The work done by Laminex to reduce the environmental impact of its products challenges common assumptions about what "sustainable" looks like.
Architects and designers are well aware of the contribution Australia's buildings make to the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention their other environmental impacts. And in amongst day-to-day design practice, it can be easy to make assumptions about different materials' sustainability credentials, particularly those with a raw, unfinished "sustainable look". But material choice doesn't have to be an either/or question when it comes to aesthetics and sustainability.
Laminex has a well-known pedigree for beautiful high-quality laminates. Less well-known is the that the company has actively been working for many years to reduce its carbon footprint, minimise waste and incorporate ethically-sourced materials into its laminates. For Neil Sookee, Laminex Product Design Manager, the motivation is simple: "We want to be a responsible member of the society that we operate in, and that means making the best efforts to remove environmentally unsound practices from the business."
Sustainability sometimes requires radical change
"We've re-engineered our systems to eliminate anything that could be a potential hazard in the manufacturing process," explains Sookee, "both for our own workers, and for people who process our finished goods." For example, since the early 2000s Laminex has worked to significantly reduce the levels of solvents in the water-based resins used to produce its high-pressure laminates - to the extent that these resins are now classed as non-flammable. Water-based resins and water-based cleaning systems are now used across all manufacturing methods at Laminex, in line with the international standard for environmental management systems. This not only reduces hazards around production and installation, but means that at the end of their (long) lives, Laminex products can be disposed of more easily and safely.
Good design and Environmental Sustainable Design are intertwined.
The recent launch of two new Laminex decors, Tinted Paper Terrazzo and Tonal Paper Terrazzo, exemplifies the company's design-led approach to reducing waste. The decors not only look and feel beautiful, and resonate with the popularity of terrazzo in architecture and design, they're made using 30 per cent reclaimed post-production paper. "We've observed that young designers in particular are fascinated with this notion of the wasteless future - how to incorporate something that would overwise have gone to waste to create a value-added material with its own design aesthetic," says Sookee. "That's what drove the thinking on the recycled paper terrazzo decors."
The importance of durability and longevity.
While some might be wedded to the idea of only using natural materials, high-quality laminates offer a durability that should challenge our thinking on what is a truly sustainable material. “With a modicum of care, our products last a lifetime,” says Sookee, whose own laminate kitchen, now 18 years old, has only recently begun to show signs of wear, “because we’ve had some rogue guests,” he laughs. And while a laminate surface is not generally as hard as stone or stainless steel, the care guidelines for Laminex laminates are similar to those of most other materials: “Don’t cut directly on the surface, don’t put hot pots directly from the cooktop onto the surface, clean with warm soapy water – whether it’s engineered stone, natural stone or laminate, everybody says the same thing,” says Sookee.
Endorsed with globally recognised environmental credentials.
The sustainability characteristics of Laminex laminates are formalised in a long list of industry qualifications. The company is a member of the Green Building Council of Australia, and the first business in its category to achieve Global GreenTag certification, which ensures its products and processes are assessed against internationally trusted benchmarks. All of its Australian-made MDF is rated E0 for minimal formaldehyde emissions and sourced from FSC- and PEFC-certified forests, while its decorative papers, including the kraft papers used in high-pressure laminates, are FSC-certified.
And all of this is captured in Laminex's fundamental GreenFirst philosophy, which, perhaps most tellingly, has influenced industry-wide change. "When, in around 2002, we made the decision to only source FSC-certified decorative papers, it was partly at our insistence that many of our major suppliers followed our lead. Because it's one thing for us to have FSC certification, but if our suppliers don't have it, it's meaningless," says Sookee.
To learn more about Laminex's commitment to sustainability, and to download documentation, certificates and reports, click here.