We often hear about the benefits of investing in Australian businesses and reducing our carbon footprint. We likely repeat many of these truisms ourselves. Yet if we all understand the lauded benefits of buying local – why don’t we endeavour to do it more often?
In the construction industry, imported materials are commonly perceived as cheaper or more sophisticated than those produced by local manufacturers. Consequently, the environmental impact of imported products is often overlooked. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the implications of imported construction materials in Australia and outline why supporting our local industries is a more sustainable option for our ecosystems, communities, and economy.
Deconstructing the carbon giant
In Australia, the construction, maintenance and operation of buildings account for around a quarter of our national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Initially, this may seem unsurprising. After all, projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that the Australian population will shoot up to an estimated 31 million in the next decade. This rapid growth inevitably results in an increased demand for housing and infrastructure. However, what may be surprising is the significant role that imported construction materials play in our carbon footprint.
According to the Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF), Australia imported more than 60 per cent of its six billion worth of construction products from China. Simultaneously, data published by the WorldBank reveals that Australia’s brick imports amounted to a whopping $9,438.33K in 2020 alone. With an influx of ceramic goods from Italy, Spain, and India, it’s clear that a significant portion of materials found on our construction sites have travelled thousands of kilometres to reach us and that this journey doesn’t come without a cost.
As discussed in our article ‘Reforging the Supply Chain: The Consequences of Australia’s Reliance on Construction Imports’, Australia’s dependence on international trade partners to bolster construction has come under recent scrutiny, revealing consequences for our economy, ecology, and the quality of our built environment. However, there may be a silver lining to the unearthing of supply chain vulnerabilities. The 2020 WWF-Australia Decarbonising Building and Construction Materials Report describes Australia’s emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic as;
‘…a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring manufacturing back to our shores, grow existing industries, unlock new industries and boost global exports as we move towards a zero-carbon future.’
What is embodied carbon?
Embodied carbon is a confusing term that is often shrouded in industry jargon. In short, the embodied carbon of construction materials refers to the emissions associated with the production, transport and installation of those materials. When we consider the entire life-cycle of a building, from raw resource extraction to material manufacture and delivery and waste disposal at end-of-life, it is estimated that embodied carbon accounts for 11 percent of all global emissions. Unfortunately, the embodied carbon of construction materials is a significant and often overlooked contribution to a building’s overall ecological footprint. So what exactly can we do about this problem?
Invest in locally sourced materials
Local manufacturers are an essential part of our economy and communities. They provide jobs, boost the domestic economy, and help keep money circulating within Australia’s borders. Sourcing materials from regional suppliers helps create a cycle of investment and growth while reducing emissions. However, the benefits of supporting homegrown businesses are not limited to creating a resilient supply chain. Thriving local manufacturing can lead to material innovation and new technologies that are uniquely suited to the demands of the Australian climate. As reported
‘Innovation across materials and industries can drive change, including systems thinking from the design and conception stage, and building resilient and local supply chains to reduce our dependence on imported materials.’
At Littlehampton Bricks and Pavers, we care about our environment
When Australians purchase materials from overseas, we inadvertently support the practices of an industry that often has little regard for our planet. The manufacture of construction materials is one of the leading causes of environmental degradation and pollution.
Renato Novi, the manager at Littlehampton Bricks and Pavers, said: “We are committed to doing our part to reduce the embodied carbon emissions of construction. For over 120 years, we have sourced high-quality clay and minerals from within South Australia, reducing transport emissions, supporting local jobs, and finding new and innovative ways to refine our products and processes”.
Supporting local quality
Construction materials imported from overseas are often of poorer quality, resulting in costly repairs, replacements, and in some cases, threats to our wellbeing. When you choose to use locally sourced construction materials, you choose products built to last. Our bricks are hard-fired and hand-sorted to ensure only the best quality products are used in construction. This labour-intensive process reduces total waste and emissions from transporting faulty goods while guaranteeing a premium product that will withstand the test of time.
Investing in a cyclical process
A significant way to reduce construction’s carbon footprint is to use recycled or reused materials. This includes products made from recycled glass, steel and plastic. It can also involve using second-hand bricks or pavers.
While the allowance for industry waste is 10%, at Littlehampton Bricks and Pavers, we are committed to a genuinely cyclical production process that reduces waste and emissions to as little as 1%. We rely on locally-sourced materials in our manufacturing process. This doesn’t only include the highest quality clay and minerals but recycled waste oil for the firing of our traditional batch kiln to over 1100 degrees celsius.
Creating sustainable jobs
Another benefit of using Australian-made construction materials is that it supports local jobs. The construction industry employs many Australians, so investing in local manufacturers, you’re helping create and sustain jobs in our community. What’s more, you’re likely to get better quality products when you buy from Australian companies that have a reputation for excellence.
There are numerous benefits of using locally sourced materials. It supports local jobs, boosts the economy and drastically reduces emissions. While imports from Indian suppliers may be perceived as affordable and European alternatives are often associated with innovation and refinement, Australian manufacturing provides the perfect fusion of quality, affordability, and sustainability.
So next time you’re planning a construction project, think about the environmental cost of imported construction materials and consider investing in locally sourced products instead. Your wallet and the planet will thank you.