Industry needs incentives to embrace sustainability

More needs to be done by government to incentivise sustainable ways of working, and to support those companies that are already modernising the way they work. This was one of the key points raised by attendees of a round table event hosted by Bohle in London recently.

Angela Worgan, managing director of Cardiff-based Abbey Glass, Tracey Saunders, managing director of Cambridge-based Go Glass, Natalie Little, commercial director of Stroud-based Truhouse, and Paul Rogers, non-executive director of Glaziers Hall, met over lunch at the start of July to discuss how glass companies were overcoming some of the challenges they were facing.

“The theme of the day was ‘is it time to move away from cheap work?’,” said managing director of Bohle Dave Broxton.

“On the one hand, glass is a technologically advanced building material, which can help bring many benefits to a home improvement project, a newbuild development, or a commercial project. On the other, glass processing companies often feel the need to compete on price, which erodes margin and delays investment – which is needed to help the industry adapt to changing demands.

“It turned out to be a very informative debate, and there were many points of agreement, even though the companies operate in different fields from each other.”

On the issue of sustainability, Angela said: “We are seeing demand for sustainability increase from customers, and are actively working to improve the sustainability of operations and products. But, when it comes to delivery, we still come up against some resistance in terms of cost, and we sometimes have to come up with alternatives.”

Tracy said that she felt it was important to be seen to be doing the right thing, but this still leads to positive results.

“For example, we haven’t bought a new pallet in years,” she said. “We pick up used pallets from companies in and around Cambridge – diverting them away from scrap. But when it comes to products, we see less of a demand from consumers, and even trade customers see sustainability as a box-ticking exercise.”

Tracy said she would like to have more tools to help incentivise customers, including support from government – otherwise price becomes the default point of differentiation.

“Sustainability requires a long-term view from government, and a level of leadership,” Paul argued. “But that should remain light touch so industry can respond as it sees fit, and run with ideas. Unfortunately, history has shown that government doesn’t do enough to support industry.”

Natalie agreed that incentives were better than penalties, but the right market will still reward innovative products.

“Our products are sustainable and energy efficient, and we don’t want to cut corners,” she said. “And we target the middle and upper end of the market because we know that they appreciate those features, and are not swayed solely on price.”

On the issue of labour, Paul argued that a skilled workforce is key to the success of a business.

“Yet, over the years we’ve seen technical colleges disappear, and people move away from apprenticeships to university courses,” he said. “But we need more training because the quality of your staff gets more important as products get more technical.”

In-house training, investment in machinery, and additional employee benefits were all tools that Tracy and Angela said they employed to attract talent and keep quality high.

Tracy also said Go Glass was ‘embracing’ AI, and that it formed part of its approach to Lean Manufacturing, which led to a lively debate.

“We use AI as part of our email service, where we can automate certain procedures and reduce the amount of manpower involved,” she said.

Looking to the future, all delegates agreed that quality and USPs were key ingredients for success.

Tracy, whose business helps create accessible homes in Cambridge, said: “All customers have budgets – even the affluent ones. What is important is letting them know they are getting value for money.”

Truhouse is currently trialling a franchise model, whereby it hopes to recreate its success across the southwest.

“If you focus on your core elements and do them well, that will help you get a good profit margin,” she said. “By developing a franchise model, we can help other people concentrate on what they are good at, and be successful in the process.”

Angela Worgan explained that Abbey Glass was also developing new ideas for growth, which effectively involved diversifying and expanding the company’s brand – although it was too early in the day to give details.

“You’ve got to believe in what you do,” she said.

Dave said that day was informative, while laying the foundations for new partnerships.

“Four people from different corners of the country and industry came together to share their experience,” he said. “And everyone left feeling enthused and energised. What we didn’t predict was that new business opportunities would emerge from this event, and I’m pleased to say that two of the delegates will soon be working together on new projects.”