War on waste: How Five Mile Radius is using natural and recycled construction materials to reshape Brisbane

Clare Kennedy, the founder and director of Five Mile Radius, has taken inspiration from her time spent working in India to bring a fresh and sustainable approach to manufacturing and design in Brisbane. 

It was while working as an architect in India that Clare was exposed to a Gandhian socio-environmental philosophy of regionalism, where everything should be built from materials sourced within a five mile radius of the site. 

This model has a range of benefits, from supporting the economy to creating spaces that serve as distinct reflections of the local area’s environment, landscape and people.

It’s this philosophy that lit a fire under Clare to start her own business, Five Mile Radius, in 2016. (Yes, she acknowledges the philosophy should translate to ‘Eight Kilometre Radius’ in Australia, but that’s just semantics.)

“After 10 years in commercial architecture, I observed that we were generating a lot of waste in construction, and it was really important to me to find ways to tighten that loop,” Clare says.

“We have so many materials coming from all over, particularly offshore. I thought it was time to look a little bit closer and see what would happen if we just tried to build more regionally.

“With Five Mile Radius, our predominant aim is to find ways to use construction waste and natural materials to create furniture and buildings which are born of resources found in their local environment.”

The results? A striking series of one-of-a-kind designs that are quickly becoming fixtures in developments in and around Brisbane, including the high-profile Waterfront Brisbane project. 

“We’ve really enjoyed working in the CBD with commercial contractors,” Clare says. “We’re excited about a range of furniture we’re working on for Dexus’ Waterfront Brisbane project, where we’re reusing construction and demolition waste from Eagle Street Pier to create new furniture for that precinct.

“We’ve done similar things for 444 Queen Street and are looking at various commercial sites in the middle of Brisbane. These sort of city-shaping projects really excite us.”

Clare and her team have also created a growing collection of residential furniture, including tables, stools and benches made from materials such as recycled power poles and salvaged concrete and timber, bringing the Five Mile Radius approach into Brisbane households. 

“What sets our pieces aside from other manufacturers of Australian furniture is that they’re all made out of construction waste,” Clare says.

“We’re not just using bits of waste and adding things to it, which actually just creates an end-of-life problem, because then you’ve got composites that are hard to recycle.

“What we’re doing is quite simple, but it’s completely made out of construction waste from our local community and it’s all made by hand here in Yeronga.”

Going the extra mile  

Breaking up materials at Five Mile Radius

Coming from a background in architecture, Clare says that entering into the traditionally male-dominated manufacturing industry came with certain challenges. 

“When we were starting, we had to work on perception,” she says. “I had to be able to come into a room of quite established and high-level contractors and be able to articulate my point clearly and make sure I was heard.

“It taught me that I’m pretty resilient, and I tend to keep going even when things are very hard or I’m feeling stressed or isolated.”

Clare also acknowledges the importance of having a well-rounded team around her to make her vision a reality.

“One of the strengths of Five Mile Radius is that we have both designers and makers in our team,” she says. “Designers are known for coming up with ideas that can be a bit abstract, and on the other hand, makers can sometimes miss the poetry of some things.

“That’s why it’s good that we have a shared mix of skills here. We have the capacity to test things quite quickly and see what outcomes develop in that context.”

Clare adds that the wider Brisbane business community has also played a key role in Five Mile Radius’ success so far. 

“The Brisbane business community is incredible,” she says. “It’s a really collaborative place, and we’ve enjoyed growing our networks as we’ve become more and more involved in the community. 

“We appreciate the relaxed attitude people have here. Everyone is able to get together and share, and no one’s too precious about keeping their ideas to themselves. And we don’t take ourselves too seriously, even while we’re still delivering on quite important things.” 

Furnishing the future 

Five Mile Radius team

Clare was recently announced as one of the 53 recipients of the Lord Mayor’s Women in Business Grant. The annual grant provides Brisbane businesswomen with a share of $250,000 – up to $5,000 each – to help grow their companies, and brings women in business together to strengthen their local networks and connections.  

Since 2021, the Lord Mayor’s Women in Business Grant has supported more than 150 female-owned businesses to grow in capability and enhance their market competitiveness – and Clare is keen to see more Brisbane businesswomen take advantage of the opportunity. 

“Grants like this are really important,” Clare says. “They inspire Brisbane’s female business community to advance to their next phase and scale their business up.

“It’s here to support female-led businesses, and if you can make a clear case about what you’re trying to do and why it’s worthwhile, the grant will be there to support you.

“For us, this grant gives us a great opportunity to pull in some external resources to help us develop our business plan and our strategy around growth this year. 

“For instance, we hope to expand to a much larger workshop over the next year, where we’re able to really work on the development of things like concrete waste, recycling timbers, crushed aggregates and earth construction.

“We’d like to have specialised divisions for different types of materials, which we can then use to help prop up and foster innovation in Brisbane’s construction community.”

You can find more information on the Lord Mayor’s Women in Business Grant program and a full list of this year’s recipients here.

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Brisbane Business Hub

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