“I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is”. Greta Thunberg

Architect Wynand Tromp argues that it is our responsibility as architects and designers to specify carbon neutral materials in our projects.

Hotel Meliá Palma Bosque on the Spanish island of Mallorca features Neolith® Calacatta Gold. All Neolith slabs are 100% natural and carbon neutral, making them appropriate for specification in any professional or residential application.

Love her or loathe her, one could not help but get chills when the teenage activist said these words at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2019. Is the house really on fire? Should we all be running for the exits? Most of us would not take the risk of staying in a building that we suspect could be on fire. Yes, sure we can choose to ignore the billowing smoke coming from our bedroom, but it would be wise to rather take the necessary precautions to ensure our safety. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to keep a bucket of water nearby… Just in case!

When conversations like this take place you often hear someone say “I’m just a designer, what difference can I make?” Sure, perhaps you as an individual will not be able to make a huge difference by yourself. But would we be able to make a difference as a world of designers? Absolutely. If every architect and designer changed their ways, then together we could make an enormous difference. We could literally change the world… And we should!

When Greta said that the house was on fire, she was not only talking to world leaders. She was talking to us as designers too. We are the ones designing buildings that are not energy efficient. We are the ones specifying products that are not eco-friendly. We are the ones keeping manufacturers that don’t care about the environment, in business. Yes, sure as an individual we would not be able to make much of a difference, but if we stop specifying products manufactured by these “fire starters”, they will either be forced to change the way in which they operate, or they will not be able to operate at all.

We should be looking at our designs and the materials we specify with a magnifying glass. Not just the product, but the company producing that product. If we as a collective stand up and say “No!”, we have the power to stop this house from burning down, or at least extinguish a small part of the fire.

So where do we start? What do we look for?

We have to look at the processes involved in manufacturing the product, which materials the product consist of, as well as the manufacturer’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions during the manufacturing process. But most of all, what measures the manufacturer has put in place to balance its carbon emissions with its carbon removal, to reach carbon neutrality.

If you’re wondering whether carbon neutrality is even possible, the simple answer is yes. Although many companies across the globe have set targets to reach carbon neutrality, very few have actually achieved this highly-prized status. It is noteworthy then that there is such a manufacturer in our midst, and as designers we have to spread the word. This company is called Neolith®, and the product is one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly surface materials on the market.

Neolith® has followed the internationally recognized Greenhouse Gas Protocol, and implemented a dynamic, innovation-led sustainability strategy coupled with tactical, high value carbon off-setting, to achieve carbon neutrality. In its state-of-the-art manufacturing process, the 100% natural raw materials used are subjected to very high pressures and temperatures to create each Neolith® slab. The combination of raw materials goes through a press in a first phase where force/pressure of up to 400 bars is applied. In a second phase, the slabs are baked in an oven at a temperature of more than 1200°C. This technology gives Neolith products physical and mechanical features that are unrivalled in the construction industry.

To name a few measures implemented by Neolith® in the year of 2019 to achieve the status of carbon neutrality, the company received 100% of its electricity supply from renewable resources, 90% of the waste generated is recycled and given a second life, 48% of the product’s weight consists of recycled material, and all plant machinery has been upgraded to improve its energy efficiency. The list goes on and on, and it is impressive. Neolith® has left no stone unturned in ensuring that it is a world leader, not only in the quality of its product, but in its core company objectives and its commitment to social and environmental contributions and commitments.

We need all manufacturers within the construction industry to take note. This is what we as designers want to see. These are the materials that we want to specify in our projects. This is the level of commitment towards the environment that we insist on. Neolith® has set the bar, and we should insist that all manufacturers step up their game. We should insist that they implement similar measures if they want us to specify their products.

Not because Greta said so, but because it is our responsibility as architects and designers.

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