For a while, the UK fenestration sector has talked about the need to produce more here and rely less on imports. There is a genuine argument for this. This is highlighted by the current supply problems and you have to wonder if we did make more fenestration products here in the UK then would we be in such a crunch on the supply side?
But there is another reason fenestration should be looking at importing less and that is due to carbon emissions. If we are serious as a sector about doing what we can to bring carbon emissions down then it’s time to start seriously looking at boosting domestic production.
Fenestration needs to go further
On the climate side, UK fenestration has been making big strides in trying to be more friendly to the environment. Systems companies have invested heavily in recycling facilities to keep post-consumer PVCu frames out of the ground and in the circular manufacturing system. I have seen companies adopt energy-saving measures and install products like solar panels to keep their buildings efficient. Glass recycling is now easier thanks to companies like Morley Glass who have an on-site glass crusher that is currently ploughing through tons and tons of waste glass per month.
But there is more to do, and the work begins at the top of the supply chain and identifying where changes can be made to reduce the impact the production of our products have. That means, whether you agree with it or not, cutting back on imported products and producing more in the countries that consume the products we install.
Whether it is by sea or by air, international freight contributes a significant proportion of global CO2 emissions per year. The International Transport Forum projects that emissions from global freight will increase fourfold to 2050. In 2021 international freight contributed an estimated 2108Mt of CO2, by 2050 that is expected to be 8132Mt. I think we can all agree that this is an unacceptable rise and changes must be made to ensure that figure does not become reality.
One of the ways to reduce this impact is to start boosting domestic manufacturing and production. There has long been a case for increasing the size of UK manufacturing. It creates jobs in this country, would add to UK GDP and would help protect the supply chain against external shocks that could affect it but are out of our control. Now, we have to start thinking about the environmental impact.
Carbon emissions have to be reduced by every single person, business and sector, including fenestration. We are seeing around the world, right now, the effects climate change is having. Wildfires and extreme drought are plaguing the Western US. Just today we had a warning from scientists that we had reached a tipping point where summer ice has disappeared. The Chinese economy is even at risk long its coastline through rising sea levels, threatening flooding and higher tides which would cause major problems to $1tn economies such as Shanghai.
UK fenestration has a part to play in this. By switching production to the UK and cutting imports, we can reduce the footprint we cause thanks to fewer products being shipped in by sea or air from abroad. Given the precarious state of the climate, this is no longer a debate about the pros and cons, whether it’s protectionist or not, these are actions that have to be taken now.
Even the EU, one that is very much a globalist player, has said that more has to be produced domestically. Macron of France went as far last year to say that more needed to be made in Frances, to be used by the French.
More to pay
I think if you held a poll now, most would be happy to vote for making more here. Even in the fenestration sector, I sense there is a willingness to do so. But when the issue of price comes up, that enthusiasm seems to ebb away. At the moment, willpower is not being met by actions. We seem to like the idea of making more here, but unwilling to pay for it.
In the past, those against domestic production in favour of foreign production have touted the cost-per-unit as the main benefit. Who wants to pay more than they have to? But over the past year, as shipping costs and raw material costs have spiralled out of control, causing relentless price increases throughout the fenestration supply chain, that argument is now diminished, if not ended completely.
It is likely however that should more of our sector’s products be made here, then we would need to pay more for it. Higher wage costs and expenses mean it is more expensive to run a business here than in Asia, which then reflects in the price of the goods paid. However, I fully maintain that products made and sold here are some of the best in terms and build and quality anywhere in the world, and I believe there is a significant proportion of the general public that would be happy to pay more.
We have seen evidence of this in the past year. Previously, we had been allergic to price increases and reluctant to pass them down to the consumer for fear of losing orders. Now, when everyone is in the same boat and facing the same situation, those costs are now being passed on at a much greater rate and the public has seemed fully willing and able to pay those higher prices.
I believe we have seen both the public and our sector undergo a major change when it comes to home improvements and now is the time to start looking at boosting UK manufacturing of fenestration products. Not only to our own benefit, but to reduce the impact our sector has on the climate as well.
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