For many organisations, H&S and sustainability couldn’t be more disparate, but for Kathryn Walker, National Work Health & Safety and Sustainability Manager at Knauf, the two go hand-in-hand.
We asked her about sponsoring the Women in Sustainability category, the importance of green certification and how COVID-19 could change attitudes towards sustainable design in forever.
Tell me a little bit about your experience up until now and your current role
I have a degree in chemical engineering, and at Knauf I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked in almost every function within the business. I started in manufacturing operations, then technical services, product development and marketing. It’s given me a huge advantage in my current role as National Work Health & Safety and Sustainability Manager. Seeing the different aspects of what we do as a business and what our customers need is a great insight. I’ve had this specific role for about five years but have held the sustainability responsibility for the last 10 years. I don’t think sustainability and health and safety are usually perceived to be a combined role, but it makes perfect sense to me and I believe the link between the two is very natural. My role is quite varied and there’s always something happening. I could be working in the plant, out visiting a major customer in the city or working on projects with different teams in the business.
Why is sustainability so important to Knauf?
One of our core group values is ‘menschlichkeit’ - a German word for which there isn’t a direct translation, but one interpretation is ‘to do everything with society and the environment in mind’. For us, that means adopting a mindset where we provide customers with solutions, not just products, and constantly question how we can operate more responsibly; how we manufacture, what we do day-to-day in our operations and how we make our products. One of the tangible ways we can demonstrate this is through product certifications; for example, GreenTag GreenRate Level A for a range of our plasterboard products. We have achieved triple ISO certification for our Australian manufacturing operations, which recognises quality, health and safety and environmental management. (ISO 9001:2015 certification for quality management systems, ISO 14001:2015 certification for environmental management systems and OHSAS 18001:2007 certification for health & safety management systems.) We are also Climate Active certified for our opt-in carbon neutral program for a number of plasterboard and metal products. Climate Active is a collective initiative for climate action, driven by members and activated by consumers and Knauf Australia is a founding member. It is a government backed program that enables businesses, government and the community to take positive climate action on climate change and reduce carbon emissions. These initiatives and certifications bring a rigour and a pride to how we approach things at Knauf and a desire to constantly improve.
Knauf is sponsoring Women in Sustainability for the second year running. Why this category?
Diversity is especially important for us. We have a remarkably diverse workforce; many cultures, different age groups and obviously gender is a part of that. We have a lot of women in our business – from our production teams to technical specialists, architectural specification managers and operational teams. It has been demonstrated clearly that diversity brings the best business outcomes so, for us, sponsoring this category is about recognising that and supporting greater diversity in the industry.
Have you seen any progress in diversity within the industry, in recent years?
It’s encouraging that more women are choosing the construction industry as a career. Just the sustainability space we’ve seen a reasonably good proportion of women working in the field, which has been wonderful. I think it’s about breaking down what people see as a possible career choice for them and ensuring that they aren’t guided about misconceptions or concerns around what it means to work in building and construction. We’re a member of Women in Design and Construction and actively support their events. It is especially inspiring to see so many young female graduates entering the industry. It is no longer a career that women stumble upon – they actively choose it as a career path in which they can grow from the start.
A lot has happened in the last 12 months. How do you feel that these events have influenced attitudes towards passive and sustainable building (if at all)?
Just in the past six months we had to manage the devastating bushfires and COVID-19 in Australia. The bushfires directly affected people across the country, including city-dwellers who aren’t usually as exposed to the harsher side of nature. The fires impacted on a range of different sustainability fronts – the loss of bushland, wildlife and properties, the financial impact for people who lost their homes and businesses, and the health impact of the poor air quality. It made people sit up and recognise that we need to make better environmental choices. During the COVID-19 outbreak people are spending a lot more time indoors and it reminds us that our internal spaces – how they’re designed, how much light, air, sound and space they allow – are really important to our health, safety and wellbeing. Winston Churchill said ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’ and I think, when we come out the other side of this, we’ll have a renewed appreciation for the environment, our wellbeing and, from those, sustainable building practices.
For more information visit Knauf here.