The race to ZERO is on!

October 02 2018

The 11th annual Green Building Convention is opening its doors today with the ambition to start the race towards ZERO: ZERO carbon emissions, building with ZERO water, ZERO waste and ZERO ecological impact. A tour de force that Saint-Gobain strongly supports. Being a member of over 35 local Green Building Councils since 2013 and a founding member of the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), the Group has a key role to play to ensure construction and renovation building are carried out in a sustainable way. This commitment positions Saint-Gobain as a partner of choice. 

Interview with Jolene Blundell, Head of Sustainability at Saint-Gobain: 

Why is green building such an important topic at the moment? 

The recent attention around green buildings has been spurred by an improved public awareness around environmental issues. Recent climatic events such as the drought in Cape Town have strengthened our perception on the urgency to limit our energy consumption as well as the use of natural resources.

Accounting for 56% of energy consumption and a yearly 3.9 tons CO2  greenhouse gas emissions per capita1 in Africa, the construction sector is expected to play a key role in our transition to a more sustainable society. 

How have you seen the nature of building and construction changing over the years to accommodate sustainability? 

Increased environmental awareness, rising electricity prices and the introduction of energy efficiency regulations have driven the development of more energy efficient buildings in South Africa as well as in the rest of Africa.

It is important to note that the fabric of the building can no longer be ignored, the embodied carbon in the built environment must be addressed. By the fabric of the building we refer to the building envelope, this building envelope acts positively with active technologies and renewable resources supplied to both non and net-zero carbon buildings.

Achieving low energy needs in both new and existing buildings requires an excellent building envelope that minimizes heat losses, maximizes free solar gains and secures air-tightness. As health and well-being have become increasingly important topics, comfort in buildings has also become a central focus.

What green building trends are you seeing within the industry? 

A key point when developing sustainable building solutions is to ensure that the products’ environmental performance is measured and communicated in an objective and accurate way. To enable our customers to make informed choices, we provide accurate and objective environmental performance data in the form of externally validated Environmental Product Declarations and Life Cycle Assessments through our Green Library

As our solutions perform optimally when correctly installed, ensuring that our products are properly assembled is just as important to effectively improve a buildings’ environmental performance. To tackle the current skills shortage in South Africa, Saint-Gobain has developed a Training Academy with YouthBuild International in Germiston to upskill and educate unemployed youth on the theory, practice and installation of systems for new buildings and renovation.

In partnership with the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), the training academy now also offers additional training in green building construction techniques. Through this training, Saint-Gobain is convinced it is helping the sector as a whole move toward more sustainable construction.

Beyond South-Africa, we also launched a first up-skilling programme in ceiling and partitioning installations in 2016 at the Thorn Park Construction Training Centre in Zambia. 

What are the current challenges experienced when building from a race to zero perspective? 

The recycling and recovering of construction and especially demolition waste will be a key challenge to address when striving toward a more circular economy. In particular, risks related to contamination by hazardous substances will have to be managed. 

On the growing market for sustainable buildings, building product manufacturers are increasingly invited to give transparency on the hazardous substances contained in their products. This trend is an opportunity for the industry but it also has it challenges in terms of legal protection of data (IP issues) and transparency and scientific robustness of the methodologies applied.

What actions is Saint-Gobain putting in place towards more sustainable buildings? 

At Saint-Gobain we focus on 2 main pillars to drive our sustainable construction agenda: 

The first pillar focusses on advocating for sustainable construction through engagement with policy makers, specifiers and trendsetters.

As a founding member of the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), we actively promote sustainable buildings in the Southern African region. Saint-Gobain’s encourages its employees to engage in the GBCSA Accredited Professional Programmes which provide training for Greenstar rating tools.

This equips Saint-Gobain employees with the expertise required to assist their customers in their green building projects. As I said before, we strongly believe the provision of external training and skills development will be decisive in helping the sector move forward as a whole.

Over the last 3 years, Saint-Gobain trained more than 3500 installers to install drywalls and ceilings in sub-Saharan Africa.


The second pillar aims at providing sustainable solutions to customers and to local communities.

This includes not only developing building solutions which improve the environmental performance of buildings, but also ensuring that the products’ environmental performance is measured and communicated in an objective and accurate way.

By providing accurate data on environmental aspects, Saint-Gobain gives customers the information they need to make an informed choice.

This information takes the form of externally validated Environmental Product Declarations and Life Cycle Assessments. In South Africa, independently verified Environmental Product Declarations are available for Gyproc Rhinoboard 9.5mm and 12.5mm.

How does Saint-Gobain support the race to zero? 

From an operational point of view, we take action to reduce impacts on the environment to the minimum, both at our sites and during product shipment. In our plants, environmental performance is tracked and measured using a central environmental management system.

These common policies and tools allow all sites to share experience and put mitigation measures in place to reduce the consumption of energy and resources, as well as generation of waste.

To reduce waste impacts to the minimum, waste is separated at source to be transferred to relevant designated municipal dumping sites. At the Saint-Gobain Gyproc plant in Zimbabwe, product returns and non-conforming plasters are reworked by feeding them back into the plant. Paper waste is sold to a recycling company and scrap metal is sold to a metal company in Harare. 

Saint-Gobain has been active in water preservation projects for several years. We recycle water internally, which notably reduces demand. Significant interventions in the last few years have resulted in tighter controls over water consumption across our sites in Sub-Saharan Africa.

At the Saint-Gobain Gyproc plant in Zimbabwe for example, a water harvesting project is being developed to collect rain water, which will then be used for gardening.

In terms of energy consumption, solar lights were installed on road extensions in the Saint-Gobain Gyproc warehouse in Brakpan to cope with power outages which affect loading at night time.

Following the success of this initiative, solar lights will also be installed at the Saint-Gobain Gyproc plant in Zimbabwe to help the plant to cope with the national power shortage in Zimbabwe.

How do you involve your employees to take responsibility in this sustainable construction agenda? 

We recently launched the internal Big Little Moves campaign to enable every employee to participate in making a change and develop a companywide eco-conscious mind-set. 

This initiative should guide our daily actions to protect our planet. Switch off the lights, sort your waste, divert your organic waste for making fertilizer, avoid plastic bottles. These are examples we can all adopt easily. 

In the frame of this campaign, a recycling initiative has been also implemented at our head offices in Johannesburg which has enabled to divert 1.052 tons of wet waste from landfills since May 2018 to end August 2018, representing a carbon emission saving of about 435 kg CO2 equivalent.

More information about our commitment to sustainability: HERE