evolved from ‘do we recycle’ to ‘how we recycle.’”
It’s understandable that Autex’s sustainability credentials might seem like a given to architects, designers and specifiers – after all, sustainability has been a core value since the company's inception in 1976. In fact, Autex's original product – insulation – was for decades manufactured with zero waste, setting an unwavering precedent for their environmental practices. Today, sustainability is embedded in every aspect of the business, from procurement and product design to production processes.
“Sustainability is innate to the way the business functions,” explains Hill. “It’s a key factor for our procurement team when screening potential new raw materials and suppliers for their environmental and social impacts. Similarly, it’s a crucial consideration for our research and development team when creating new products – they consider how to minimise material use, as well as design for disassembly and recyclability at EOL. And, of course, our production teams in minimising production waste and redirecting product trimmings away from landfill into other uses.”
The fact that sustainability permeates every aspect of Autex Acoustics’ business translates into a broad range of initiatives that aim to constantly improve the company’s environmental footprint, and push the boundaries where industry-leading sustainable technology is involved.
First and foremost, in 2021 Autex Acoustics achieved carbon neutrality across all their global operations, including their entire range of acoustic products. In addition, they have also developed a circular economy strategy that ensures all their products and operations are guided towards a clear goal, which is revisited and improved on an ongoing basis. Their commitment to the circular economy is also evident in their ongoing efforts to refine and improve their processes.
“In the past, we’ve used recycled manufacturing waste as insulation infill which is great given it’s downcycling,” says Hill. “But now, we’ve developed and implemented an industry-first process for recycling panel offcuts made from recycled PET. It’s unique because, traditionally, recycled PET has been condemned to landfill. But now, our industry-first machine can turn recycled PET fibre into a solid pellet which can be used by various manufacturers for various applications, such as injection moulded products.”
This innovative recycling method for panel offcuts both promotes resource efficiency and reduces waste, and it’s yet another initiative that advances Autex Acoustics’ efforts towards their goal of repurposing 100% of post-industrial waste into new products, and working towards zero-waste manufacturing lines. Additionally, they continuously increase the amount of recycled content in their products, aiming for closed-loop production.
These efforts cannot be underestimated. A recent study found that Australia generates 74 million tonnes of waste annually, and that 90.9% of all raw materials do not make their way back into the economy. The report also states that a circular built environment could save 3.6 million tonnes of CO2 per year in Australia by 2040 – and Autex Acoustics’ future aspirations most definitely tap into the potential of designing for circularity.
“As product designers, we design for circularity, ensuring that our products are as sustainable as possible,” Hill explains. Autex Acoustics already offers products like Frontier™ and their new adhesive-free, air-gap system, Lanes™, which can be dismantled at the EOL, however, the goal is to make 100% of their product portfolio designed for disassembly. But that’s not all – Autex Acoustics also aims to repurpose 100% of their post-industrial waste. “We want to be able to transform waste generated during the manufacturing process into new products in order to move toward zero-waste manufacturing lines,” Hill adds. “On top of that, our commitment to sustainability extends to collaborating with the wider industry to advocate for better product stewardship and recognising the importance of collective action in achieving a greener future.”
As the perception of sustainability evolves, companies like Autex Acoustics play a crucial role in shaping the future of sustainable design practices. By integrating sustainability into their core values, operational procedures, and product development, they showcase a commitment to environmental responsibility and inspire others within the industry to follow suit. With a focus on circularity, waste reduction, and collaboration, Autex Acoustics helps herald a more sustainable and conscientious architecture and design industry.