How will the construction of the future also be more sustainable in flooring? - Interview with Julian and Philipp Utz
To achieve the EU's climate targets, greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption in the building sector must be significantly reduced. In addition to new construction, the renovation of existing buildings in particular has great potential to make construction more resource-efficient and energy-efficient: Rebuild, reuse, adding floors, circularity, reusable materials, renewable building materials and raw materials - what contribution does soil make to sustainable construction? How do construction chemical product systems for substrate preparation, installation of floor coverings and surface finishing contribute to reducing the carbon footprint? Julian and Philipp Utz explain in this interview where the construction chemicals manufacturer Uzin Utz is starting from and what the possibilities the future holds.
Uzin Utz is considered an industry pioneer and driver of sustainability initiatives. It was the first company in the industry to start phasing out solvents in adhesives back in the 1980s, introduced the first very low-emission product system in the late 1990s with the UZIN Ökoline, followed in 2013 by the UZIN Terra-Line, consisting of three products offered in sustainable packaging in addition to a formulation with reduced GWP (global warming potential) values. Today, Uzin Utz SE's share of sales with EMICODE EC-1 certified products is 98.2%. In 2021, the company was awarded the German Environmental Management Award by the Ministry of the Environment. Most recently, it received the Environmental Award for Companies in Baden-Württemberg for its numerous measures to save energy and resources. The current goal is to be a pioneer in resource-saving installation systems and climate-optimized production by 2025. Group-wide, greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 25% for Scope 1 & 2.
What is your focus for the development of sustainable products by 2025?
Julian Utz: "We are a construction chemicals company. We understand the importance of protecting the environment and people. This is why our product development goes beyond what is required by law. Our aim has always been to develop new, more environmentally friendly and sustainable alternatives to existing solutions. With the UZIN HydroBlock system, for example, we have launched a sustainable flooring system for moisture barriers that offers significant CO2 savings. This is where we come in, working in different areas to find alternatives to conventional systems that cause less CO2 emissions. These could be gypsum-based fillers instead of cement-based products, new options in damp-proofing that replace epoxy solutions, or natural oils in the finishing and surface protection of wood floors. Our portfolio also includes products that already contain renewable raw materials in the formulation of the purchased raw materials - the keyword here is biomass instead of fossil resources. This saves us 3,000 tonnes of CO2 per year."
How do you make the reduction in CO2 emissions visible to the user?
Philipp Utz: "To provide transparency on the CO2 emissions of individual products, we introduced the cross-brand sustainability label ECO2 CHOICE in 2023. A QR code on the packaging provides the user with details of the savings potential and all relevant information is stored. The main criterion for calculating the CO2 reduction is the Global Warming Potential (GWP). We have taken into account all stages of the life cycle, from the provision of raw materials to the point at which the product leaves our facility (cradle to gate). Products with this label have a modified formulation containing renewable, regional or biomass-based raw materials. They can be used as a sustainable alternative to existing products. Gradually, all brands of the Uzin Utz will identify products from their range that provide detailed information on climate-relevant data.
At Uzin, for example, these include the PE 360 Plus primer, the NC 160 cementitious filler and various adhesives for linoleum, textile coverings and dry adhesives from the Sigan range. In the tile sector, our codex brand has a particularly sustainable primer, filler and multi-flex mortar in its range. Another example is the new surface finish for parquet floors, Magic Oil Change from our Pallmann brand in Würzburg. The new solvent-free parquet oil consists of over 90% renewable raw materials, supplied by farmers in the region. The cold-pressed hemp oil and natural waxes used do not require chemical processing, as is the case with conventional parquet oils."
How important are certifications?
Julian Utz: "They are very important because they provide orientation. Uzin Utz SE's share of sales with EMICODE EC-1 certified products is 98.2%. In our product range, most products carry the EMICODE EC1 Plus label as very low in emissions. Many carry the Blue Angel label. Arturo brand PU coatings are solvent-free, AgBB certifications are the norm, additional EMICODE certifications are already available in some cases and more are to follow. The Arturo PU2060 coating has our ECO2 CHOICE sustainability label, while the PU2030 flow coating has been awarded the silver Cradle to Cradle certificate. They are produced in a CO2-neutral environment at a Dutch Uzin Utz site in Haaksbergen - the greenest factory in the Netherlands since 2014. The sustainability level of the industrial building was tested according to the Dutch GPR Gebouw certification procedure and was awarded a score of 8.66 on a scale of 1 to 10."
What are currently the biggest challenges?
Philipp Utz: "A major challenge is certainly the very unstable procurement market and the high prices. Another challenge is the threat of environmental regulation of key raw materials such as lithium carbonate, which plays an important role in the production and formulation of cementitious fillers."
How can this be resolved?
Julian Utz: "For example, our research and development department has released the new UZIN Turbolight System CA, a lightweight and flexible rapid system for gypsum-based renovation. In application, it works like our tried-and-tested system made of cementitious components - but causes fewer CO2 emissions and is lower in tension. Both systems consist of the components lightweight leveling mortar, reinforcing fibers and thin screed, enable a load-bearing floor structure at variable heights of up to 300 mm and flexibly compensate for unevenness."
What are the trends in flooring?
Philipp Utz: "The trend is clearly towards more sustainable construction methods, which require building materials that are climate- and environmentally-friendly. This is nothing new for us; at Uzin Utz we have always seen sustainability as a long-term orientation that always keeps an eye on the future. This development is not only relevant for planners, architects and builders, but also for the trade. The demand for sustainable installation materials and flooring systems is here to stay. However, in addition to building materials that help reduce the carbon footprint, there are many other ways to implement sustainability in construction. This is something we are constantly working on."
Speed, weight, ergonomic processing ... what all is sustainable?
Philipp Utz: "Durability, ergonomics and weight reduction all contribute to sustainability. Speed is also an important factor in design. At the same time, all products must meet the highest quality standards and be easy to use. New sustainable applications go through lengthy testing phases until they meet all the criteria of our proven systems. This is our promise to our customers. Recently, for example, we developed a new ergonomic and economical way to control subfloor moisture. Our UZIN MT Classic System, where the system components used are already resistant to alkaline moisture, has a CO2 footprint that is around 50% lower than traditional waterproofing systems that use reactive resin primers."
Where do you use renewable raw materials? Do you use recycled materials? Are there possible applications for recyclable products?
Julian Utz: "For example, in the area of dry adhesives, we offer a quick and easy way to install flooring during a renovation - with a pre-coated film that is applied directly to the existing flooring or substrate. The floor can be walked on immediately and the covering can be removed later without leaving any residue. Products are also available for skirting boards and stairs. A new product is an evenly conductive dry adhesive with switchTec bonding technology, which can be used in server rooms or offices. The removable adhesive joints can also be recycled.
For some flooring adhesives, we also use balsamic resin derivatives or FGD gypsum (in Deutsch - REA-Gips) in fillers. The gypsum comes from flue gas desulfurization (FGD) (in Deutsch - REA) plants. In the development of the new Arturo Mistral PU coating, a fossil raw material has been replaced by a renewable component. This resulted in a new type of mineral-like surface structure. In addition, the material is also easy to recycle."
Serial construction, prefabrication, digital processes - how can flooring systems be used sustainably within this context in the future?
Philipp Utz: "According to experts, with standardized construction methods and a higher degree of prefabrication, many buildings could be built faster and at lower cost. To achieve this, digital processes must be driven forward and standardized. For example, the BIM construction database, in which the data of our products have also been available to planners, architects and developers for all volume construction chemical products since 2019, offers the advantage that a wide variety of trades can work together smoothly over the entire life cycle of a building. Ideally, this makes processes more efficient, which is not insignificant in view of the situation of current cost and material developments. Well-functioning processes also allow resources to be used in a more targeted way, which supports the basic idea of more sustainable construction. Continuously optimizing these tools and thus making the best possible use of resources, is the best way to ensure that our products continue to be used in the most sustainable way possible."