5 minutes with Paul Hetherington, Board Member at the BRE Trust and previous CEO for leading Cable Management manufacturer Marshall Tufflex
With a wealth of experience fronting building products manufacturers, Paul Hethington has recently taken the opportunity to create his own consultancy. Previous to this he was CEO of Marshall Tufflex. For many years the business has been driving sustainability in their products with the help of uPVC recycling firm VEKA Recycling. Having worked on numerous director level roles with VEKA, and also within the cable management sector, Collingwood’s Head of Building Products, Mark Goldsmith, was extremely keen to sit down with Paul Hetherington to understand more about his roles within the industry. Here’s what they discussed:
Mark: Although Marshall Tufflex has an outstanding reputation both in this country and internationally throughout their 75 years in business, clearly you have not allowed the business to rest on its laurels. Your award for Marketing Initiative of the year at this year’s Electrical Industry Awards attests to this. What message was the business looking to drive with this campaign and how has the accolade helped?
Paul: I feel very strongly that business should be at the heart of the solution to climate change rather than the primary cause of the problem. This is particularly important for both the construction & plastics industries, which although critical to our modern way of life do need to seriously raise their bar.
All sustainable procurement policies, whether government or corporate, clearly demand that recycled plastic content is preferred to single use plastics. When we started the campaign absolutely no one was following up on this obligation.
Our belief was that clients, specifiers, contractors and wholesalers were largely unaware of the existence of plastic construction products with high levels of recycled content. When they became aware that these products were not more expensive and had technical benefits over single use plastics, as well as environmental ones they would want to “do the right thing”.
Mark: Sustainability within the wider Building Products industry has taken centre stage recently. I witnessed its rise pre-recession in 2008 but in the intervening years survival took precedence. When did Marshall Tufflex start driving the sustainability of their products and how has the attitudes of your routes to market changed over recent years?
Paul: Marshall Tufflex started using what was then referred to as re-chip well over 20 years ago because of its technical advantage over the virgin material being used. Using external grade PVCu enabled our products to be harder wearing. The Ultra Violet (UV) colour stabilisers that were critical to windows in an outdoor environment enabled us to gain a reputation for high quality, lasting crisp, white finish.
The major change in our organisation was recognising what a great thing we were doing for the environment and rather than it just being “business as usual” to decide to shout about it. At the same-time we decided to set ourselves stretching goals to improve the recycled content, moving from 50% to 80%.
We wanted to bring the industry with us, so all our communications have emphasised specifying 50% recycled content which is easy to achieve as a manufacturer rather than our own 70-80% which may be outside our competitor’s capability today.
Mark: With the government looking to ban the exporting of waste plastics how do you feel manufacturers attitudes and supply chain habits will need to change?
Paul: By far the most important thing is for clients, contractors and wholesalers to specify recycled content in their plastic products. This then generates a demand for that plastic waste. It forces companies, often multinationals who can be obstinate and particularly inflexible, to change their processes and supply chains. The dedication of these companies to the environment is often veneer thin, despite their celebrity endorsements and multi-million pound marketing campaigns.
We recently quoted a contract where the company required pages of detail on our packaging, all good and recycled, but when it came to the plastic product inside the packaging that contained 100 times more material, they did not care.
Mark: You have recently joined the BRE Trust as a Board Member. There have been fairly well publicised changes within the BRE as a group of late. What excites you about this appointment and do you have a particular focus?
Paul: The BRE Trust and the BRE Group are critical organisations to the construction industry. If they weren’t there they would have to be created. Certification and accreditation only becoming more important in a global world with equally disparate variations in standards.
The BRE Trust is an independent charity that owns the BRE Group. With its income it is dedicated to improving the built environment for the benefit of all. Since 1997 it has supported over 300 graduates, funded over £20 million of research and produced over 300 publications.
Mark: By nature of the sector I specialise in, I often work on operational / manufacturing related leadership positions. For a number of years, you have been involved in the Institute of Directors as their Manufacturing Ambassador. With everything else you have got going on, what made you take this appointment and what does your work involve?
Paul: I am a little like a sponge, I love soaking up ideas from other industries and sectors and I have found IoD breakfast meetings very informative and often inspiring. I might end up in the office an hour later a number of times a year, but I have had the privilege of listening to an expert speaker and discussing their thoughts with a diverse group of people who really know their stuff.
After taking the benefits for many years I thought it was time to give back a little and accepted an invitation to join the Sussex committee. A couple of hours every few months, but again an opportunity to learn from some great leaders.
Mark: You previously worked as a NED at the British Merchants Federation and Opportunities Area. You mention this allowed you to work with thought leaders within the industry. What key take outs can you provide in terms of your learnings?
Paul: I know I mentioned the sponge thing before, but it was a real privilege to work with some of the giants of the building materials industry. Instead of being on the other side of the table in often difficult negotiations being a NED at the BMF enabled me to be on the same team. Amazing things were achieved, the foundations of the successful organisation it is today were laid by an active group of NEDs. Being part of that phoenix for a few years, having also been part of its earlier representation in the company of some truly incredible directors, was a life changing experience.