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The eco crusade

Ripples MD Paul Crow reveals why the industry should be shouting about environmentally-friendly products and processes and sings the praises of the exciting finishes that have put the fun back into designing bathrooms

You don’t need me to tell you that, despite Brexit, we are becoming very heavily influenced by our friends across the Channel and one area in particular where mainland Europe has always led the way in the world, is that of looking after the environment.

I remember being in a European brassware factory not so long ago and a business counterpart from South America asked the factory owner why their product, which looked the same as a product made in a Chinese factory, could cost 20% to 30% more. The challenge, he said, was making his customer pay the difference when they couldn’t see it. This triggered quite an alcohol-fuelled but, to be fair, very passionate retort as you can imagine.

His response, though, was brilliant. He went into great detail about the investment that has gone into the factory even over the past few years, to ensure that it was a great place to work for its employees. Their pensions, the facilities, their healthcare, the family fun days and their workplace. Why? Because, he said, he didn’t want the product they made ever coming back because it was faulty. He wanted them to care about the company, the product, the customer and the end user. The investment in R&D that was going into switching things over to Eco Brass to reduce the lead content in their products. And you don’t want to know what he said about the brass that was being used in some of the Far Eastern factories he had visited.

He then went on to tell us about the changes they’d made to the manufacturing processes and equipment in order to ensure they had a clean environmental conscience. We soon became experts on solar panels. The cost of putting them in place, the financial impact on the business versus the benefit to the environment, and how this factory was proud to supply energy back into the community.

He finished, after a long pause, by saying: “If you’re telling me that’s not worth 20% to 30%, then you should sell the Chinese product, as we can’t help your customer more than we do.”

Our fellow South American guest, who had listened intently throughout, lifted his drink, took a sip and simply said: “That is an excellent answer. But you didn’t need me to fly to your country to tell me, you should have put it in your brochure”. He’s right – they were both right – we’re all underselling the efforts of the immensely well-controlled supply chain that is on our doorstep, in this country and Europe.

That conversation stuck with me. Since that trip, my black bin at home has halved in size as I’m forced to reduce my waste. Like you, I suspect, I now painstakingly sort my rubbish at home into plastic, cardboard, metal and so on, and have done for a few years. But I never used to. I’ve also changed the way I shop, as I now notice and think about the packaging. And, when I look around, everyone I know is doing the same. We are all changing, through education.

There is still much more we can all do. Chromium is still a pretty harmful product, when all things are considered, and we all know the bathroom is full of it. A quick look at the skips outside the houses we’re supplying bathrooms for also reveals that not much of what we are removing is of much use to others. And although that is changing slowly, it won’t be long before manufacturers themselves will be required to take these products back – and we all know who’ll pay for that. So let’s start now.

Given the above, given the added value we all seek to provide for our customer, whether you’re a manufacturer, retailer or installer, why don’t we all start to take a lead on this? As a retailer, I now make more of an effort to understand the investment made by our supplier in their product to support the environment.

They need to get this message rammed home and proudly. We want to know this, because we want to make sure our customers are being told this, through their web page, brochures and, more importantly, through our team. How many of our customers ask us about this? Hardly any. In fact, as many as ask us about water-saving products that aren’t for a new-build.

However, if you ask me how many of our customers like hearing it, once we’ve told them, that’s a whole different ball game, and one that makes us and the manufacturers we partner look intelligent, human and responsible. Whether that’s worth 20% or even 50% more than the product they are buying online I no longer care. That’s their choice and their problem.

But our choice is to continue to work with companies that fight their corner, that lead by example and I raise my reusable coffee cup to my South American business acquaintance and the owner of that factory I visited, who helped me gain the perspective required
on this.