Amanda Borneke standing next to construction equipment
23 June 2020

Meet a personal trainer in sustainability

A city with SEK 1,000 billion in construction and development work planned for the run up to 2035 faces many sustainability challenges. The aim is a fossil-free construction sector, and reusing building materials is one step in the right direction. Meet one of Sweden’s top sustainability experts and environmental influencers, Amanda Borneke, a queen of reuse who feels climate-joy.

This article is an excerpt from “Magasin Göteborg”. To read the entire Magazine (in Swedish), click here.

If I was the journalist, I’d ask, “Have you been harassed on construction sites?” “And I’d answer that you have to think of people as people, and always try to behave decently, then everything’s okay,” says Amanda Borneke, head of quality and environment at CS Riv och Håltagning, when we’re done with our photoshoot on a sunny spring day in Gothenburg.

No, in fact, the thought never crossed my mind to ask that question. Sure, she’s blonde, she’s wearing a green dress in a pretty masculine construction environment – and she’s only 25 years old. But with a great deal of integrity and confidence.

However, she does admit that she raised her mental defences when she went on her first safety tour as a newly recruited environmental manager, dressed like a Michelin man, albeit one with curly blonde hair.

When a colleague wanted to accompany Amanda because “otherwise no one would listen to her”, her boss overheard the conversation and came out of his office. “If any of the guys have a problem with Amanda, that’s not her problem. It shouldn’t matter that she’s female.” He asked Amanda to come straight back if she had any trouble.

“I could breathe out – and throw out the Michelin jacket. It was time for my dresses,” she laughs.

The company CS Riv och Håltagning is Sweden’s only demolition company that has signed up to the roadmap for a fossil-free construction sector, according to the organisation Fossil Free Sweden. The company has its own recycling centre for demolition waste.

The head office is situated among the workshops of Ringön. (Amanda would like to rename it Circular Island, a direct translation, with research on how best to recycle building materials.)

Amanda pours oat milk into her coffee and, over her mobile phone, sorts out how a colleague with severe lumbago is to get a doctor’s appointment. She speaks calmly and encouragingly. “You need to breathe; breathe slowly.” She describes herself as the company’s PT, personal trainer in sustainability, setting clear goals for cutting carbon emissions. She prefers to encourage rather than reprimand.

“Checklists are meant to tell you what everyone’s done well, what’s moved our environmental work forward, not find fault with what hasn’t been done well. I feel that the industry has lacked someone with my kind of leadership: praise instead of nit-picking.”

Amanda wants to effect change in the construction industry’s major sustainability challenge in a city where housing, plants and facilities, and commercial premises for SEK 1,000 billion are to be built by 2035. Amanda was headhunted by CS Riv och Håltagning.

“When I started looking for a job, I was faced with a clear choice. I could either apply for somewhere with like-minded people or choose to work with sustainability in an industry where I can really make a difference. I figured that the construction industry perhaps needs me and the clarity I represent in my environmental goals.”

Amanda grew up in a home marked by an entrepreneurial spirit, with the attitude that problems are simply to be solved. She considers both occupational health and safety and environmental issues strategic business tools.

“The environmental pillar and the economic pillar need to be in tune. My job is to act as an intermediary between on the one hand the client, and on the other hand management, the people doing the actual demolition work and the project managers – whose primary focus is profitability.”

The fact that Gothenburg is building means that there’s a lot to be demolished as well. Amanda disagrees with the view that the demolition industry represents the end of the cycle.

“It’s the exact opposite. We represent the start, with specialist knowledge about materials and what can be reused. More people should realise the possibilities of building with reused materials, including concrete and steel. The manufacture of new materials produces more emissions than the entire transport sector.”

Some building materials are already reused 100%.

“We can’t afford to get complacent and accept a recycling rate of 30%. We’ve passed the stage of small pilot projects for construction based on reused materials. It’s time to implement this in full. It’s time to make use of what we’ve learned.”

“We need to speak in much more concrete terms about what we’re doing for the climate. Not talk about sustainability in general terms. It’s a matter of reducing the demand for non-renewable raw materials, reducing waste production and maximising the value of the recycled materials used at all stages: from design, architecture and construction through operation and maintenance to the demolition of the building. The circular economy needs to encompass the entire process,” says Amanda.

In some ways, Amanda is in the same industry as Greta Thunberg. As an environmentalist blogger, she’s ranked fourth in the 2019 list of influential Swedish environmentalists. However, she considers herself more of a Hans [Ed: in Swedish, the Brothers Grimm tale Hansel and Gretel is known as ‘Hans och Greta’). Amanda doesn’t suffer from climate anxiety.

She prefers to focus on practical solutions. Instead, she says that most of the time she feels happy for the climate. And happy that she’s right where she’s needed most.

Text: Ulrica Segersten