‘Acceptance by mainstream builders’ is key to growth

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Founder/International Hemp Building Association

Steve Allin pioneered the International Hemp Building Association (IHBA).  An author, teacher and consultant on ecological building, Steve has promoted the use of hemp in building in Ireland and internationally for many years, and continues to teach and lecture worldwide on the subject of hemp building.

Q: EIHA reports 17,523 ha. planted in 2014, but from what we can tell that’s not reflecting total European area under hemp last year. Can you reflect on that figure? How do you see the growth trend for hemp farming?
Steve Allin: The EIHA like the IHBA does not have everyone involved in the industry as members; however I think they would just be quoting EU figures which would include all licence production unless it was too small a quantity to register on graphs. I know that Albert Dunn of Dun Agro planted 10,000 hectares this year.

Q: Taking a historical and longer-term perspective, where would you say the European hemp building market is right now on the trend line?
SA: Expanding but somewhat slowly still.

Q: You’ve said growth of the hemp building industry is a chicken-and-egg kind of thing. What’s the key to driving demand?
SA: Acceptance of the benefits by mainstream builders, which includes an understanding of natural materials, which are not understood by most modern professionals. Also bringing cost down with local materials.

Q: Do you feel current EU and national laws are essentially sound and present no major barriers to hemp building industry growth? Are there any key policy or legislative frameworks missing?
SA: Production of hemp has no problems in countries that have approved growing. National and local building regulations can be a real problem with any new technology and are causing problems in some countries such as Ireland and the USA right now.

Q: Which area would you predict will see the fastest growth for hemp building over the next five years: self-build, single dwelling, industrial, commercial?
SA: Not sure about these areas but the one that needs to expand is domestic retro fitting or renovation projects, as we have so many homes that need upgrading to use less energy.

Q: In some of EIHA’s latest figures, 15% of shivs produced are going to building materials, with the bulk going to animal bedding. Can you give any insight into how this vital resource is being used now?
SA: Maybe slightly higher use in building now but (animal) bedding is still the biggest.

Q: What would you say is the most recent exciting development, product or project based on hemp building materials?
SA: Ian Pritchett of Greencore Construction in UK and Monika Brümmer of Cannabric in Spain are the most imaginative developers, and Pascal Favre of Arbio in Switzerland builds some of the most amazingly finished buildings. I am more interested at the moment in Third World projects such as Hemporium in S. Africa and my own project in Haiti. After all, the real need for housing people is not in Europe or the USA.

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