Safari Thatch are already a major leading force in renewable, exotic building materials. However now they have co-founded a new start-up – GRASSBuilt – Green Renewable Affordable Sustainable Systems. The aim is to make the engineered wood industry a much greener space.
Nick Wight is CEO of Safari Thatch and Vice President of GRASSBuilt. Blooloop talked to the man who might just be going to transform the construction industry – with an eco-conscious vengeance.
A niche for thatch
“Safari Thatch is a family business that my parents started in South Africa, where thatching is used in residential applications for high-end homes,” says Wight. “In 1984, we moved to the United States to get away from apartheid, bringing this thatching concept with us. When we got here, people couldn’t spell the word ‘thatch’, let alone find a use for it.
Very quickly they discovered that their customers would predominantly be resorts, theme parks and zoos. Miami Metro Zoo was one of their first commercial clients. It was a niche that worked well.
“Early on, we started to expand on our materials,” says Wight. “We got into this tropically themed, architectural building materials space. We would take an equatorial journey around the world, find these exotic native building materials, bring them back here and apply them in
Taking the intimidation factor out of unusual materials
Safari currently imports from fourteen countries at any given time. “In terms of general services, we are primarily a materials supplier. However we do also offer a consultative service. Many of the materials we use are not particularly well-known, and using them can be intimidating to people.”
The advisory role offered by the Safari team also ensures customers can be confident that what they have been sold is ideal for what they want to do. “We’ve lived, breathed and steeped ourselves in this our entire lives,” says Wight.
In the early days of the company, selling materials was enough. However building codes advanced, and different warranties and liability insurances began to be necessary. Hence the requirement for the performance of materials drastically increased.
Green imperative drives business decisions
Safari has strived to remain eco-conscious, even as it began to explore synthetic materials to replicate the aesthetics of bamboo. “We were green before the word green even meant anything in this space. When we do use synthetic materials, we will typically use, one of the most easily recycled types of plastic. We also try to incorporate post-production, recycled content into our extrusions to the greatest extents our clients allow.”
It is not enough, he claims, simply to use plastics that are recyclable, and that contain recycled content. “They also have to be in a form that means, after they have been used, they can actually be recycled again. When you start combining them with components that have to be separated before you can recycle the environmentally friendly plastic, you have shot yourself in the foot. So we do a lot to make sure that, even when we
are using synthetic materials, they are in a state where nothing can interfere with their capacity to be reconstituted into something else.
“We really do care. We consider ourselves stewards of the planet.”
This green imperative drives business decisions. “We are the largest importer of eucalyptus timbers in the country, by a factor of 10,” says Wight. “Eucalyptus is another rapidly renewable building material. Both eucalyptus and bamboo have a ridiculously high growth rate. Wherever possible, we try to promote the use of rapidly renewable materials.”
People-friendly and earth-friendly
Traveling all over the world, Safari often engages with local communities. “We go all over the world to find these crazy materials in far-flung places,” says Wight. “And very often we will engage with a village to do things for us.
“So you get these cottage industries. There is a small village in Mexico that does a lot of handicrafts, where we practically employ the entire village.” He says there is a direct connection along the supply chain. “The close connections we have with our customers, and with our suppliers – the names and faces behind what we sell – permeate our entire business.”
So the company is people friendly, earth friendly – and now it’s branching out in a new direction.
(Original Article Found on Blooloop.com)