We have established a trend

Gabriele Leibetseder is the authorized representative of ISOCELL. As such, she is expert for the world of sustainable innovations. But not only that. This where all the company’s green ideas are gathered. “We ISOCELLERS are a little different – in the positive sense,“ comments the perhaps most passionate ISOCELLER of all. ISOCELL staff think independently and innovatively. The pioneer spirit and a positive attitude are not just catch phrases at ISOCELL, but are actually lived.

Gabriele Leibetseder, there is an organigram in the new ISOCELL headquarters. Almost all arrows in this illustration point to the centre – to you. Yet, you are actually in charge of the sales and technology departments. Are you the woman for everything at ISOCELL?
Yes, everything converges here. But that is not all. Although I am indeed in charge of Sales, I do not tell the employees what to do but they discuss further procedure with me. We ISOCELLERS are a little different – in a positive sense. Our employees think independently and innovatively. We live the pioneering spirit and positive feelings. This may sound somewhat exaggerated but it is our experience from recent years. A good example is our Controller who is best described not as a tame number-juggler but as someone who tries to provide me with key values for lay-understanding so that sometimes I have to say: “But I still need a few figures”. (laughs)

The feeling that things at ISOCELL run a little differently than at most comparable companies of this size is conveyed last but not least by the special atmosphere in the new, highly modern head office that was only opened last year. How did this building come about? 
The new building was necessary as we continued to grow and wanted to become more efficient in our daily work together. We now have considerably shorter distances to cover and that is beneficial to our mutual daily work. The path to this architectonic concept that was geared to our requirements, was long. We had eight plans of how this building could look and long discussions on the various challenges. We approached these in a practical way. When we were uncertain about the route of the incoming trucks, we quickly decided to have a model built and drove distances to scale with small model cars. In this way we found solutions in an almost playful manner.

ISOCELL likes to think ahead – not only about the construction of our new headquarters. The company rates as pioneer in the field of cellulose insulation and airtight systems. How did this come about?
We have indeed established a trend and that is why we are copied today. The pioneer was the company founder and current Managing Director, Anton Spitaler. A person who knows no limits, is very connected with nature and has always lived an ecological and sustainable life.
After completing his military service he found a mentor in Ewald Berendt at the DIHAG company and was soon working with innovative, biological materials such as cork and coconut fibre. New ideas and products resulted from Berendt’s experience and Spitaler’s innovative spirit: one of these was cellulose insulation, blown-in insulation made from newspaper. As the product did not suit Dihag’s portfolio, ISOCELL was created as a brand name in 1992.

Yet, ISOCELL is far more than just cellulose insulation and has a wide product range. Would the well-known and popular cellulose alone not have been relevant enough on the market?
It is an innovative and popular product but airtightness and our broad product range with roof façade linings or vapour barriers make our range complete. Besides, the interplay of insulation components is of great importance. There is a reason why we began to focus on airtightness: if the vapour barrier does not seal well our insulation cannot be blown in. The positive side effect is that we offer materials that every carpenter needs. We have been able to reach out to so many people who did not know our insulation or were still not convinced by it. You could say: the other products open the door for our pioneer work as a sustainable insulation supplier.

If we remain on the subject of cellulose insulation for a while: how sustainable is this form of insulation really?
Recently a new European project started to grade building material using letters depending on its ecological footprint, in the same way as refrigerators or washing machines are rated. When viewed in its entirety cellulose insulation rates best when installed in what is considered the typical way. Mainly because we use so little energy in production and our raw material is recycled material. For this reason we pose a danger to other competitors such as mineral wool and are hindered at European level. For example, our product standardization has been blocked for three years at European level. Awesome test scenarios are invented, piloted by opposing lobbies, in order to impede the success of cellulose insulation. Even in France we are greatly hindered – e.g. by the Ministry for Technical Approval. For approval that is valid for three years we pay as much as mineral wool manufacturers pay for a seven-year approval. This is no conspiracy theory and not falsified PR – but simply facts that we are stating. In contrast there are numerous external tests carried out by Research and Test Institutes, such as Holzforschung Austria (Austrian Forest Products Research Society), Carinthia University of Applied Sciences or the Technical University of Dresden, where cellulose insulation repeatedly proved advantageous compared with other materials. Whether this concerned heat or sound protection, moisture behaviour or resistance to rotation flow that have a great influence on the real insulation value.

ISOCELL products last for decades - there is alteration work where cellulose insulation looks like new after 23 years. But even the best of insulation is subjected to external influences, for example the threat of water ingress. Can this be countered?
The problem is not to repair the damage but to recognise it. That is why we are currently researching in the field of monitoring. We want to monitor a roof with sensors. This is a big task for the future. Water comes exclusively from outside and not because the roofer did bad work but perhaps because ground wasps caused a hole to form.  As membranes are used as seals, the leaks are not recognised. 

ISOCELL rates as an innovative leader and is known for investing a great deal of money in research.
Together with pupils from the HBLA Ursprung we have developed a method in which cellulose insulation can be used to produce a valuable plant fertilizer. For this purpose a special component of insulation is used: boracic acid. This part of the insulation acts as natural fire protection. However, in farming boracic acid is a valuable fertilizer. In the procedure used by the HBLA students the insulation is carbonised at over 500° into a carbon-boron mixture. For many plants boron is a vital trace element. The carbon in the mixture has been binding atmospheric CO2 for centuries and provides fertile soil for plants. There is no official approval yet but we are only a small step away from being in a position to supply the only insulation in the world that is not only CO2-neutral but even CO2-negative.

Meanwhile ISOCELL has around 140 employees locally and abroad and produces in Austria, Belgium, France and Sweden. Is worldwide expansion a target for the future?
We already have enquiries from all parts of the word. We have supplied to South Korea, Japan and Israel. Via Denmark we are also represented on the Faroe Islands and, thanks to the French overseas territories, even in New Caledonia in the Pacific. A project in America together with a partner is also in the offing. But this simply happened to us and we are not forcing it. Actually we do not want to go too far away and are satisfied with our focus on Europe. And there is a simple reason for this: we think green, too. ISOCELL has always been of the opinion that CO2 should not be left on the street. Where the market is large in Europe we have built plants – in this way we ensure shorter production paths that also benefit the environment.