South Africa’s energy crisis has everyone searching for solutions. We spoke to Evan Lockhart-Barker, General Manager Marketing for Saint-Gobain in Southern Africa, about Saint-Gobain’s move towards a more sustainable way of doing business.
Who is Evan Lockhart-Barker?
I was born and raised in Bloemfontein and graduated from St Andrews School before completing a degree in Marketing through UNISA. A family man at heart, I thrive in a challenging working environment where I can achieve beyond the accepted boundaries of my role. As a member of the prestigious CMO Council Africa Board, I naturally steer towards changing the status quo and finding new approaches to existing business models.
What you have achieved in your role as head of marketing for Saint-Gobain in Southern Africa?
When I joined the company in 2011, I was tasked with enabling marketing and customer orientation, driving change and innovation. I focus intrinsically on strategy and innovation, hiring new skills into the business, and feel that through these efforts we are on an exciting path to ensure we do better things and in better ways.
Your role goes beyond the regular marketing responsibilities?
I have a penchant for adopting innovative ways that will enable consumers to experience not only the sustainability benefits but also the comfort gained through using our products and building systems. When we launched Stand47, not only was this a strong story in the global market about sustainability, it showed our commitment as a company to evolve as a business and adapt to the market within which we operate. Stand 47, sees the building of an energy efficient home at Monaghan Farm that acts as a case study to demonstrate that housing in South Africa can be successfully executed using energy efficient materials, while retaining the qualities of permanence and longevity associated with traditional homes. As a company, Saint-Gobain has fully embraced this opportunity to demonstrate the integration, versatility, quality and efficiency of our products. We view this project as the perfect opportunities to educate the public and create awareness of other building methodologies that are highly efficient and at best no more expensive than other worse performing products. It also showcases real current solutions that can be applied to solving the housing and energy crises in South Africa.
What motivates you everyday?
To work with a team of individuals who have technical skills and talents that help us answer the questions for five years time is an exciting place to be in. I cannot begin to tell you how incredible it is to be in the future headspace and know that with each passing day we are making inroads in the industry. It is truly inspiring to sit back some days and realise that something you are doing is changing society in a positive way. I find it encouraging that Saint- Gobain is leading the way in giving people a comfortable and sustainable home at both ends of the scale.
The benefits of building green are immeasurable – socially, environmentally and economically. Why do you think developers are still tentative about this new way of thinking?
Currently it is the architects who are leading the way toward employing green building techniques. What we need to see now is a collaborative approach with industry partners, clients and end users, which will hopefully lead to more rapid adoption of responsible methods by designers, builders, developers and a host of other building industry groups. It is also important to realise that developers are not willing to incur extra costs when it comes to updating older projects to make them ‘more efficient’. Ultimately, what needs to happen is that everyone who is engaged in the development of our societies needs to realize that it takes a new approach to succeed. Green is not an add-on element that will make all your worries dissipate. The key to success is to make green an integrated and natural part of the process from the onset and through the entire life cycle of a building.
Developers often focus on the unit cost, as opposed to the total system approach. How do the Saint-Gobain systems add benefit for developers especially those making procurement decisions?
Over the past few years, there has been a slight shift in thinking, where some developers have come to realise that the building industry in South Africa needs to revolutionise their building techniques. Energy now more than ever needs to become the major focus as the world moves toward this new curve. It is crucial for this industry to find materials that suit the environment, reducing costs and placing water use as a priority too. I think Stand47 is the perfect model of how this can be achieved. For example, not only is the home sustainable and efficient, the building process requires very minimal water, which is a primary resource for our current construction processes in South Africa. At the other side of the coin is the consumer. All too often people build the homes of their dreams, but can’t afford to live in them with rising energy costs. The turning point will come when people build wisely from the onset.
In your opinion, what is it about Saint Gobain’s products that make them so recognisable in the construction business? How important is it that you remain up to date with the latest technologies and developments in your industry?
As a company, Saint Gobain believes that sustainable habitat is within our reach, and we as a company provide sustainable products and solutions to direct the course of habitat in order to reduce its impact on the environment, improve its energy efficiency and occupant’s comfort. As one of the world’s most innovative companies, innovation is embedded it our identity and we truly believe our products improve habitat and everyday life. As part of our innovation foundation, the company is committed to habitat for everyone by inventing materials adapted to local markets; and amazingly, we have been doing this for 350 years.
As a company we ensure we understand our products Life Cycle Assessments, we are committed to following due process and not running with the trend of ‘green washing’ while only elements of a product could be green. We believe in developing and innovating entire systems that create a green or sustainable solution.
I don’t think you have a chance to change an industry often or to be part of one evolving as fast as ours. It is a very exciting time for us and we do very different things at Saint-Gobain. To be looking after innovation and to be part of a sector dealing with an energy crisis, I feel we have a big opportunity to make real and meaningful change in the country. This industry is in the next phase and if you are looking to leave a mark on a profession or in the energy sector, I am in the right place.
What direction would you like to see this new phase of Saint -Gobain take in the South African market as a whole?
There needs to be a widespread change in the construction industry’s mindset. Meeting the current energy crisis and low carbon agenda globally is both a challenge and an opportunity for the construction industry and it will require radical change. A shift is needed in the way the industry conducts its business as well as calling on government action to meet the scale of the challenge. It is my hope through forums and discussions; we as an industry can begin to take the first steps toward addressing this complex issue. As a business, we have an ability with the current market crises to change the way we do business. As Saint-Gobain, we are extremely proud to have been the driving force behind changing legislature that resulted in low-cost housing projects to include ceilings, which will not only insulate these homes, but also bring down risk factors such as fire safety dangers.
Are there any new exciting projects consumers can look forward to in 2015?
Currently we are making substantial inroads into the affordable housing market and are able to quantify the impact on this market. We are doing really exciting front of store retail category changing products, in addition to designing and providing solutions for healthcare and education.
What we as a company are equally as proud of is our first consumer-interfaced product, Rhinolite EasyFill Crack Filler, making its way onto shelves in the first quarter of 2015. This is a big shift for a formerly B2B company, and now we are better able to understand who buys our products and how our products benefit their lives; which will lead to us finding new ways to improve their lives through their habitat.
Just recently, we launched the Social Gain Competition, which is an architectural award that recognises the efforts that people have made in terms of social upliftment. As a company, Saint-Gobain may be a multinational, but we are still a local manufacturer and we abide by the standards and legislation; hence we are local and support local. Doing business in South Africa means that we should support local manufacturing too, and this entails adding value to the economy through job creation and being sustainable in our communities. Architecture has an important role to play in enabling people to learn, grow and develop themselves. Through this it has the power to build the future success of economies and create opportunities for generations to come.