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    Q+A with Kingspan’s Michael Smit

    Kingspan Environmental, the energy and water division of global building solutions specialist Kingspan, is proud to present the Green Building of the Year category of this year’s Sustainability Awards. Coming to Sydney this October, the Awards will once more celebrate the projects, products, and thought leaders bringing the Australian design and construction industry into a new age of sustainability. 

    With an annual global turnover of 3.7 billion Euros and a strong focus on sustainable building products like insulation panels, rainwater tanks and wastewater systems, Kingspan is truly a market leader and fitting partner for this year’s Awards. 

    We sat down with Michael Smit, Kingspan Environmental Technical and Sustainability Manager, to learn more about rainwater harvesting and the Kingspan approach to sustainability.

    This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

    Q: Kingspan is a major global player with suppliers and facilities around the world. Can you tell us a bit about the history of Kingspan in Australia?

    MS: Kingspan is a multinational building material company which purchased a rainwater tank company called Tankworks in 2016, an Australian company dating back to the 1930s. In 2017 Kingspan purchased Rhino Water Tanks, one of the biggest rural and commercial tank manufacturers in Australia. Kingspan also makes wastewater treatment systems and energy products.

    Q: You’ve been involved in the design and construction industry for many years. Over time, how have you seen the industry attitude and approach to sustainability evolve?

    MS: There has consistently been a number of great examples over the last 20 years: there are always developers and landowners who have done some outstanding projects that use technology and good building materials really well together with excellent design and integration into the environment. But the overall standard of development has not kept pace over the last 20 years due to a lack of sustainable building regulations on water and energy efficiency. NSW probably has the best energy and water targets in Australia but it is the exception that proves the rule. 

    This is a crucial issue at the moment because there are plans for major growth in South East Queensland, Sydney, and Melbourne: In each of those cities, we’re looking at something in the order of a million new houses by 2035. The standard at which we build these houses will determine the energy and water needs of our cities for the next 100 years. 

    Q: In line with these industry changes, have you seen consumer demand for products like rainwater tanks change over the past few years?

    MS: Yes, there have been clear patterns. There was pushback against rainwater tanks in the 70s and 60s and a lot of tanks were either declared illegal or closed down. About halfway through the millennium drought, it became clear that our centralised water supply system was not going to manage. So the government supported water efficiency and rainwater harvesting, and subsidies for rainwater harvesting systems. Because of this, we saw very significant increases in the ownership of rainwater tanks to such an extent that about 26% of all Australian houses now have a water tank.

    Since the end of the drought, we’ve seen history repeating itself, with the water utilities making it a bit harder for people to have rainwater harvesting systems. 

    Rainwater is an efficient water supply for buildings because rain falls on the roof of where it is needed. This makes treatment and transport costs very low and a utility water can be a reliable backup option. The Federal Health guidelines describe rainwater as good quality water that, with a reasonably low level of management, can be used for a wide range of purposes including food preparation, bathing, laundry, toilet flushing and garden watering.

    Q: Please walk me through Kingspan’s overarching sustainability strategy. How has this taken shape and changed over the years?

    MS: The overall Kingspan strategy is to promote sustainable buildings, which is strategically important because the way that our buildings use water and energy determines the sustainability of an entire city. If you make your buildings efficient then your cities are efficient, which is why it’s important that government and policymakers set performance targets and look at sustainable buildings as an investment in our future.  

    Internally at Kingspan Environmental Australia, state of the art facilities across the country are setting the company on track to achieve its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2020. Across the country, Kingspan tanks are integral components of a breadth of sustainable water management solutions including rainwater systems, rural fire fighting facilities, and potable water storage.

    Our strong interest in building materials is linked to a strong innovation agenda, so we’re continually striving and looking at what works in one part of the world and applying this elsewhere.

    Q: In terms of these innovative technologies, Kingspan is currently focusing a lot of its efforts on rainwater harvesting and stormwater. Can you provide some more detail about this?

    MS: Kingspan is part of Rainwater Harvesting Australia, a chartered committee of Irrigation Australia. The committee has produced a best practice design specification for rainwater harvesting, which we’ve turned into a CPD course for architects. We’re interested in taking some of the best practice ideas to the market and informing builders and architects as to how they can use this new technology in their buildings. 

    Kingspan has what we call a “made to measure approach”, so we respond to the custom sizes that our customers need and make all of our tanks in Australia. We have factories in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth, so all of our tanks are Australian made. We don’t import our tanks from anywhere else in the world: we make them in the cities that they are ordered in.

    We also develop our own technology, such as the High-flow filter, an Australian first innovation exclusive to Kingspan. Traditional tanks can overflow, so we’ve designed a system where if there is too much flow it just goes into the stormwater without spilling. This is not only important for Australian homes but also essential for commercial applications where you don’t want flooding in a storm event. 

    We also have the Evolution MkIII pump, which is an automatic bypass system. If there is a power failure or if your tank runs dry, the system automatically switches across the mains water so that you get mains water pressure and can still meet your washing machine, toilet, and hot water system needs.  

    Recently we have seen a lot of interest in using rainwater tanks for stormwater management through our Kingspan onsite detention systems which reduce both the volume and peak flow of stormwater. 

    Q: What are the broader benefits of rainwater harvesting for home and other property owners?

    MS: If you have an urban system where a rainwater tank is connected to every house, you can reduce the water demands of the whole city, which in turn reduces the amount of infrastructure you need. So overall you would need fewer dams, fewer treatment plants, fewer pipes, fewer pumps, fewer reservoirs, and less of a distribution system. There is a marked urban benefit and it is in everyone’s best interests to manage water efficiently.

    The cost of operating water services per house in South East Queensland is $800 a year. In Sydney, meanwhile, where there are rainwater harvesting and water efficiency, the operating cost is $400 a year. You can see that this makes an incredible difference to household expenses, we often talk about affordability in terms of what it costs to buy a house, but we should also be looking at what it costs to live in the house. 

    Q: What do you believe are the next steps that the Australian industry must take in terms of sustainability?

    MS: We need to have performance targets on all buildings for water and energy in all states and territories. These need to be built into the land use planning and building systems so that you cannot get permission to build a house unless you can demonstrate that you have met these targets. This is essential if we want to avoid creating a financial crisis for ourselves and an intolerable energy and water load for future generations.

     

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