At a time when shrinking polar ice and record temperatures dominate headlines, it’s good to know the building industry is moving towards a raft of more environmentally friendly construction materials. What’s more, Australia may even lay claim to the world’s most environmentally friendly commercial building – a Gold Coast property that ticks all three key ‘green’ factors: the Passive House standard for energy efficiency, the Green Star sustainable standard for design, construction and operation, and, thirdly, the WELL Building Standard. Known as Cornerblock, CORNERBLOCK (cornerblockgc.com.au) the building in Arundel just north of Surfers Paradise is now a flagship for efficient and sustainable construction, with such features as 18 electric vehicle chargers, bikes racks with EV chargers, and the capacity to provide up to 160kw of solar power.
The design is such that minimal energy is required for heating and cooling Air is filtered to remove everything from fine dust to mould spores and pollen, while at night automated irradiation kicks in to kill or inactivate other nasties such as bacteria and viruses. Non-toxic and fully biodegradable Accoya wood was used for Cornerblock’s external facades, while inside, even the benchtops are made from locally sourced 100% recycled glass. Creator Ben Sinclair said other environmentally friendly aspects included harvesting rainwater from the roof and energy efficient and water-saving fixtures and fittings. “It’s not about building to sell and making it look pretty on day one,” Mr Sinclair said. “It’s about how the building is going to perform in 10 to 50 years’ time.” Cornerblock was also done to a budget. “The idea from the start was to do it at a cost base that other people could see value in, to be transparent in the materials and processes that we used, and build a real-life example that other people can come and draw inspiration from and then use that to go and build buildings themselves.”
With that in mind, here are some of the green building materials becoming more common for the construction of commercial buildings:
1. Grasscrete and self-healing concrete
Manufacture of regular concrete creates pollution and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and unfortunately concrete is the biggest source of construction sector-related carbon emissions. Grasscrete is a reinforced, ready mixed concrete, also known as void structure concrete, which has gaps or holes usually filled with grassed soil after the concrete is laid. This makes for an eco-friendlier product that delivers superior drainage properties - handy in flood zones. Water can also be retained and reused. Self-healing concrete is another special type of concrete – one that blends cement with the bacteria Bacillus which in turn helps fill any cracks with limestone, the idea being that it lessens the need for building repairs down the track.
One of the most recent developments involves a Sydney University team that has created a carbon-capturing pavement made of recycled waste. The product, said to be a new generation of ‘green concrete’, was developed by Professor Ali Abbas and the Sydney University’s Waste Transformation Research Hub, and is about to be trialled in conjunction with a Sydney council.
2. Recycled Plastic
The dangers of plastic have been widely documented which is why it’s being recycled into everything from furniture to park benches and playground equipment. Bioplastics are substances that are strong, durable, made of natural materials and provide eco-friendly alternatives for both construction and packaging.
3. Cross-laminated Timber
This is being hailed as the ‘engineered wood of the future’. Developed in Switzerland in the 1970s, cross laminated timber (CLT) has become popular both in Australian and internationally for its strength, lower carbon footprint and other eco-friendly qualities, not to mention being up to five times lighter than concrete while possessing a comparable strength-to-weight ratio. It is generally made by gluing together multiple layers of wood, allowing for thinner and lighter layers, that can be used as a sustainable alternative for floors, roofs, walls and ceilings. Wood is also a natural insulator, helps to reduce cost of heating and cooling, and reduces use of fossil fuels. Lend Lease is among developers to have constructed major buildings with CLT, including the Forte apartments and the Library at The Dock in Melbourne, and International House Sydney in NSW. It has since constructed the tallest mass engineered timber commercial building in Australia at 25 King Street Brisbane, described as “a world class building of the future” and representative of “the new breed of workplaces of the future”. The idea is for such “mass engineered timber” to be harvested from sustainable managed forests, thereby contributing to a circular economy.