How Can Merchants Help Promote More Sustainable Products?


Who knew one television programme could have such a profound effect on the country? The haunting image of a grieving mother pilot whale in David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet II’ provoked a response almost immediately as pubs and restaurants across the nation withdrew plastic straws from their establishments. Soon after, Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Gove announced that the Government was looking into banning single-use plastics.

There is no denying the emotional impact the programme has had on the British public so it falls to us as product manufacturers to listen to what our customers are telling us. Like many companies, our customers are now keen to use products which have the least impact on the environment.

At IKO, we have worked extremely hard over the years to ensure we are a responsible company and not just capitalising on a shift in public mood. We strive to source our raw materials from sustainable sources as often as possible. For example, a lot of the products manufactured in the UK use bitumen as the main material, which in itself is a bi-product, from petroleum distillation. Another of our roofing solutions is made from 99% recycled car parts and feedback from customers suggests that knowing this product is sustainable helps give them peace of mind.

It is now easier than ever to recycle, even within the construction industry which does not typically have an image of being environmentally friendly. However, merchants can help shake off this unhelpful image of the industry by regularly reviewing their suppliers and choosing to work with manufacturers which use more sustainable alternatives if these become available. Look out for things such as products which are certified to BES standards and factories with recognised environmental accreditations such as ISO 14001.

Of course, in order to reap the benefits of ‘choosing sustainable’, you need to talk about it. This is where builders’ merchants can play a key role in communicating this vital information to customers. Manufacturers should take a proactive approach by ensuring merchants are armed with all the necessary information about the materials used in their products in order to tackle even the most discerning questions from customers.

Merchants should also consider the layout of the store and which type of products they prioritise on their larger display stands. One particular example is deciding whether to highlight torch-on roofing products or self-adhesive roofing products. IKO is proud to have signed up to the National Federation of Roofing Contractors’ (NFRC) ‘Safe 2 Torch’ campaign which seeks to educate all those involved in roofing projects at every stage of the process where it is safe to use torch-on products. If there is any doubt, the NFRC guidance states that the specification should default to self-adhesive products. Not only are self-adhesive products safe and easy to use, they are also a more sustainable alternative than torch-on products which require the burning of propane gas which also increases the risk of a roof fire.

Prioritising safer, sustainable products by placing these items in prominent positions within the store can encourage customers to investigate these options which they might not have otherwise considered. Highlighting these products can also spark a conversation with customers about ‘choosing sustainable’ and it also allows merchants to show off the diversity of their product range.

As a product manufacturer, IKO understands that sometimes it can be difficult for merchants to remember all the features and benefits of each product which is why we offer ‘Demo Days’ for merchants. These allow you, the merchant, to sit back and relax while we do all the hard work in demonstrating our products and as a company which is concerned about the environment, our focus will be on promoting the most sustainable solutions on offer.

Sustainability is about much more than just what products are made from or how they are applied however: the transportation of materials is another important factor to consider. It is far more sustainable to choose suppliers which manufacture their products in the UK rather than import from abroad. Not least the savings in the time elapsed from the product leaving the factory and arriving at the merchant, but also the savings from reduced carbon emissions.

For argument’s sake, let’s transport 1000m2 of three-layer roofing felt to Edinburgh Castle. Transporting the felt from Italy would create 1,234kg of CO2 emissions as the product makes a mammoth 2,146km journey across three countries, several motorways and a ferry. Ordering the same felt from Wigan would create a much lower 115kg in CO2 emissions over the 200km trip which would also take significantly less time. Choosing to order products from a UK-based manufacturer would see a decrease in CO2 emissions of over 90% as well as making it possible for the product to arrive on the shelf the same day it left the factory.

As customers and clients become more concerned with the environmental credentials of the products they purchase, both manufacturers and merchants have a responsibility to work together in order to promote more sustainable solutions as far as possible. We all have a responsibility to look after the environment so why not encourage your customers to ‘choose sustainability’ for your New Years’ Resolution this year?