May 1 - An Australian environmentalist, designer and entrepreneur is catching the eye of policy-makers in his home country and around the world with his innovative straw-insulated house designs. Joost Bakker says his houses are affordable, sustainable and -- in a country plagued by bushfires -- fire resistant. Tara Cleary reports.
Trial by fire - Australia's national science agency puts a new building material to the test. After 30 minutes, the external temperature reaches 1000 degrees Celsius ... but inside these walls, it gets no higher than 35. The test house is built from a steel frame, inexpensive magnesium oxide board cladding and insulation made of cheap, plentiful agricultural straw. The inventor is designer and entrepreneur Joost Bakker. SOUNDBITE: JOOST BAKKER, STRAW HOUSE DESIGNER, SAYING (English): "There's lots of problems in the world, but there's lots of solutions as well." Bakker says his dwellings of straw are a practical and sustainable solution to housing, not just in bushfire-prone Australia, but for communites all over the world. SOUNDBITE: JOOST BAKKER, STRAW HOUSE DESIGNER, SAYING (English): "Straw is still the biggest waste product on earth. We could be using it for cardboard, we could be using it for paper, we could be using it for toilet paper. Six million hectares of forest get cut down every year just for toilet paper." Bakker's straw insulated green structures are housing temporary organic restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne and a permanent one in Perth. At these establishments, everything that can be recycled is recycled. Actor and environmentalist, Jack Thompson. SOUNDBITE: AUSTRALIAN ACTOR, JACK THOMPSON SAYING (English): "The green house is an extraordinary example of not only recycling, but a self-sustaining cycle where the food that you're eating is being grown on the roof, the waste is being used to recycle." The son of Dutch flower-growing immigrants, Bakker began in business with floral arrangements for Melbourne's restaurants and bars. Chef Shannon Bennet of Vue de Monde is an ardent Bakker fan. SOUNDBITE: SHANNON BENNET, CHEF, VUE DE MONDE, SAYING (English): "We have this sort of running joke that he's my florist. But he's more than that. He's my design technician in many ways. Everything in terms of what I put on the floor from the timber, to the kangaroo leather on the tables was something that I always bounced off Joost first." But today, it's the straw houses that are bringing Bakker attention.. SOUNDBITE: JOOST BAKKER, STRAW HOUSE DESIGNER, SAYING (English): "When you get a building that's so well-insulated, it means that you're not needing to cool it as much, you don't need to heat it as much. So we've used something that's cost us hardly anything, a by-product from a farm, and created a place that uses very little energy." And with invitations to build green structures around the world, Bakker is trying to put a spark to what he hopes will be a global revolution in construction and building design. Tara Cleary, Reuters.