Building an Eco future for merchants

Each generation wastes a little more of the future with greed and lust for riches

So Ecobuild’s come and Ecobuild’s gone. What are we left with, apart from sore feet, ‘exhibition throat’ and bags and bags of printed matter?

Well, for a start, the distinct feeling that this is no longer a niche show. From just over 1,000 visitors at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in Westminster to over 50,000 bods through the doors at Earls Court last week. In only five years.

The show’s growth has certainly been helped by the fact that there isn’t really much else to challenge it, apart from the Manchester show GreenBuild Expo, which is smaller and more regional. Interbuild, once the UK’s major exhibition for the building industry is a shadow of its former self; the NEC no longer the see-and-be-seen destination.

Obviously, there’s more to Ecobuild’s growth than just the lack of a formidable alternative. It’s no wonder that the show has grown so much since sustainability and eco-friendly building as terms have also grown. Once associated mainly with long-haired tree-huggy types and posh people with more money than sense on Grand Designs, sustainability is here, it’s now and it’s mainstream.

Just as well since the Code for Sustainable Homes kicks in this year which means that all new housing built will have to meet certain criteria on sustainability, low carbon and general environmental-friendliness. So there was plenty at Ecobuild to tempt developers needing to satisfy the various requirements of meeting the Code.

One of the things that makes Ecobuild so busy is the seminar and conference programme. This year, the theatres were opened up so even if you were just passing, you could stand and listen to a bit of what was going on, without having to either give up a whole chunk of your day or make a show of yourself squeezing out before the end. The discussions and seminars had a wide remit than just sustainable building and they pulled in visitors who might not have thought about going to an actual building exhibition but who nevertheless are worthwhile targets for any companies serious about sustainability.

At this stage, many of the products are the type to go direct from manufacturer to site or to specialist contractor and therein lies the danger for merchants. Merchants of all sizes – not just the ones with the deep pockets or who ‘get’ green issues – need to ensure that they take this growing market seriously. Really seriously. That means ensuring that the message and product knowledge is taken on board all the way down the chain.

Soon it won’t be enough to have a board member in charge of sustainability or a branch green-champion. Everyone who deals with customers will need to be on board.

Merchants are used to selling certain products to customers in a certain way; many trade customers are used to buying certain products in a certain way. But this industry’s future depends on bringing in new customers as well as looking after existing ones. Those new, green-aware customers will need to be catered for if sustainable building is not going to become yet another sector that slips through merchanting’s fingers.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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