Buying Australian-made products makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.
After all, there are several obvious benefits, such as supporting local industry and, in turn, the Australian economy. Products made in Australia carry a connotation of quality and buyers expect Aussie products to perform better and last longer. We expect that employees in Australian businesses are being paid a decent wage and have good working conditions.
There are also obvious environmental benefits to buying locally-produced products. It eliminates the extra energy and resources required to transport products or materials from one part of the world to another, with less transport equating to fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less waste.
And, above all, we expect building and furniture products manufactured (in whole or in part) in Australia to be compliant with all relevant health and safety standards. This is particularly important to consider in the light of recent news surrounding cheap imported building materials and their role in severe building fires.
But when looking at these products, it is important to ask what it means for a product to be “Australian made.”
If a product claims to be “Made in Australia,” “Australian Made” or “Manufactured in Australia” and bears the official kangaroo logo, that means that the product must have undergone “substantial transformation” within Australia, with a minimum of 50 per cent of the production costs incurred here. The product for sale needs to be sufficiently different and a new product created from whatever was imported.
For products to be labelled “Product of Australia” or “Australian Product” involves a much greater claim. Here, Australia must be the country of origin for all main components of the product, and all (or almost all) processes involved in its manufacture must have occurred within Australia.
However, while making and buying products in Australia is beneficial for our economy and the environment, it’s not the be all and end all: if you’re buying a wooden table, has the timber been sustainably harvested? If it’s a sofa, what dyes have gone into the fabric, and what kind of foam has been used?
Even more importantly, is the product compliant with all the relevant safety standards, and is it fit for purpose? According to the AI Group’s Construction Product Alliance, 92 per cent of survey respondents reported non-conforming product in their market sector, indicating that non-compliance is rife within the industry – and unfortunately these products can come from within our borders, too.
Third-party certification can solve many of these dilemmas for both Australian made and imported products. Certification provides a level of trust and assurance that a product has been assessed by a neutral third party and is up to their standard.
Some schemes might only focus on one issue, such as FSC or PEFC certification being evidence that any timber used in a product has not come from unsustainably harvested sources. There’s also the CodeMark scheme, which specifically certifies building products that meet all relevant Australian standards, and sister scheme WaterMark for plumbing, both of which demonstrate that a product is fully compliant with building codes.
Some certification organisations go a step further and look at the whole product, rather than just a single component, as well as taking into account other legal and ethical issues. Such ecolabel schemes will consider where and how the raw materials were sourced, whether there are any hazardous substances present (harmful to both end users and the workers who made the product), and how the product will be disposed of.
Many will also take into account fitness for purpose criteria – for example, Good Environmental Choice Australia requires that certified products conform to the relevant Australian Standards, or have their fitness for purpose otherwise independently demonstrable (for example, being CodeMark certified), covering many safety compliance and market acceptability issues. This applies to furniture and interior products as well as building materials.
There are other systems in place and more organisations stepping in to encourage compliance with building codes and safety regulations in Australia. Along with Product Safety Australia’s mandatory safety standards for many products, the Housing Industry Association (HIA) is working to establish a public register of building products and materials that meet relevant standards and can support their claims.
Ultimately, compliance is only one important part of a much greater whole when it comes to purchasing the best possible products for a project. Builders and designers also need to make sure their purchasing decisions take into account environmental and health impacts, as well as social impacts. Buying Australian-made is a positive step in the right direction, but buying products that carry third-party certification can remove a lot of the risk and provides an extra level of confidence that you’ve made a good choice.