However, it must continue to evolve and innovate, particularly within the framework of the European EPBD* directive, which establishes the obligation for all new buildings built from 2021 to be almost neutral from one point from an energy point of view. From the point of view of consumers, this trend is the same: 63% of French people want to renovate their homes in 2023**. The sector must therefore respond to this demand in a sustainable way.
Everyone knows that bricks are fired in a kiln, which obviously requires a lot of energy. A brick is made with natural raw materials (often recyclable), and if its production produces practically no waste, it releases CO2. We strive to optimize our energy consumption, for example by using the waste heat from firing to also dry the bricks. But it shouldn't be minimized. We want to contribute to a sustainable present and future.
The brick on a diet
So, will the brick soon go into hibernation because of the energy crisis? One thing is already clear: we are not (yet) ready to give up bricks. But we can put her on a diet. We have been manufacturing thin bricks for years. Today, facades are still often covered with a 10 cm layer of facing bricks. That era is soon over. Because we are going to “dematerialize” the brick. We are moving towards a 7 cm brick which has exactly the same properties and advantages. But which requires between 20 and 25% less raw materials - and therefore less energy. Even better, this new brick is about 10% cheaper. We already produce thin bricks and we are preparing to expand production to all our factories.
A slimming cure that goes further
We have been manufacturing 1,8 cm brick slips for several years now. These facing bricks are obtained by sawing whole bricks into bricks. However, in 2017, Vandersanden was the first brick manufacturer to switch to producing ECO brick slips directly formed in 1,8 cm moulds. This saved 70% of raw materials and 50% of energy compared to a traditional brick.
Using thinner bricks and/or brick slips also leaves more room for insulation in your walls.
And as we are betting on dematerialization in all of our activities, we have also put the cobblestones on a diet. The new standard for the entire range produced at our Kessel site is now 6 cm instead of 6,7 cm. This represents a reduction of more than 10%. We are also constantly looking for ways to further dematerialize our products, for example by using perforated tiles. This solution allows a volume reduction of up to 40%. This paver is particularly suitable for car parks, gardens or driveways, has great water permeability and its light weight facilitates laying.
Dematerialization reduces the consumption of materials, and therefore not only saves energy and raw materials, but also makes transport more sustainable.
together to zero
It is clear that the brick sector, and by extension the entire construction sector, is set to change profoundly. The thinner brick is just one development among many.
At Vandersanden, we don't think in years, but in generations, and we have taken the bull by the horns to make the brick industry more sustainable. Our objective is clear: to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This is not an ambition, it is a promise. Together to Zero is a goal we intend to achieve.
But we cannot make the brick sector deeply sustainable alone. We don't want that, either. We recently launched our Together to Zero sustainability program, which invites our stakeholders to jointly take up the challenge of completely zeroing the carbon footprint of our operations and production in the future. True to our philosophy that "the most beautiful is built together", we want to give everyone in our sector the opportunity to join this movement.
We have defined eight areas to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050: dematerialization, water management, low energy consumption at production sites, intelligent automation, mobility without fossil fuels, circular materials and applications, renewable energies and low or zero carbon footprint products. We already have many achievements to our credit in these eight areas. Thus, we use energy-efficient brick kilns, we recover waste heat from firing to dry the bricks, we have more than 35 solar panels and, recently, our own wind turbine. And that's not all, since our fleet of vehicles (including forklifts) will be fully electrified, while we are rolling out a take-back service for wooden pallets and we only use packaging made of at least 000% recycled materials. We are far from being alone in this. We are indeed collaborating with municipalities to deploy solutions adapted to the climate, and are joining forces with colleagues/competitors and sectoral federations for the dematerialization of bricks.
But we don't want to stop on such a good path. “Together to Zero” is a movement we want to lead and a promise we will keep. We are determined not to wait and have already made good progress, and we encourage everyone to jump on the bandwagon. Let's come together, as an industry, as a company and as a society.
Tribune by Nathali Donatz, Group Marketing Director at Vandersanden (LinkedIn).
*Energy performance of buildings directive
**Figure from the SeLoger study, revealed by the Journal du Dimanche