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Saint-Gobain in Russia – investments, green building and a Russian energy passport

In an interview with stroitelstvo.ru, Gonzague de Pirey, General Director of the French construction giant Saint-Gobain in Russia and the CIS, talks about his company’s planned investments in Russia, the country's drive for greener buildings, and his proposal as part of the Rosisol industry association to introduce an energy efficiency certification system for every building in Russia.


M. de Pirey, what is the main thrust of your proposal?

I would like to point out firstly that the proposal originates from two places – the Russian government and the business community. Improving energy efficiency is a key strategic task for Russia’s development, and something that both President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have spoken about more than once. We began to think about how we could apply our international experience to the realities of operating in Russia and how we could adapt it to the needs of the Russian building industry. With this aim in mind, we carried out some research together with a leading Russian construction expert, the results of which we will present at an energy efficiency forum on 20-22 November.

It has been said for a long time that Russian houses need to be made energy efficient. Why have the measures taken so far to achieve this had no real effect?

I cannot agree that they have had no effect. There is a corresponding legal base in Russia, and here the main task is to reach European standards. Dmitry Medvedev spoke last November about the need to accelerate the country’s development by saving energy and improving energy efficiency, and he instructed a whole range of ministries, including the Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities, to develop ‘road maps’ for improving energy efficiency in their respective sectors. Now, each ministry employs a specific person responsible for delivering these road maps in their organisations.

Unfortunately, however, there is no single person responsible for this programme nationwide in Russia. I think that the road maps developed by individual ministries and agencies should be combined into one road map that operates on a national scale.

In order to understand the quantity of materials we need to insulate buildings and structures, there needs to be, metaphorically speaking, a Russia-wide inventory made of all buildings that require this work to be done. How do you imagine this process? After all, it would require an enormous amount of time…

Actually, one of the proposals we will put before the Russian government as a result of our research will be to compile new statistics on the energy efficiency of Russia’s buildings, and improve the ones that already exist. I think we can turn to the experience of European countries, looking at how they compiled their statistics and trying to apply the measures they took here in Russia.

Statistics, though, are the macro level of the problem, shall we say. There is also a micro level. For example, if I own a building or a block of flats, I need to have a clear idea of how energy efficient my building is. To achieve this, Europe uses something called an ‘energy passport’ for buildings. Without it, no contracts can be signed – if an owner wants to sell or let their flat, they need to give the buyer or tenant access to this document.

We have shared our ideas about creating a passport like this with the Russian government, who have ideas themselves about introducing a passport for buildings. This means we are working from the same page in this regard. I can say that in France, for example, the passports work in a simple way. They have different levels of energy efficiency – A, B, C, D, E and F. Opposite the relevant rating, they simply display the class of the building relative to its energy efficiency. I would like to see this process become a requirement for everyone in Russia, and over time for every building to receive a passport in a similar way.

Is Saint-Gobain planning to invest in Russia in the near future?

Yes, of course, we have an investment plan for construction. We see opportunities for growth and development, and we see demand for high-quality building materials. However, a specific aspect of the building materials business is that it is unprofitable to transport materials over long distances. Russia is an enormous country, so it is very important to localise production where the demand for the materials is. This means that there are really big opportunities for growth and development in Russia, and we have an investment plan, but it is also important to take into account the current market situation, which could change the timescale of this plan.

What will your figures for production of the main types of building materials look like at the end of 2014?

As we are a listed company, we submit figures not just by country but also for the company as a whole. About the ‘green’ production of our company? Green production is a primary issue for us. We track the lifecycle of each one of our products, be it plasterboard, insulation or another material, and gradually work on it to improve its green component.

Is there a feeling in Saint-Gobain that there is overproduction of certain types of building materials in Russia?

Yes, of course, but overproduction encourages us to strengthen our edge over our competitors, primarily through the quality of our materials and the service we offer. This takes us to a new stage of development, pushing us to ensure that we are better than our competitors. It also pushes us to ensure that our clients do not just want to buy plasterboard, CCC or fibreglass, but that they want to buy Gyproc, ISOVER or Weber-Vetonit. We do not just want to offer products; we want to offer a higher level of quality. Yes, our materials are not necessarily always the cheapest, but this is mainly because we offer an integrated solution instead of just a specific product, and because using our materials leads to considerable savings during construction – in time, manpower, and other areas. Of course, making this kind of saving is often more beneficial for builders than just making a saving when buying one product.

Finally – how do you find living in Russia? What do you do in your spare time?

I have lived in Russia with my family for two years now, and I like it here. My child was born last year, so we are fully comfortable here. I dedicate almost all my spare time to my family. Other than that, I like to visit Moscow’s parks, which recently have become much better groomed. And, of course, Moscow’s rich cultural life attracts me as well.


This text is a translation of parts of an exclusive interview given by Gonzague de Pirey to Stroitelstvo.ru. The original interview, in Russian, can be found here

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Tanya Aleksankina

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