Merchants spent much of 2021 wrestling with questions of supply and demand. 2022 has seen those two words remain at the fore, but not just in relation to products. This time, it’s all about energy. Even before the invasion of Ukraine, soaring energy bills were raising alarm. Hopes of a temporary spike have faded. The current prognosis is for a prolonged period of uncertainty and higher costs compared to previous baselines.
A long-term problem requires long-term solutions. But while policy has so far focused on energy supply, this quarter has seen growing calls from across the political spectrum – and the construction supply chain – for meaningful action to reduce demand. That means fixing Britain’s leaky buildings – still among the worst in Europe for energy efficiency – which in turn means widespread insulation upgrades. Imminent building regulation updates will take care of new construction, and a strategy to address existing buildings must surely follow.
How will that affect merchants? I think there are three conclusions to draw.
One, it’s clear that demand for insulation – already robust – will continue to grow, and that it will be sustained for the longterm. Merchants will need new supplies to meet this demand.
Two, the push for more efficient buildings will require product innovation. Over the coming years, merchants will need new solutions that deliver better thermal performance, without compromising on other critical factors like fire safety.
And three, there will be more emphasis on embodied carbon in the supply chain. Construction must play its part, and merchants will need reliable sustainability data on hand to recommend lower-carbon solutions to their customers.
In that context, I’m pleased to be able to confirm a £45m+ investment in our Glass Mineral Wool manufacturing plants in St Helens and Cwmbran that will address all three of these requirements. The programme of work will boost our capacity by 30,000 tonnes by early 2024, enabling us to manufacture new lower-lambda products, and reduce the embodied carbon of our products manufactured in St Helens by a further 20%.
Merchants face new challenges as the industry responds to the changing world. The supply chain must step up to help.