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Bluescope and the roof movement: white is the new black

Richard Rowe

By Donna Kelly

18 September 2012 — BlueScope Steel is working with Green Building Council of Australia, the University of Wollongong’s Sustainable Building Research Centre and on research initiatives such as South Australian Cool Roof Regulation proposal, which could see legislation passed to ensure commercial buildings are roofed to a certain solar absorption rating. New York has already done that.

It’s a simple idea. White is cooler. White cars, white clothes, and now, white roofs.

The white roof movement took off first in America where organisations like the White Roof Project engage with the community to spread the word, enlist volunteers, find a black roof, often tarred as a sealant, and paint it white.

The Project, sponsored by the Open Space Institute, has painted the roofs of more than 30 buildings in Jacksonville, Florida, this year. It hopes to start similar efforts in cities nationwide next year and go global by 2014.

On its website, the organisation says if it were to coat 5 per cent of rooftops per year worldwide “we would be finished by 2030”.

“This would save us 24 billion tonnes in CO2. That happens to be exactly how much the world emitted in 2010. So, in essence, this solution would be like turning the world off for an entire year — while also saving some money on the energy bills.”

Back in Australia, where tar was never used, it’s more of a cool roof movement.

One company at the forefront, and putting their money where their mouth is, is BlueScope Steel.

The company has produced a roofing product, Colourbond Coolmax, in the colour Whitehaven, literally “a whiter white”, which can reduce the annual cooling energy costs of a commercial and office buildings by up to 7.5 per cent compared to other colours.

This translates to a payback of the initial investment for the premium product within five years.

Then there’s innovative coating technologies such as the company’s Thermatech product which can be applied to a palette of 20 colours along with keeping the roof’s thermal emittance, in basic terms how quickly it cools down at the end of the day, as effective as possible.

The company is also taking a leading role in educating on cool roofs and is collaborating with the Green Building Council of Australia and the University of Wollongong’s Sustainable Building Research Centre. As well, it’s working on research initiatives such as South Australian Cool Roof Regulation proposal, which could see legislation passed to ensure commercial buildings are roofed to a certain solar absorption rating. New York has already done that. See the legislation here.

BlueScope Steel sustainability manager Richard Rowe said the idea of lighter colours being cooler had a long history down to cultures living in desert regions wearing lighter coloured clothing.

“We have always had cool roofs – we just never had a name for them,” he said.

“It’s about passive design. The first thought is good simple design. If you are building you look at the site aspect, cross ventilation, insulation levels, draught proofing, double glazing – and from there you look at active heating and cooling.

“Then you can start looking at your energy requirements. What is important is choosing the right products for what you’re trying to achieve.

“And even if a builder does not believe in sustainability they need to realise that 50 per cent or more of their market does believe.”

Rowe said there was  a layer of benefits to a cool roof –  from spending less on airconditioning to actually being able to buy a smaller airconditioner. It also kept outside temperatures down, which helped avoid the urban heat island effect.

A former accountant with Blue Scope Steel and a self-confessed “round peg in a square hole”, Rowe is now, “happy as a pig in mud”, working on sustainability ideas.

The move from numbers to the future came during the Global Financial Crisis. Rowe, who was with BHP Steel in various roles before “starting” with BlueScope Steel in 2002, took a year off to accommodate a “mid-life crisis” where he turned his thoughts to what he could do at home to become more sustainable.

With some training and qualifications also under his belt, he returned, took on his new role and couldn’t be happier.

“It’s a way to incorporate what I do professionally and personally,” he said.

“I believe steel has a strong role to play in the conversation about sustainability and I can present our side.

“We have a way to go to fully recognise the role but we are looking more and more at how we can assist and how our projects can achieve a better outcome.”

Rowe said steel’s role in the sustainability game included helping help Australia and the world adapt to climate change with the ability to withstand extreme weather events – which were forecast to be on the rise.

“Steel has the ability to be resilient through extreme weather events – it has strength, weight and durability,” he said.

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