In Groningen, the Netherlands, the family-run plastering and finishing firm Elting has focused very hard on sustainability principles for years, not only because that is what customers such as housing corporation Nijestee ask for, but mainly from the down-to-earth realization that you must simply do... More
In Groningen, the Netherlands, the family-run plastering and finishing firm Elting has focused very hard on sustainability principles for years, not only because that is what customers such as housing corporation Nijestee ask for, but mainly from the down-to-earth realization that you must simply do your work properly, avoid spinning fancy-sounding yarns, and above all be economical with the planet’s resources. As Jan Elting (the owner) himself modestly puts it, ‘I don’t use fancy words, and I operate on the basis of present-day realities. Getting sustainability and the environment on the agenda means teamwork between suppliers and customers. We must do it together and start at source. This means not only materials, but also people. In that sense, my vision fits in seamlessly with Mosa’s. That’s why I work only with them.’
Unique Take Back project Elting laughs as he explains: ‘I’m certainly Mosa-minded, yes… and I must even admit that I have a complete Mosa coffee service from 1940 in the cupboard. I once came across it on my way somewhere, and just had to buy it. Mosa is a great firm; a Dutch firm with a superb factory in the middle of a residential district. They do a lot to help ensure quality of life, and their vision for sustainability fits in perfectly with our corporate vision. How many more reasons do you need to work together? When they approached me to team up on the Take Back project, I didn’t need to give it a second’s thought, because it really upsets me to see how people treat their stuff and just throw everything away. I can understand why something that gets worn out has to be disposed of, but I just don’t get why you need to throw things away in a cavalier manner for no good reason.’
People want a lot for very little, but it has to be the other way round if you see what we are needlessly throwing away.
Dorien van der Weele (Sustainability Manager, Mosa) adds: ‘We already had experience with recycling production waste from tiles. That’s what prompted the idea of also collecting the cutting residues from Mosa tiles on building sites. We approached a group of tillers, involved and explained our idea. During their work, these companies now collect cutting residues from our tiles and send the material back to Mosa. Here in Maastricht we can then reuse the material. We’d already worked a lot with Jan Elting and knew that throughout his business management he is conscious of how waste is handled, and so it was an easy calculation to make. At present, he is also unique in this project because he is the first to have created a collection point on his own site right away.’ Elting continues: ‘In our view, sustainability comes down to communication and raising awareness. What does it actually cost us as tilers to collect our cutting residues, cardboard boxes of tiles, and plastic straps? It really doesn’t matter to you whether you throw it in the bin or in a container intended for recycling. No extra procedures are required. The costs remain the same for disposal, but this is how you can make waste useful again. That’s the aim.’ Van der Weele explains: ‘You have to want to be one another’s partner and want to seek out one another’s added value in the long term.’ Elting nods in agreement, adding: ‘We can’t go on producing like we do now. Why would you replace cars or tools if they are not worn out? I’d prefer to carry on driving the car for a few more years. You should think about details like that, and realize that sustainability lies not only in materials, but also in behaviour. In people. In your personnel, suppliers and customers alike.’
Working sustainably is not expensive
Building and renovating differently ‘That’s what makes Elting what it is,’ asserts Michel Beek (Unscheduled Maintenance Manager at Nijestee), making no secret of his appreciation for the operator. ‘We have relied on them for years. Not only in terms of business management, but also customer focus we share the same approach. They are innovative in their work, also in relation to our clients. They are attentive, and careful in their communication and giving their customers information. You must bear in mind that a bathroom renovation has a major impact. At Elting, they do everything to limit the inconvenience, and not just in terms of its duration and intensity. They are also actively involved in managing expectations. They enter into discussions with our tenants and discuss processes thoroughly. What’s more, they are constantly creative when it comes to technical developments. What we actually see at their end is constant optimization of processes with regard to customers, resources, equipment, and machinery.’ Elting nods, adding ‘Such attention is related to the fact that I want to change the image of a builder. Builders are seen as the blokes who always make a load of dust and rubbish, spend their time smoking and drinking coffee, and who you are glad to see actually doing something. In my view, you should start here, at the beginning. See the builder as someone who cares about his work, materials, tools, and his client as well. I’m really passionate about this. I want my staff to feel good, letting them know that I share their approach and care about their welfare. If they feel happy about things and are willing to change, that will also benefit our customers. That, too, is an aspect of sustainability.’
Mosa guarantees repeat deliveries until 2040 As Van der Weele explains, ‘Elting’s vision puts it ahead of 90% of the market. You have tablets for the work processes, don’t you?’ Elting nods. ‘That’s right. It is logistically more efficient and also more informative to work with them. We have got rid of purchase orders and are continuously online with our people. In this way, we know exactly what the others are doing. We note not only functionalities but also what we come across in a home. Does someone have a wooden floor or carpeting? Are the residents old or young? Do we have to go upstairs or not? Does culture play a role? To my mind, you treat people with care.’
We want Mosa and not mosaic.
Beek explains: ‘It’s precisely this attention to detail that, besides price and quality, makes the difference for us. Corporate social responsibility is important to us in all purchasing consultations and contractual discussions. Sustainability is an important part of this. Companies such as Elting and Mosa keep this in mind. The way they operate makes them stand out, and they offer real extras by working Cradle to Cradle. Mosa also offers an additional guarantee on the deliverability of its tiles until 2040. With their ranges – which cover a broad luxury selection – we can, as a housing corporation, restore everything if any tiles get damaged. In short, we don’t have to retile entire walls. That’s also what sustainability means, in my view.’
Future of tile recycling Major progress is being made in recycling raw materials fully. Our interviewees do not deny that there are still challenges in this regard. Nevertheless, by taking small steps, keeping each another on our toes, and continuing to innovate, the ultimate solution will not take long to achieve. As Van der Weele explains, ‘at Mosa we are now conducting technical research to establish how we can handle tile waste from demolition. This is because waste from walls or floors always contains glue, sealant, or cement residues. They are also not always our tiles and so we cannot guarantee that the glazing is free from lead and cadmium. At the moment we cannot monitor this, but a time will come when that will be possible. So you have to carry on exploring together.’ As Elting puts it, ‘in that sense, the Take Back project is a perfect intermediate step for all of us to acquire experience in terms of the process, logistics, and reuse. Last Christmas, we sent the first containers of clean cutting residues back to Maastricht: ten cubic metres, which went back into the process. For me, that’s a good start because every little helps.’