Greening The Construction & Decor Industries: The Challenge is On
From the rapidly growing ‘fast furniture’ industry to the often-hazardous impacts of paint on the environment, the “home sector;” encompassing construction, décor and design, is under pressure to improve its performance in terms of sustainability.
According to a report by GreenCape’s Waste Market Report around 5.36 million tons of builders’ rubble was generated in South Africa in 2017, a wakeup call for members of the construction and décor industries. Meanwhile, the paint industry is faring little better: in 2010, Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla announced that paint containing lead above a background level should be considered a Group II Hazardous substance in this country.
With this in mind, local companies in the construction and décor sectors are urged to take heed of the growing call for environmental sustainability – a call issued from consumers and government alike.
For example, government moved to ban lead – known to be toxic and carcinogenic, as well as hazardous to the environment – on 1 January 2021. While this development is heartening, the country continues to lag behind other countries globally: legislation and standards aiming to minimize the impact of paint have been in place in Europe for some time.
However, the reasons for this lag become clear when you consider that alternatives to lead-containing paint can be 300-400% more expensive, which is why it is imperative that companies continue to place green issues on the agenda by making more alternatives available. One company which has done just this is Universal Paints, which removed lead from all its paint formulas long before legislation made it obligatory to do so.
Universal Paints has introduced a host of other processes to ensure greater sustainability, too. “Our factories are fitted with air filters to ensure that no dust particles enter the atmosphere. Added to this, the wastewater is treated at an effluent plant, where solids are removed and clarity restored before the water moves on for further treatment at municipal water works,” says Terence Murray, Operations Executive at Universal Paints.
The company has also turned its attention to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), one of the chief culprits when it comes to environmental and health issues. Murray says that Universal Paints’ water-based range falls within the ‘minimal’ VOC level, according to guidelines set by REACH Regulations, which states that paint must contain less than 250g of VOC per liter to be considered ‘safe’. “Our water-based paint falls well within this range, with VOCs tallying up at 0.003% to 2.000%, meaning that we have minimal to low VOCs.”
At the same time, the company has acknowledged the environmental and health risk posed by enamel paints and have developed a formula with the hard-wearing properties and durability that has made enamel paints popular, but with a lesser environmental impact.
Vinettte Diab, Founder and CEO of DIYgirls – a turnkey interior design and manufacturing company, is also a strong believer in finding alternatives to damaging materials. She points out that, when considering sustainability, manufacturers need to think about what happens to their products after purchase: how will these items be disposed of, eventually? “Discarded items ultimately end up in landfills, which is why it is imperative to invest in products that will stay fresh, for longer,” she states.
She encourages industry players to make careful choices when it comes to manufacturing and procurement. DIYgirls favours high performance fabrics that are known for their durability, sustainability and stain resistance. “We choose eco-friendly fabrics that is restorative and regenerative. Many of these fabrics are produced from plastic waste that has been harvested from our ocean and beaches,” says Diab, pointing out that these are not only environmentally friendly, but also play a part in the circular economy. From the consumers’ point of view, they have a luxurious, tactile appeal, and are no more expensive than other long-wearing fabrics.
“We understand that, as members of this industry, we bear a significant responsibility to educate consumers – not only informing them about more environmentally-conscious options, but also steering them towards choices that will last longer, so that they can also play their part in reducing the industry’s environmental footprint,” Diab concludes.
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