Architecture and Design is pleased to have James Hardie as the official sponsor of the ‘Commercial Architecture (Large)’ category at the 2019 Sustainability Awards. 

Counting down the days to this year’s awards, we spoke to Tim Elliot, the Product Manager - Commercial at James Hardie and discuss the company goals and process for their sustainability initiatives in response to the evolving nature of the architecture and design industry. 

What puts James Hardie on centre stage as a global leader in fibre cement manufacturing and buildings solutions? How do you differentiate from other building materials companies?

James Hardie has a global presence. We have great products and great people, and we’re number one in every market we choose to participate in. Our strategy begins with the foundation of “Zero Harm”: we are committed to safe people, safe places and safe systems.

James Hardie embraces four guiding principles to ensure that our products are designed with sustainable best practice:

  • Renewable and recyclable resources
  • Water resources and energy conservation
  • Protection of the environment
  • Full life cycle and product sustainability

We recognise the importance of minimising our impact on the environment.  This includes the development of industry leading, innovative, durable products and building solutions. We also strive for continual improvements to manufacturing processes to reduce the environmental impact of our products over their full life cycle. 

As part of James Hardie’s long-standing commitment to reducing environmental impacts of our products we have been working with Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) since 1999. LCA is an internationally standardised method for identifying and quantifying the impact of a product across its life cycle – from raw material extraction through to disposal/recycling/reuse. LCA provides James Hardie with the information to focus on the processes and materials that make the biggest contribution to the environmental impact of our products.  

What does the term ‘a sustainable future’ mean to James Hardie?

James Hardie’s commitment to environmental excellence and the value the company places on long‑term sustainability is reflected in its maintenance of a comprehensive environmental management system together with our commitment to efficient manufacturing processes.

Our approach to sustainability is in response to the role that buildings and construction play on our natural habitat. Accounting for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the building and construction sector has an important role to play to mitigate our environmental impact. Indeed, for everyone in the industry, meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries will demand a paradigm shift in our behaviour. 

Together with our clients, we work to deliver products, buildings and cities with not only the lowest possible impact, but towards systems of means of production that are healthy, circular, climate friendly and resilient.

What are the different ways that James Hardie contributes to sustainability in the company’s strategies, missions and goals?

James Hardie’s commitment to environmental excellence and the value the company places on long‑term sustainability is reflected in its maintenance of a comprehensive environmental management system together with our commitment to efficient manufacturing processes.

Our Sustainably Manufactured Product Highlights Include:

  • High quality standards for the raw materials used to drive best in class performance of our products;
  • At least 75% of our raw materials are locally sourced, reducing the environmental impact caused by transportation of materials;
  • James Hardie’s 19 manufacturing plants on four continents support the respective regional economies in which they are located, again reducing the environmental impact caused by transportation of our product;
  • Raw materials such as cement, cellulose pulp, sand, and water are low in toxicity; 
  • Durable fibre cement and fibre gypsum materials not only require fewer resources for replacement, but help reduce maintenance, repair and replacement costs.
  • James Hardie has decided to adopt the Global Reporting Initiatives (GRI) framework. The GRI will provide a framework for us to report on material topics, their related impacts and how they are managed, and is the most widely adopted framework for Environmental, Social and Governance reporting.

As housing standards evolve and respond to environmental issues, how do you see your products align with the sustainability and a positive ecological and social impact? 

James Hardie can play an important role in providing responsible products and reliable and comprehensive data and information. We can also take responsibility for the life cycle performance of our products as part of construction systems. 

This commitment can be seen through all elements of our business, from the way we operate to the products we offer. For instance, our commercial façade system, ExoTec™, has been engineered to endure, with durability and water tightness a key feature of the product. 

The ExoTec façade panel and system and our new RAB™ Board sheathing working together as part of the James Hardie fully certified wall system ensures a compliant, trusted, durable cladding system. The RAB Board itself replacing the traditional plastic wrap or metal backpanning with an FC weather barrier to create a continuous weatherproof seal across the building. The RAB™ Board is installed beneath external cladding or rain screens and delivers superior water resistance and long-term durability and strength whilst its breathable design allows vapours to escape. This combination protects the framework and water sensitive materials from mould and degradation, during and after the construction process.

With this in mind, our products work to create buildings more sustainable, optimising energy efficiency of the wall by reducing air leakage, protecting the wall from direct heat transfer and protecting water sensitive materials from degradation. 

James Hardie works to go beyond the product, assessing systems and buildings to ensure we maximise sustainability wherever we go and whoever we work with. We use recognised standards and methods as the basis for communicating relative environmental credentials with clients and stakeholders. Our credentials, information and transparency can already be used to obtain credit points under GBCA’s Green Star rating tools, specifically relevant to the Life Cycle Impacts and Responsible Building Materials credits.

James Hardie understands its role in providing standardised, trusted and comprehensive data and information. To this end James Hardie has continued to produce LCA reports, with updates in 2013 and 2015. James Hardie was also an early adopter of Environmental Product Declarations in Australia, publishing third party verified life cycle information and data for their external claddings range in 2017, and with the full product range being published in 2019. We believe this leadership position and transparency will not only set an example for industry, but also help all building professionals make better and more informed decisions.

What are the biggest problems that the industry is facing in building production and manufacturing in adapting to sustainability requirements and how do you overcome those challenges? 

There are several major challenges for industry to deliver buildings with lower life cycle carbon and environmental impacts, healthier environments for the occupants, ethical labour practices in supply chains and resilience against extreme weather events.

At James Hardie, we strive for continual improvements to manufacturing processes to reduce the environmental impact of our products over their full life cycle, and research has shown that our lightweight and durable products have significant advantages and potential to contribute to a low carbon, low resource and resilient built environment. To practically support this, James Hardie’s Engineering Solutions Team work with architects and manage the MyHardies Industry Professional web portal with practical tools, resources and information. James Hardie’s Estimations Team assist with ensuring minimal on-site wastage by optimising sheets and designs for maximum coverage.

How do you see the architecture and design industry, specifically with building materials and solutions, evolving in response to the sustainability shift for the future? 

We see the industry moving towards a higher focus on environmental, resource and cost optimisation through:

  • Increased focus on raising awareness and coalescing agreement on sustainability related challenges.
  • Accelerating the shift to low embodied carbon materials in all work. All new projects will be evaluated against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating. This will involve accessing and understanding the embodied carbon footprint from the manufacturer of products used in in construction, as well as the overall life cycle carbon factoring in durability, maintenance and resource recovery and reuse at the end of life.
  • Minimising wasteful use of resources in architecture and urban planning, both in quantum and in detail. 
  • Collaborating with engineers, contractors and clients to further reduce construction waste. 
  • Broad scale uptake, exchange and use of triple bottom line data and information with other actors and disciplines in the building life cycle - include life cycle costing, whole life carbon modelling and post occupancy evaluation as part of our basic scope of work, to reduce both embodied and operational resource use.