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The future of green buildings

Where are we now – and where are we going?

We chat to AkzoNobel Senior Scientist Anthonie Stuiver to get the lowdown on the current state of play in the green buildings space and ask him to unlock some insight into how the company can contribute to its development over the next ten years.  

How would you describe the current status of the world’s green building efforts? Is it in a good place, or could more be done?
Things are slowly, but surely, moving in the green direction. We’ve seen several flagship buildings constructed with a strong focus on sustainability. More mass market building projects are also being developed with tangible sustainability benefits, designed in such a way as to bring cost benefits. Most notably, there’s a big emphasis on high levels of insulation. This helps to reduce heating and/or cooling demands, lowering the cost of ownership for the end-user. In addition, more attention is being paid to circularity, which can lower disposal costs when buildings have served their purpose and need to be taken down.

Where do we currently stand as AkzoNobel when it comes to supplying the industry and promoting green building?
We fully support the journey of the building industry towards going green. We have strong propositions with high solids/lower solvent content and excellent water-based products. In relevant areas, we have products for specific certification schemes, such as BREEAM and LEED. We often notice that green solutions are perceived as being expensive. But we believe this discussion needs to be opened up much further to consider not only the cost price, but also the lifetime, environmental impact and health aspects of those solutions.  

Are there currently any “hot” areas of development within the green building space?
Functional coatings are clearly the new kid on the block. We’re seeing the introduction of products with air-cleaning properties, coatings that can regulate the heat inside a building and paints that provide a microbial clean surface. We’re also see the resurrection of old technologies, such as limestone and waterglass in specific niche applications.

Are we as AkzoNobel focusing on any particular elements of green building at the moment, or looking to develop in any particular area?
We’re currently investigating if coatings can be part of the energy transition. One example is a European project called ENVISION. We’re developing coatings for building façade panels that can absorb heat and use it to warm up buildings and tap water. This is about more than just developing a “coating with a claim”. We’re co-developing a full solution in a partnership between several companies in the value chain. We’ll test if this technology can be used to truly get us to a fossil-free heating and cooling position for buildings in a real-life situation. On a shorter timescale, we aim to further optimize our extended range of cool coatings that provide a reduction in cooling costs in hot climates. We’re also expanding our range of interior products that offer air-cleaning functionalities.

Where do you see green building going over the next ten years?
We expect a realistic and step-wise increase in green solutions. No big revolution, but a steady increase in products that have clear environmental benefits and are priced competitively. We also expect that green niche products with special functionalities will play an important role in advertising the capabilities of the coatings industry. As these are often priced quite high, we don’t expect that they will suddenly become mainstream. However, there will be room for a few of these special products to make it to a mass market proposition, if they are able to showcase a meaningful (long-term) economic and environmental benefit.

How could AkzoNobel contribute to those possible developments?
We need to keep in close contact with the building industry and academia. We speak to our customers on a daily basis to understand their needs and “greenify” in a meaningful way. We also approach start-ups and suppliers through our Paint the Future innovation challenge to scout for new solutions that could contribute to green buildings and accelerate their development into the market. Understanding what’s happening in the world of science is also important. We’re actively contributing to the development of new technology in a number of world-leading research consortia, which involves collaborating with the smartest people and institutes. The aim is to come to new possibilities that could stretch our green capabilities further than we can currently imagine.

What excites you most about what could happen in the world of green building in the next decade?
It’s inspiring to see that so many different industries and institutes are working together to constantly try out new building materials, construction methods and coating solutions. The building sector is highly competitive and innovative, where developments move at high speed. As a coating supplier, we have to innovate at the same pace to solve their needs in all areas, ranging from carbon neutrality to well-being and indoor air quality.

What can we expect from AkzoNobel during the next ten years when it comes to shaping the future of construction?
We’ll obviously swiftly follow market trends and help our customers on their green journey. We’ll also look into the deeper needs of the building sector to co-develop solutions that deliver both economic and environmental benefits.