Business profile: TROW Group

By: Cameron Officer, Photography by: Cameron Officer

TROW Group has made a name for itself finding innovative and sustainable ways to repurpose thousands of tonnes of building material by salvaging and diverting waste that would otherwise be destined for landfill

Saia Latu, Tavita Angitau, and Andrew Maka from TROW Group

Standing in the middle of TROW Group’s 10,000sqm West Auckland yard, surrounded by stacks and stacks of salvaged materials from a vast array of deconstruction projects around the city, it only dawns on me as company founder and CEO, Saia Latu, explains his plans for the site, that we’re actually standing in an open-air classroom.

Materials are sometimes donated by companies, knowing they will be put to good reuse

"This is where we’ll train the future of the deconstruction and construction industry," says Saia, pointing to a large near-empty yard ringed with old, relocated weatherboard buildings.

"These relocated houses are the learning tools for school leavers and others who want to train and create better job pathways for themselves. "In deconstructing these houses and pulling out all the materials for reuse, we can train people and get people to think in a more circular fashion right from the beginning of their careers.

If we can recycle materials and create something new in the process, then we’re working for the community and the environment at the same time, and that’s pretty much our goal."

The aggregate recycling side of TROW Group’s large site

The very site office where I met Saia and TROW Group quantity surveyor, Tavita Angitau, amounts to a temporary building that has been deconstructed and rebuilt numerous times by trainees; it’s all part of TROW’s aim to educate, as much as grow through innovation.

And, like large-scale desks in a giant-sized outdoor classroom, there are plenty more salvaged houses on the way. Saia’s enthusiasm for what his company does is infectious.

From left: Sitiveni Dannabou, Petelo Po’uhila, and Joseph Vagana alongside TROW Group’s mobile classroom

He and his operations manager, New Zealand rugby league legend Joe Vagana, along with wife Julie, and an almost 100% Pasifika leadership team, has grown to become one of the country’s largest deconstruction firms. TROW Group now has more than 200 staff spread between New Zealand and Tonga, with further activity planned in Samoa and Fiji. 

Nothing goes to waste at TROW Group’s West Auckland yard

You might have seen stories about Saia and TROW Group in the media. TROW finds innovative and sustainable ways to repurpose thousands of tonnes of building material by salvaging and diverting waste destined for landfill.

The salvaged material is then recycled and reused for schools, housing, churches, and communities across New Zealand and the Pacific. As a result, TROW is the biggest builder of schools in Tonga, for example—further proof of Saia’s interest in education.

Not loyal to any particular machine or truck brand, Saia says plant is purchased whenever it fits a need and the budget

"New Zealand has been the start of the journey, and now we’re the largest supplier of reclaimed materials to Tonga. The Pacific is definitely where we have seen the most growth but also the most social change as a result of what we do.

It’s cyclone season for 60% of the year in the Pacific. And through the R&D we’ve done here on the ground in West Auckland, we’ve developed housing that is entirely built from recycled materials that can be packed into containers and reassembled up there wherever it’s needed.

"The construction industry is renowned for producing waste, so if we can reuse what others might class as waste to better a community’s life in the wake of a natural disaster, or simply just by providing a much-needed home, then that’s turning a negative into a big positive.

"Fifty percent of landfill is construction waste and with the housing crisis, that’s only going to grow. Responsible developers should have a waste plan right from the start. I firmly believe that architects can create waste simply with the stroke of a pen."

Of the second-hand materials that go to Tonga, 70% is sold to pay for freight and TROW’s staff, meaning the remaining 30% of materials can be donated to communities. Back in New Zealand, the number of entities TROW undertakes projects for is impressive.

Thanks to their ISO certification, they hold preferred provider contracts with the likes of Auckland Council, Panuku, Kainga Ora, the Ministry of Education, City Rail, and Auckland Transport.

Pontoons reclaimed from Auckland Harbour will find a new use in the Pacific Islands

By way of example, Saia points to a mountain of pontoons Auckland Council had the company remove from Auckland’s commercial wharves. These will be broken down and repurposed overseas.

Last year, Saia’s passion for building business in a better way was acknowledged at the 2020 Pacific Business Trust Awards, where he was awarded the Pacific Business Entrepreneur Award. Yet with everything else going on, Saia is ready for yet more.

More machinery at TROW Group’s large yard. Several salvaged buildings to be used as educational construction spaces will soon sit here.

"We have a machine hire division, which we’re steadily building as well. Hey, it’s good to be busy right?" he laughs. As for TROW’s own fleet, the nameplates reflect the inherent desire to reuse whatever is fit-for-purpose, with machinery from Doosan, Yanmar, Volvo, and plenty more besides all present in the yard.

A trailer-mounted Generac Dust Fighter DF7500 dust control unit is one example of the investment in best practice that TROW Group has made

One of the company’s most recent purchases has been a trailer-mounted Generac Dust Fighter DF7500 dust control unit. "Dust suppression is a big deal in deconstruction, and it’s all part of operating responsibly to the requirements of our ISO certification. Technology like that Generac can be pretty pricey, but it’s a necessary investment for us," Saia explains.

"You’ve got to remember that it can actually be quite an emotional thing for a neighbourhood to see a house or building being pulled down. As a responsible operator in this industry, you have to be respectful and part of that is creating as little dust, as little noise, and as little intrusion as possible."

Good for TROW Group’s busy crews, then, that they can hand-on-heart tell anyone querying their work on a project that all the material from the building being deconstructed will find a second life elsewhere and be reconstructed by people learning new skills and looking to a brighter future.

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