Colin Meyer, president, Clay Brick Association of Southern Africa

Q: What role does the Clay Brick Association (CBA) play in SA’s clay-brick industry?
A: The CBA actively pursues continuous improvement among its members with regard to sustainability. Its research helps architects and engineers maximise thermal comfort and energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings. To facilitate energy-efficient building design and construction, our technical manuals and sustainability reports are available free to the public via our website. Our overall goal is to increase awareness, knowledge and support for clay-brick masonry.

Q: What more can be done to regulate the sector?
A: The formal sector has always been well regulated, as brick manufacturers are required to meet stringent industry standards during production. The key regulations that companies need to adhere to relate to quality standards, environmentally friendly practices, labour and equity, and mining. The CBA regularly engages with the government and industry members on policies and the impact of legislation on daily operations. However, the growing informal sector, artisanal brick-makers who mould bricks by hand using firing methods that are often highly polluting, is not regulated as well, and community resources are sometimes utilised with little consideration for sustainability and product safety.

Q: How can co-operation between formal and informal clay-brick producers be improved?
A: The CBA is undertaking education initiatives aimed at the informal sector as well as working with local government and what we call ‘champions’ (producers that support sustainability and improved product quality) in informal settlements to share practical ways to reduce coal and water use, air pollution and waste. For example, we are working with an informal producer in the Eastern Cape to show how environmental responsibility can be good for business due to reduced costs and waste.

Q: The CBA is part of the Switch Africa Green (SAG) initiative, which is jointly implemented by the UN Environment Programme and the EU across seven African countries, to accelerate the continent’s transition to inclusive sustainable consumption and production practices. What is the CBA’s role?
A: The project drives sustainability in the production of clay bricks, while advocating the use of energy-efficient construction materials and technologies. There are three essential elements that I believe will lead to the success of our initiatives. Firstly, homeowners are keen to reduce electricity bills. Therefore, they are open to learning how the right construction materials can lead to improved thermal comfort while achieving electricity savings.

Secondly, there are only about 120 large producers, so improvements in a small number of companies will ensure a significant effect. Finally, the industry is fortunate to have a strong, well-organised industry research body in the CBA. It is thus easy to undertake quality research and distribute findings and new technologies. Over the past five years, our Energy Efficient Clay Brick Programme has resulted in a 10% to 15% reduction in the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. SAG financial support will allow us to drive further industry transformation.

Q: Is the initiative limited to production only?
A: The CBA is committed to improving sustainability, not only in production but also in the entire construction of green buildings to ensure a reduced carbon footprint across a building’s lifespan. Operational energy use is an expensive, long-term cost for the property owner and particularly crucial in designing affordable housing. The CBA is constantly working with national authorities to improve building standards for thermal performance.

Q: How can the sustainability of clay-brick production be improved?
A: As ceramic products, bricks are fired in a kiln at high temperatures. The use of coal in brick-making results in carbon emissions and pollutants such as SO2 and nitrous oxides. In countries with clean electricity, the logical transformation is to electricity rather than coal as a firing fuel. Switching to energy-efficient technologies will reduce SA’s total CO2 emissions and improve air quality.

One of our knowledge-based projects is a SAG-funded industry portal. This will allow CBA members to measure their sustainability performance, and then compare it against industry benchmarks. Aggregated data over time will help brick manufacturers make informed decisions about future capital improvements, which will continue to boost the sustainability of the industry. Over the past five years, the CBA has published several research studies (including SA’s first sector-wide life-cycle assessment) that add to the technology knowledge base for the industry, both nationally and internationally. All publications are distributed through the CBA to its members and other brick-makers. The lessons learned in SA are being shared in Europe, the UK, US and Australia.

Q: What work are you doing with government and local authorities regarding SA’s socio-economic development?
A: Provincial authorities in the Eastern Cape have shown an interest in developing a working strategy for the informal clay-brick sector throughout the province. The National Home Builders Registration Council has also expressed an interest in assisting construction-material suppliers from informal settlements to educate themselves about providing products acceptable for use in larger-scale affordable housing projects.

By Ilze-Mari Gründling
Illustration: Janine Petzer

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