L-R: Linda Scott, City of Sydney; Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz, Mirvac; Minister Matt kean; Professor Veena Sahajwalla

Mirvac on Wednesday revealed a new green ceramics range of apartment fittings that it’s collaborated on with Professor Veena Sahajwalla and the UNSW’s SMaRT Centre.

In no surprise to anyone, Professor Veena Sahajwalla was introduced to NSW energy and environment minister Matt Kean and a crowd of onlookers at Mirvac’s Pavilions at Sydney Olympic Park on Wednesday as a television star.

She’d been on the ABC’s Australian Story just two weeks before.

The developer’s chief executive and managing director Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz was not going to miss the chance to elevate and capitalise on the star power of this exuberant woman of science, with probably the most infectious optimism in the industry.

After all, it was this optimism that had led to Mirvac into a collaboration with Sahajwalla and UNSW’s SMaRT Centre, to create new sustainable building materials from waste.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla, SMaRT Centre UNSW

The ABC program had charted this passion project of Sahajwalla’s.

Upstairs on level 27 of the building, where the crowd was gathered, was a prototype apartment fitted out with “green ceramics” – tiles, splashbacks, floors, furniture and light fittings – made from waste fabrics and glass.

The potential is to scale up a small micro factory at Cootamundrain the state’s west that’s making these products to start reversing the legacy of waste that comes from the building industry and nudge it to become part of the circular economy.

(In person, you could see what Sahajwalla is made of. As soon as the formalities were over, she nabbed the minister’s ear. The Fifth Estate could only catch a snatch of the conversation, but it definitely had something to do with a meeting to advance her work and its potential for commercialisation. The minister agreed to a meeting. There it is, on the record, sort of, and if it’s not, it ought to be.)

Lloyd-Hurwitz told the gathering that “every year, an estimated 11 billion tonnes of waste are sent to landfill globally. Ninety two billion tonnes of materials are extracted, with buildings responsible for around 50 per cent of global materials used.

“In Australia, the building industry is responsible for around 60 per cent of the waste we generate.”

Minister Matt Kean said the partnership between Mirvac and UNSW’s SMaRT Centre could be “the blueprint for how we do sustainable development in the future.”

The minister (who’s notched up some of his own sustainability star quality for his championing of clean energy and challenging his federal counterparts to do the same) later told The Fifth Estate that manufacturing and the circular economy were priorities for NSW.

“The initiative by Veena and UNSW is not just about protecting our environment it’s about doing it in a way that protects jobs, particularly in the bush,” he said.

“As the world moves to decarbonise there is no country better placed to win in that environment than Australia. We’ve got abundance of [renewable energy] and resources and the best scientists in the world that can provide solutions for problems that every other country is trying to solve.

“Veena is a perfect example of that – turning our waste and rubbish to a resource that can be used in a productive way.”

And these tiles look good

The Fifth Estate doesn’t get out much, but it was irresistible to see first hand what this recycled material looks like.

Would it look slightly naff like a lot of other new-wave recycled materials? Maybe like those unappealing fake timber boards made partly of plastics or recycled rubber? Great for the environment, bad luck about the aesthetics.

But this offering breaks radical new ground and it’s exciting because it looks great. An array of options, styles and colours of these tiles were displayed on a bench near the gathering. In situ in the apartment upstairs, the products looked like high quality engineered stone, but with a bigger array of colours, some terrazzo style.

Pleasing, yes.

According to Lloyd-Hurwitz a driver for the collaboration came after board member Sam Mostyn suggested Mirvac get in touch with Sahajwalla, and national residential marketing director Natasha Ryko took up the challenge.

It’s a challenge the company felt it had to take up.

“As one of the largest property companies in Australia with an integrated business model that brings together design, development, construction and marketing we are in a unique position to take bold steps that pave the way for others,” Lloyd-Hurwitz said.

But for the project, demanding Building Code of Australia standards, slip tests, fire resistance and acoustics were barriers that needed to be overcome.

Sahawalla said she was delighted that Mirvac had taken the risks.

“Mirvac is a true industry leader and I commend Sue and her team for being part of the journey to help society create a materials revolution where we start to think of, and treat and reform, waste as a renewable resource,” she said.

But the biggest challenge and risk, no doubt, is still on the table, metaphorically speaking. It’s the demands of scalability.

According to the chatter after the event the developer is fielding plenty of inquiry for the green ceramics, including from other developers.

Now it’s a question of galvanising the interest to make a good prototype into a great industry.

That’s where minister Matt Kean will hopefully come in. And that meeting we reckon he agreed to.

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