Taking brilliant ideas out of the lab and into commercial reality

Media group The Fifth Estate has written an extensive feature story following an exhibition and event featuring sustainability innovations for the built environment that featured Professor Veena Sahajwalla and some of the UNSW SMaRT Centre inventions.

Here is the full story and below is an excerpt:

Veena Sahajwalla director of UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology was both on the panel to lend her views and on hand to display her innovative “green ceramics” made out of recycled fabrics and waste glass.

Through partnerships with industry, Sahajwalla’s tiles were used in one of Mirvac’s recent developments to cut down on embodied carbon and to prove that recycled materials can be both practical and aesthetically desirable. The developer is exploring how it might scale up use of the tiles across its development portfolio.

Sahajwalla said government funding was important in helping take the product from the lab to a finished home furnishing

“The funding that came out of the NSW Office of Chief Scientist and Engineer actually enabled us to take all of that fantastic science and technology and bring it into the realm of commercialisation,” Sahajwalla said.

“Also, it’s that notion that we’re all really in this together. When we’re talking about recycling and waste resources. It’s about recognising that we can keep waste items out of landfill and actually reform them and bring them back to life in the form of green products.”

Sahajwalla said it was important to credit the third element of innovation as federal and state government and the part they play not only in fostering partnerships, but funding key research.

“For example you’ve got the Australian Research Council in Australia, that’s funding research, collaborations and partnerships. And I think, to me, that’s an important component.

“Because had we not done all of that fundamental science, we wouldn’t be sitting in this position here today. We’re joining the dots between that science technology demonstration, and ultimately getting it into the hands of end users.”


Toby Long, General Manager Residential Development NSW at Mirvac, who helped see the company incorporate green ceramics into its development shared some insights into the decision making and collaboration process.

Through its sustainability initiatives, the company was seeking to design out its waste and was recommended by a board member to approach Sahajwalla for collaboration.

“We were doing pretty well designing out our waste. We get about 90 per cent on our construction sites, which is pretty good. We want to get to 100 per cent,” Long said.

He said that while Mirvac was taking initiatives of its own, the trend was for clients becoming more aware and more demanding that buildings take a sustainable approach.

“The market is changing and their expectations are that we should be doing things that actually sustain the one earth that we have,” Long said.

“It’s the change that the world is seeing in terms of the customers, in terms of investors and everything else. And it’s also a change in ‘how do you start something small, to then actually make it more streamlined and actually more common?”