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Getting Serious About Green Building Materials

“Most everyone has green materials that are made from recycled this or that. That is fine of course. But the public doesn’t really care. In fact the impact to our planet, or the savings to the impact to our planet is quite minimal if we recycle something. But if we drive CO2 down – that’s the high order bit – drive energy down, drive CO2 down. Those are the high order bits today.” – Kevin Surace, CEO Serious Materials

KissMyCountry had the chance to talk with Kevin Surace, CEO of Serious Materials – a company redefining green building for the future. Enjoy the conversation with this dynamic leader as we continue our CEOs Saving the Planet series!

KissMyCountry: Kevin, you’re at the center of Green Building, and you’re really making a contribution. How did it all begin? What motivated you to focus on Green Building?

Kevin: The truth is the company started sort of on a whim. In a fluke, a friend of mine (Marc Porat) had a polymer company and said wouldn’t you like to do something in materials instead of electronics and software? I said sure. At that time it was car coatings and other things like this. But that changed when he came back from the Aspen Institute in 2005 and said the world is about climate change, it’s very serious and we have to do something about it Kevin, and I said you’re right. That’s really where we started the track record of this company directly to clean tech and realized that buildings by far are the biggest contributor to CO2. About 52% of CO2 is tied to the built environment, 40% to operate our buildings and 12% to make our building materials every year. In comparison, only 9% worldwide is cars. So 9% of CO2 is cars and 52% is buildings so I’m thinking we want to go after buildings, so that’s what we have been doing. That’s really the genesis of the company (thanks to Marc Porat) and today it’s six plants and 400 team members strong…and we keep growing.

KissMyCountry: To what do you attribute your success and the success of Serious Materials?

Kevin:That’s complicated because there are so many facets of Green companies – the people that you have are absolutely critical and we have the best team on the planet, many from high-tech in their past. The vision that we have, the materials we have, the customers we have. We love our customers. In the end I boil it down to one thing which is inspiration. We want to inspire our customers to not only do what’s right, but to buy, use and love our products and get a great return on that investment. And our employees to be inspired to reach new personal heights, including with the products we develop, make and deliver and our customer satisfaction (which is a key theme with all of our team members). Apple does that well, it’s an inspiring brand. Our team has created an inspiring brand in a few short years, and inspiring and disruptive products.

KissMyCountry: In addition to Green materials and products that conserve energy, you also emphasize soundproofing and the reduction of ‘noise pollution’. Why are you so committed to that and why should all of us share your concern?

Kevin: Noise pollution is certainly an interesting issue. I’ll tell you how it ties in in a minute. The company started in that area with products like QuietRock. You can address a fair amount of carbon footprint by reducing noise. If you don’t have noise issues, more people move to urban environments. And that is half the carbon footprint (per capita) or less if you live in an urban environment – yet the number one reason people don’t is because of noise. We’ve solved that. The other thing is that our products use six or more times less the material than the old way of doing it. So it’s also a way to save tremendous CO2 by cutting the amount of raw materials by say 80% or more.

On another note we’re one of the few green building materials companies that talks specifically about saving energy and CO2. Most everyone has green materials that are made from recycled this or that. That is fine of course. But the public doesn’t really care. In fact the impact to our planet, or the savings to the impact to our planet is quite minimal if we recycle something. But if we drive CO2 down – that’s the high order bit – drive energy down, drive CO2 down. Those are the high order bits today. Arguably recycling (without a substantial CO2 savings) is a leftover from the 60s. And we need to do far more than just that today.

KissMyCountry: You’ve got a lot of great products at Serious Materials, but I’d like to ask about your own home. What was the most recent thing you did in your own home to make it Greener? Why?

Kevin: We’ve got our own garden. We grow our own vegetables. We have solar thermal for pool heat. And I drive a full EV. I have for several years. It’s a Toyota RAV4 EV that goes 100 miles on a charge, and our other car is a Prius. I’m sure we can do better. We haven’t done as much in the house yet as we would like. Our high R value windows are surely next.

KissMyCountry: What’s next for Serious Materials? What can we expect from you and the company in the next 4-5 years?

Kevin: We are much more than just materials. We’re not just about windows and drywall. We’ve become experts on modeling buildings and understanding how buildings work, understanding how to save energy in those buildings and how to leverage that expertise. We’ve been installed in some 70,000 projects. The Empire State Building is not the only project we’ve done. We love the Empire State Building, it’s a spectacular project. But it’s one of 70,000 including homes in neighborhoods like yours.

KissMyCountry: At KissMyCountry we like to ask about places that people love. What are your favorite places to live or travel?

Kevin: There are some motu’s off of Bora Bora. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful, this is in the French Polynesian Islands and it’s absolutely stunning. If someone said here’s a week, go wherever you want I’d go to Bora Bora. Which is my wife’s favorite place (always good to choose her favorite).

KissMyCountry: Any place you’d love to see that you haven’t had a chance to visit yet?

Kevin: There must be a thousand. I don’t know if any one particular comes to mind but there are so many islands on the other side of the world, there’s so many parts of Europe I have not been in. I was just talking to someone today about Malta, I haven’t been there. I love Italy. There are many, many, many places. I think the world is a big place and I think you can’t get to everywhere in a lifetime. But it’s great to go to historical places, such as castles in England, and yet it’s great to be on a beach in Aruba as well. And while it sounds cliché, I love being in Sunnyvale with our team. We love the work, love the customers, and love working together.

KissMyCountry: Serious Materials is based in Sunnyvale, California. What are some of your favorite spots in the area?

Kevin: Home. Clearly home would be a good choice – I travel too much. There are certainly a lot of restaurants around here, Birk’s for steaks, I like the atmosphere, I like the steaks, it’s very close. I love taking the kids to Great America which is right around the corner. Murphy Ave. in Sunnyvale, that’s really remade itself into a true outdoor venue with seating outdoors in front of the restaurants and that’s just a really fun place to be with family, friends, or coworkers.

KissMyCountry: Kevin, it’s been a pleasure. You’re very easy to talk to and we look forward to staying in touch.

Kevin: Thank you very much.

Have any Question or Comment?

One comment on “Getting Serious About Green Building Materials

what about the construction concerns in his email?

Minnesota has had a related mechanical Code (called an ‘Energy Code’)

for a number of years. Energy efficiency is probably the chief point

of the code, since energy costs here are important factors. But there

are others involving air quality and appropriate ventilation along

with energy usage. For a while the big thing here was making houses

airtight to keep outside air outside, but it wasn’t long before

homes, especially newer homes were having problems with carbon

monoxide and moisture retention. when a house is too tight air

quality suffers mold accumulates and gas appliances and furnaces

start having combustion problems when the interior pressure was

reduced because there was no way to supply fresh combustion. Lots of

cases of expensive new housing that was uninhabitable because of mold

resulting from moisture retention. That’s serious damn business.

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