The company itself presents their strategy as a “unique example of green economy, which is based on a balance between economic, social and environmental issues.” The expanded cork insulation panels are a great example, which prove that these words aren’t just an empty promise. Corticeira Amorim Expanded Insulation Corkboard (ICB) is a great product with well balanced responsible production and a sourcing strategy that supports natural environments and local workers. Considered a rather expensive building insulation choice, the material distinguishes itself among other products by high performance in thermal tests and exceptional durability. Overall, the company meets their most highlighted goals of addressing economic, environmental and ethical issues, however there are still some areas which are in a way omitted, like transport or gender equality.
The Amorim insulation panels are produced from 100% biodegradable cork with no extra additives. All bark used in the production is sourced from the entirely sustainable cork oak forests (natural as well as manmade), which are native to the Mediterranean region. The thick protective layer of trunk is removed every nine years around the summer time when the plant is in a more active growth, so that it does not get harmed. Each cork oak tree takes 25 years to be harvested the first time and the cork removed in the first two harvests, as well as the cork removed by pruning the tree, results in a raw material for insulation, flooring and other various products. It may be harvested about 17 times over a longevity that is on average 200 years. As a result, these forests are the polar opposition to the manmade monocultures, creating a threat to the natural biodiversity. As a habitat for 135 species of plants and 42 species of birds, the cork oak forest is the basis of a unique ecological system, contributing to the survival of many species of native fauna and to safeguarding the environment. It is also worth mentioning that cork oaks naturally prevent the ongoing process of desertification. They store moisture within the plant and consequently make the dry spaces resistant to forest fire in the extreme heat weaves, which are predicted to intensify in the coming years as a result of the climate change. Finally, looking at the product’s lifecycle, the company states that the cork is an extremely durable construction material, and can last many decades, which can be proven by the example of old cork insulated buildings which still perform well regardless of their age. When, properly dismantled, it is also 100% recyclable. Nevertheless, to make this material properly beneficial for the environment, there needs to be a sufficient recycling programme. The logistics of it aren’t explicitly shown on the website, which again makes the company reliable in the eyes of consumer.
The manufacturing process of cork panels is short and simple and thus easy to maintain as sustainable. First of all, the cork is harvested from trees by hand, which means that there are no extra emissions from timber machines. Having been supplied to the local factory, the material is than filtered and granulated. The most crucial stage is heat and pressure processing. High temperature causes natural resins to melt which then binds cork into firm blocks. It is completely safe and non-toxic as it does not require the use of any chemicals. The energy needed for those press machines is supplied by a factory boiler that uses cork powder, which is the waste product of cork processing. According to the website, 93% of the factory energy needs are met by this circular economy solution. However, we need to remember that renewable energy does not necessarily mean green energy, since burning the cork powder emits great amounts of CO2. Still, it’s important to highlight that the product is considered carbon negative as the cork oaks sequester supposedly more carbon dioxide than is emitted in manufacturing. What could be improved is supporting such big claims with the actual carbon balance results, which the company does not present explicitly on website.
As for the transport of export product (95% of production) most likely being the main source of indirect emissions for this product, there is not much action taken, despite the fact that the Amorim put sustainable transport management as a priority in the last year’s sustainability report. Not forgetting the problem of transport packaging, the company also tries to minimize their negative impact in this aspect by, for example, reducing the thickness of plastic mesh wrapping last year or using QR codes as a replacement for paper labels.
As a family firm, existing in the market for over 150 years, Corticeira Amorim has always been putting a big emphasis on the environment and empowering the local communities and workers. Around the culture of cork spins the highest paid agricultural work in the world, with all family generations kept in the industry. It is a great example of a sustainable development helping to keep thousands of jobs and fixing people to their land. In context of building material production, the company’s most important mission is to make a transition to natural materials in architecture industry. Although it does a great job in keeping the production and business strategy sustainable, the issue that I personally noticed is the accessibility of cork products among private consumers. Currently the company mostly addresses firms, rather than individual consumers. Considering the fact that the majority of construction done in the world is dwelling, this can be seen as a lost opportunity in sustainable building mission.