In honor of this year’s Earth Day, I reflect on the past year and the hundreds of building product companies I’ve met and gotten to know. I share five of the coolest, most innovative sustainable manufacturers I’ve come across.
Being in sales for a software company that caters to building product manufacturers, I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit in an effort to help promote our brand. Beyond Greenbuild (the industry’s premier showcase for sustainable advocacy and learning), I’ve walked the expo halls of LightFair, American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE), World of Concrete, International Builders Show (IBS), Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS), Buildex Vancouver, International Institute of Building Enclosure Consultants (IIBEC), and International Roofing Expo (IRE).
I’m a big sustainability fan. This has been an exceptionally exciting year to be a manufacturer – especially a sustainable building product manufacturer. I saw first hand how manufacturing is having one of its best years in North America, buoyed by a post-pandemic adjustment to reduce supply chain risk, tax incentives, and federal infrastructure investment. Amid the backdrop of global warming and an increased focus on sustainable lifecycle management, there is growth and lots of new players. Here are my favorites (in no particular order).
Lumos Solar (Nederland, Colorado). With a background in architecture, Lumos Solar is applying the “art of solar” by reimagining architectural components like walkways, sunports, garages, patios, etc. to integrate solar panels and provide clean, renewable energy. One project at a time, they are changing the perception of solar – from being an unattractive electrical appliance to a functional design element.
Solablock (Pittsfield, Massachusetts). If you would have guessed that there couldn’t be room for innovation with concrete blocks, you’d be wrong. I met the co-Founder of Solablock, Jason Laverty at World of Concrete and had him explain to me what they were doing. A brick-layer by trade, Jason shared the Solablock story;The genesis that marries concrete masonry blocks with integrated solar panels to create a vertical solar building component. This allows for the entire building to be used for renewable energy production. Imagine every hospital, school, parking garage, shopping complex, and highway wall could partly or fully cover their own costs. Mind blown.
Ocean Legacy Foundation (Surrey, British Columbia). At the Buildex Vancouver show, I got to breathe in the cold salty air of the Pacific. It got me thinking of the great Pacific garbage patch. Google that for a depressing visual. Ocean Legacy is a non-profit that is trying to do something about it. They created a Plastic Pollution Emergency Response program called EPIC, that addresses awareness, policy and infrastructure change, and cleanup. Under their Legacy Plastic group, they break down the plastic into usable building materials in a plastic circular economy – like benches and other furnishings.
Plaex (Hampstead, New Brunswick). Speaking of recycled plastic, Plaex Building Systems (pronounced “play-ex”) offers unique construction solutions through a composite material called PLAEXcrete. It is made from more than 90% recycled waste and is a modular construction product that doesn’t need mortar or cutting. It uses a mix of difficult-to-recycle materials, including agricultural, marine, and industrial plastic waste and dry aggregates such as plaster, concrete, brick, and/or glass. The end product can be reused and is stronger than concrete. Applications include low-rise construction projects, from retaining walls and flood walls to sheds, foundations, and wall systems.
Invisible Structures (Denver, Colorado). Plastic is everywhere today. Here’s a company that is helping to give plastic a new life, while also providing a more aesthetically-pleasing, greener solution to paving and stormwater management. They use 100% recycled plastic in all of their products. Stormwater management is quickly becoming a topic of conversation given the change in global weather patterns. Just recall the floods in our big cities (Houston in 2016) or the soon to be flooding when the massive 2023 snows melt in the western states. Invisible Structures had a vision of replacing certain concrete and asphalt applications to grass paving. They were ahead of their time in the ‘80’s and are quietly…or some would say “invisibly” changing our surroundings.
Bill Long is a Sr. Sales Manager for Concora living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Texas. He specializes in B2B business development, business intelligence, software, process improvement, sustainability. His opinions are his own.