Is there a business case for sustainable bathrooms?

Sustainability is a hot topic and continues to gain more significance in bathroom design. To mark Earth Day, we’re looking at some key sustainability considerations for bathroom designers and manufacturers. Linda Parker takes in the latest options and opinions…

OYO DUO bath tub in Bluemint steel with 70% reduced carbon output, designed by Stefan Diez for Kaldewei
OYO DUO bath tub in Bluemint steel with 70% reduced carbon output, designed by Stefan Diez for Kaldewei

Retailers could be forgiven for thinking that sustainability is just another buzzwords among many, but are you be missing a trick by ignoring it?

It seems so, as Ashley Cooper, marketing manager at Triton Showers, says: “A notable 71% of consumers surveyed by Triton said they are making more effort to reduce their energy and water consumption today compared with two years ago, with 60% driven to do so by trying to reduce their impact on the environment.”

His view is that it’s important for retailers to be aware of this shift in perceptions, not only by offering sustainable products but by being informed and in a position to educate and advise.

Laura Reed, marketing manager for Roman Showers, says: “Sustainability is not only the duty of manufacturers, but also an ongoing economic and environmental advantage that must be embraced.”

Richard Fox, senior designer at Ripples Solihull, pins down the relevant details he thinks retailers should know about products: “Awareness of material composition – does it contain recycled elements and is it in itself recyclable; the potential water and energy savings versus alternatives – radiators versus UFH, and the carbon footprint of the products.”

So, while many consumers are focused on products’ impact on their energy bills, it’s also the materials used and the methods of production that are relevant with regards to sustainability.

Fox continues: “Retailers have to get on board or risk being left behind. A quality bathroom should stand the test of time and last upwards of 10 years. Investing in high-quality products reduces the likelihood of items needing to be replaced early”.

Of course, the customer plays a huge role in making the design industry change its ways as Massimo Buster Minale, founder and creative director, Buster + Punch points out: “Good design responds to the needs of people. Society today realises and understands the importance of buying and consuming in ways that don’t harm the planet and waste resources.”

One retailer making a business out of focusing on sustainability is Sheffield Sustainable Kitchens, which also specialises in sustainable bathroom sourcing and design.

“Sustainability is the future, those manufacturers and retailers who do not engage will be left behind,” states Zoe Hepworth, marketing manager. “Ultimately it is about taking responsibility at every level and considering the bigger picture. Retailers should not be afraid of sustainability. There is a growing market segment that really cares about the provenance and unseen processes behind products.”

Sustainable bathroom design can be interpreted as playing the long game, so there needs to be enthusiasm from retailers regarding flagging up the benefits of sustainable products.

Suppliers with relevant sustainability credibility like to make it known to their customers. Hepworth explains: “For us, it’s about building a lasting and authentic relationship with our customers. Taking responsibility as a retailer sets you apart from competitors looking for short-term gain. It shows you care – for the planet, the future and your consumers.”

Paul Illingworth, design manager at Abode, quotes a study from global consultancy firm Simon-Kucher and Partners, stating that 33% of UK consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products – an average of 25% more for greener alternatives.

“Alongside attracting customers keen to pay a premium, retailers will benefit from the savings made by cost-effective eco-friendly policies and procedures in manufacturing, so will have greater margins for their business,” Illingworth says.

“The sustainable bathroom is set to be a growing area. Retailers can get ahead of the game and create a USP for being a sustainable bathroom showroom to stand out from their competitors.”

Steph Harris, product manager at Showerwall, agrees, saying there are potentially huge benefits for retailers: “To be able to prove to consumers that they are providing sustainable products and have a forward-thinking approach to sustainability is a big selling point.”

The choice and use of materials and the longevity of all bathroom products should also be a key consideration for designers looking at sustainability as a key area of design.

“While initiatives such as the Unified Water Label scheme can help with the selection of taps and showers based on their economy of water use, it’s a more complex matter when choosing shower panels,” explains Tom King, MD of Majestic. “At Majestic we focus on proven designs, materials and manufacturing methods to maximise the working life of every enclosure.”

Looking at the bigger picture, in addition to considering the origin – and the sourcing process – of materials it’s also about processes and logistics.

Fernando Maceda, product manager at Acquabella, acknowledges that products are becoming more sustainable, but admits the transformation is just beginning. Resin shower tray manufacturers are looking for eco resins, made from recycled PET bottles – as are Acquabella shower trays.

Acquabella shower tray in ECO resin made from recycled PET bottles
Acquabella shower tray in ECO resin made from recycled PET bottles

He says: “Not only must the composition of the product be sustainable, but also the processes that the companies use. The use of renewable energies and greater energy efficiency, control and reuse of waste and elimination of plastics in packaging are just some measures that show companies are taking on environmental responsibility.”

Regarding bathroom furniture, Jade Taylor, marketing, Arbor Lane, states that: “Every furniture project made by Arbor Lane is sustainable and environmentally friendly. Arbor Lane supports The National Forest Regeneration Project, is an official National Forest Corporate Social Responsibility partner, and plants a tree for every furniture project we produce. We use environmentally-friendly, water-based paint and heat the workshop using waste and scrap wood.”

Should manufacturers do more to emphasise sustainability and educate retailers? It seems that there is plenty of information available to retailers from manufacturers that can be digested and passed on to consumers. However, creating a circular economy relies on all sectors of the supply chain communicating and thinking more responsibly.

“We have a lot of data available for retailers, and our sales literature highlights our commitment to the circular economy – in a simple message that retailers can pass on in even brief conversations with the consumer,” explains Roman’s Reed.

“For example, every piece of aluminium that Roman uses is already recycled before we use it. We urge retailers to seek out information on sustainability. Change only happens with buy-in from the consumers, so the more retailers who begin to use sustainability as a sales tool, the better.”

George Burtoft, sustainability analyst at Symphony Group, sums it up: “Retailers who put planet before profit benefit from an improved reputation and in turn attract more customers who appreciate their values. This ultimately helps increase the amount of money sustainable businesses earn.”

It’s a no-brainer – keep up with the latest sus­­tainability updates from suppliers, as well as keeping an eye on your own green footprint.

‘Being sustainable isn’t an easy commitment…but it’s worthwhile’

Graeme Borchard, MD of UK Bathrooms
Graeme Borchard, MD of UK Bathrooms
Graeme Borchard, MD of UK Bathrooms, outlines the company’s commitment to sustainability…

Since launching in 2005, online retailer UK Bathrooms, based in Ripon, North Yorkshire, has taken on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives as a way to lessen its environmental impact.

“We understand the need to make choices that help sustain the world that sustains us,” comments UK Bathrooms MD Graeme Borchard. “We work to limit our environmental impact, continually striving for improvement to exceed our environmental targets and aiming to reduce our carbon footprint.

“It’s not easy to find ways to lower our footprint that are scalable, but we have found there are strong initiatives out there that are adaptable to businesses of every size. These are a great starting point.”

Energy-efficient choices: “We’ve opted for lighting, equipment and appliances that save energy from swapping all light bulbs to LED to installing boiling water taps in the kitchen areas. We’ve also adopted a ‘switch off when not required’ approach.”

Minimised paper usage: “We are 99% digital in the office space and around 85% digital in the warehouse.”

Disposal of waste: “Minimising waste by reusing items wherever possible is another action that is relatively easy for any business to adopt, along with being mindful of how your business disposes of waste. “

We aim to recycle anything we can: “All cardboard boxes and cartons that enter our business are reused for customer order fulfilment whenever possible. We even have some fun with ‘reusing’. We have a bath that has been made into a sofa in our reception area and when a bath was damaged accidentally, we gave it to the father of one of our team members, who is an avid gardener. He turned it into a planter.”

Responsible sourcing: “We deal with brands that are committed to social and environmental responsibility and they bring quality products that have been manu­factured and sourced through ethical means.”

Sustainable packaging: “Reduce, reuse, recycle. Our packaging is under constant review. We use 100% recycled cardboard boxes and cardboard edging. Our pallet deliveries are wrapped in a fully recyclable sugar cane wrap. Our packaging tapes and bubble wrap are also 100% recyclable.”

“The best part of genuinely taking a more sustainable approach in your business? It makes you part of the solution.”

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