the search for sustainability

Gast is dedicated to creating and using healthy and safe building materials, ones that also maximize the material assets of our planet.  Building materials currently used in the building industry are not healthy for humans.  At the same time, the production of architectural materials (and associated waste) is growing with the expanding global economy, putting pressure on natural resources.  We need to think about buildings differently in order to find the best solution.  Simply focusing on material efficiencies and “doing more with less” will not satisfy the challenges of global growth.  We need a solution that solves the problems of buildings and construction, and not one that simply lessens the problems.

material and energy use problems

One of the problems is that constructing and maintaining buildings currently uses as much material and energy as the entire global manufacturing sector.  Additionally, the World Resources Institute projects a 300% rise in material and energy use over the next 50 years, as the world’s population and economy grows.  Efficiently constructing buildings does cut waste, and lighter building materials can minimize resource consumption.  But the chemistry of even the leading sustainable materials used in buildings today is still not healthy for people.

  • Polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC or vinyl, is a common ingredient in siding, insulation, windows, doors, interior surfaces, flooring, and wall coverings.  PVC contains plasticizers and toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium.  Plasticizers are believed to disrupt the human endocrine system, lead is a neurotoxin, and cadmium in a known carcinogen.
  • VOCs are immune system disruptors and suspected carcinogens that off-gas from carpets, adhesives, particleboard, paints, and textiles.
  • Wood preservatives are unhealthy to breathe in

building design problems

Recent energy efficient buildings, which are designed to require less heating and cooling with better insulation and sealed windows, have been found to seal in the chemicals in carpets, adhesives, paints, and fabrics.  A recent study in Europe found that air quality inside several highly rated energy efficient buildings was four times worse than air quality on a car-clogged street.  Reducing air exchange in buildings has been found to increase health problems.

sustainabLE solutions

We are always searching for the latest sustainable materials and products we can use in our new building designs, with an emphasis on the manufacturing process.  Material waste should be an input for new buildings or the environment, not just an unusable output from old buildings.  Textiles should be designed as biological nutrients that biodegrade safely.  Building materials should be designed as technical nutrients that are infinitely recyclable, and provide everlasting ingredients for synthetic products.  We must strive for 100% reuse.  New high-tech materials that are 100% infinitely recyclable can conceivably be used in any part of a building’s construction.

nylon 6

Nylon 6 is an example of reuse.  This polymer can be chemically recycled into the raw material caprolactam, which can be used to make high-quality carpet.  It is removing waste from the equation.  Hundreds of millions of pounds of carpet waste is sent to landfills or incinerators each year, so the potential impact of Nylon 6 is immense.

This is a significant step up from conventional recycling, where other materials are mixed in and the result is a product that can’t be recycled again.  New composite materials are hybrids and can’t even be recycled once.


Geopolymers are a promising substitute for concrete.  They are more stable than concrete, and require less embodied energy to produce.  Building materials made of geopolymers can be used again in new buildings, or they can be re-used in other high-quality products.