Brian Pigott looks at the issues of sustainability, from product manufacture through to site installation

My firm belief and the whole methodology I have used throughout my business life is that sustainability is the future. This is not a new thought. Most successful businesses have been operating under principles of sustainability for decades.

We just called it different things: lean, cost control, materials resource planning, Six Sigma.

But if we listen to all the greenwash in the media, we could be forgiven for thinking that sustainability is the new saviour of the world. This may be the case, but it’s not the whole story.

Each and every one of us is guilty. We want “better value” which has been translated into “cheaper”. And that is where the problem lies. Lower prices do not equal value, and do not normally promote sustainability.

A recent example from the cable management sector is that Marco – and the other major manufacturers – have developed fast-fix options to the traditional nut-and-bolt choices for fixing wire-mesh cable tray to supports.

Are these products competitively priced? Yes. Do they offer better value to the installer? Yes. Are they a sustainable alternative? Absolutely.

But there is a rub. The market for these fast-fix products is being thwarted by the buyers, who can easily report that they saved one penny per fastener for a job.

However, the installer could make much greater savings through quicker installation, using lower-skill-graded labour, reduced transaction costs, reduced fuel costs, reduced packaging costs and so on.

And then we look at the product itself. It contains less metal, needs less protective coatings and finishing, is packed in smaller boxes, and is therefore less expensive to transport, requiring less fuel than the traditional nut-and-bolt option.

Both the manufacturer and the installer can see the savings they can make – but these savings are a little more difficult to quantify. All in all, that fast–fix item is a more environmentally friendly, sustainable product.

But the buyer still has the control, and despite the need of the specifier, he may pick the traditional offering because he can save a penny.

Manufacturers can and are creating sustainable products and solutions in all areas across all market sectors. But end-users are put at risk because of a narrow view

Manufacturers can and are creating sustainable products and solutions in all areas, across all market sectors. But end-users can be put at risk because of a very narrow view and targets that the buyers have to adhere to.

The easiest way to achieve this is to eliminate waste in every area. This can be done through strict control of the production process, ensuring machines are running as efficiently as possible. Not leaving them on stand-by when not operating can help.

We can look at power usage. Recent electricity and gas price increases have focused all of us on making improvements in this area.

With new regulations and guidelines for contractors and installers, the buyer will be forced to think outside the simple cost box, and consider the impact his decisions have on a site’s sustainability.

Marco has recently announced plans to introduce a zero-waste initiative for all its internal and external operations. As part of the plan, electrical contractors retrofitting a building and using a Marco trunking product are encouraged to return the old UPVC trunking (regardless of the original manufacturer) to Marco for recycling and reprocessing.

Marco introduced this because we recognise that we can extend our sustainability policy beyond our own business and reuse some of the refurbishment waste, reprocessing the material to manufacture other products of the highest possible standards.

There are also benefits to the contractor and site management company which, by being part of the scheme, are supporting their bid to achieve a high BREEAM rating or other similar accreditations.

Marco has now developed a system whereby almost none of our purchased raw materials end up in landfill. For example, we regrind any below-par production and recycle the material.

In terms of wire-mesh cable tray, any scrap produced is sold locally for reprocessing. Marco’s production is UK-based, reducing the ‘product miles’ and carbon footprint. The company estimates its trays travel at least 300 miles less than the trays of its rivals.

With the ability to form angles, tees and risers on site, the environmental impact of using wire-mesh cable tray, compared with using traditional trays, is significant as the reduction in the number of components needed can be enormous.