Climate change is threatening our world, and our way of life. The building industry is one of the biggest offenders in Australia, accounting for 23 per cent of all carbon emissions in the country. Though sustainable building practices and green building products are finding increasing acceptance, a lot more remains to be done to mitigate the effects of climate change and global warming on the environment. Architects, building designers and specifiers have an important role to play in addressing these issues through sustainable solutions.

Reducing carbon emissions is a convincing first step in the journey to long-term sustainability. For the building industry, a concept such as ‘carbon neutral construction’ is a viable solution and an achievable goal. Carbon neutral bricks, for instance, can deliver all the proven advantages of bricks without the accompanying embodied energy that would otherwise contribute to the building’s carbon footprint.

The problem of embodied energy

One of the most functional, environment-friendly and energy-efficient building products in the market, with more than 5000 years of proven history, clay bricks are virtually maintenance-free, last more than a hundred years, are reusable and recyclable, and have excellent thermal properties that will help the built structure reduce emissions. However, most brick kilns are fired using natural gas, substantially increasing the embodied energy of bricks, which can significantly add to the building’s carbon footprint. This embodied energy can be reduced by replacing the fossil fuel in the kilns with a greener alternative.

The National Carbon Offset Standard sets out minimum requirements for calculating, auditing and offsetting the carbon of an organisation, product or service. For bricks and pavers, the standard encompasses raw material extraction and transport; manufacturing; packaging; transport to customers; application in works; use and maintenance during their lifetime; and demolition and disposal at end-of-life.

Leading Australian clay brick manufacturer Brickworks Building Products has introduced a new line of certified carbon neutral bricks, with the green credentials primarily achieved through the use of sawdust instead of natural gas to fire the kiln.

Brickworks’ certified carbon neutral bricks

A first for Australia, Brickworks’ certified carbon neutral bricks are also the first to be certified under the Australian Government’s National Carbon Offset Standard. Manufactured at Austral Bricks’ Longford facility near Launceston, Tasmania, these bricks are fired in a kiln fuelled by sawdust, a by-product of the local Tasmanian timber industry and also a biomass material. Key outcomes of the sawdust-fired kiln include lower emissions of just 215 tonnes per year, equivalent to about 12 average Australian households, and substantially lower than the approximately 8607 tonnes of C02 emitted by a conventional natural gas kiln of the same capacity, resulting in significant reduction by 8392 tonnes annually.

Energy-efficient improvements have been made to all emissions contributors at the Longford facility including extraction, transport, packaging, waste and even administration while the remaining greenhouse gas emissions are offset by purchasing carbon credits that assist in local tree planting programs.

By specifying Brickworks’ certified carbon neutral bricks for their projects, architects are delivering on their commitment to sustainability and the green building drive.