Challenging the preconceptions

David Thornton, chairman of The Window Company (Contracts), asks: is the PVCU industry doing enough to get its message across?

When it comes to getting its green credentials across to commercial specifiers, the timber window and door industry is arguably continuing to steal a march on PVCU. As a result, the task of persuading specifiers about the sustainability of PVCU is, all too often, still falling to installers like us to put what we know is a really positive case.

In our experience, timber is still seen by many in the commercial sector as the gold standard when it comes to sustainability, followed by aluminium on the basis of its recyclability, and then PVCU a fairly distant third. In reality, we all know that it is much more complicated and nuanced than that.

As an entirely independent business, we regularly deal with all of the UK’s PVCU systems houses and are fully aware of all their efforts when it comes to recycling and sustainability. We appreciate that a lot of action is being taken and a lot of money being spent.

However, from our perspective at the sharp end of the industry talking to large scale commercial clients, their awareness of all of that is still very limited. A good many commercial specifiers, particularly in social housing where we do the majority of our work, still see sustainability as just another a box to be ticked on the tender document.

For instance, we’ve just secured a large scale, high profile contract for Chelmsford City Council where we are replacing outdated and inefficient timber windows with highly efficient PVCU frames, manufactured by Genius PVC. These are in Kommerling profile using a recycled core and a virgin outerskin – a fairly typical commercial contract for us, which you would think ticks all the necessary boxes for the council in terms of sustainability.

However, before we were awarded the contract, we became aware of extra scrutiny from some at the council around the question of why timber windows, which were perceived as being natural and sustainable, were being replaced with what was seen by some as an unsustainable ‘plastic’ alternative.

It fell to us as to put the case for the recycled PVCU windows and to explain how the closed loop process works in this industry, collecting and recycling old frames and using the regrind material in new ones. While we’re obviously more than capable of doing this, it highlighted just how slow the PVCU industry has been in communicating all that it is doing around the question of sustainability to the wider market.

I still don’t think there is enough real understanding among the people who matter about what a recycled core actually means in a PVC frame and the impact that has on the long term sustainability of the windows and doors. Instead, the main emphasis is still on our recycling obligations and on how we handle and dispose of waste on site.

We would definitely like to see more concerted and coordinated action being taken by the PVCU sector to communicate directly with specifiers. Several of the systems companies are conducting their own campaigns promoting their own solutions, but there doesn’t seem to be a joined-up sector-wide communications programme telling what we all recognise is a very good story for the whole sector.

If the industry could get together and invest in a campaign aimed specifically at the social housing sector, then I think the benefits would be significant. At the moment, we very rarely see tender documents asking for recycled profile simply because there is not enough awareness of it, yet we know that councils and housing associations really do want to do the right thing when it comes to the environment and are very receptive towards it.

The British Plastics Federation is playing its part in publicising the recycling technology but is it time for the PVCU window and door industry to get its own act together and launch a campaign of its own? We would certainly give our backing to that.

The Window Company Contracts Ltd
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