Gerhard Sturm is Leader, Commercial Development at LIXIL EMENA. He is in charge of every aspect of GROHE’s marketing operation in EMENA, from the product portfolio to sales operations. As a key stakeholder in driving forward the sustainable transformation of GROHE’s portfolio, he recently spoke to Iheanyi Nwachukwu in this interview. Excerpts
Why is it necessary for countries worldwide to recognise the importance of the sanitary industry?
If we think about this planet, the two most basic things are air and water. And we talk about air, carbon emissions is very important to address. But the other big thing is water. Quality and scarcity of water are becoming bigger and bigger globally, even if in the media, it’s still more about carbon emissions.
If we take France, for example, last summer, there were cities without enough water. It’s becoming a real challenge, and of course, as well in African markets and countries.
LIXIL is a global company, and Grohe is a product brand and a world leader in water technology. Water is very close to what we’re doing, and we have a role to play in saving water, enhancing water, as well as recycling water.
And so, to answer the question, we feel particularly responsible as a water technology brand to contribute with solutions to save water, enhance water, and recycle water.
How do your company’s operations contribute to a sustainable world?
First of all, I need to say that Grohe is a global brand. We are present in more than 130 markets globally. And sustainability has always been part of our DNA, not since the last three or four years when this became bigger in the media, but since the beginning.
We have four brand values: quality, technology, design, and sustainability. We have a positive ambition to contribute to the future of society, to our children, and to the future of this planet.
To give you some concrete examples of how we contribute, I discussed water saving before. We developed specific technologies to save water. One example is EcoJoy.
We call it EcoJoy technology. It’s quite easy, but it’s a different mouser that we put into all our main faucets and helps save up to 50 percent of water just by doing that, and you still have the same feeling of water because we enriched the water with air. There is more air in the water stream, but you save up to 50 percent of the water.
Secondly, we have energy-saving technologies. For example, typically, when the faucet is in the middle position, it starts to mix already warm and cold water if you have a single-lever faucet. Of course, there is this double-lever faucet, where you have hot and cold separated, so there’s a difference.
However, the single-lever faucets that mix hot and cold water in one tap, in almost all the faucets worldwide, when you have them in the middle position, you immediately mix warm and cold water. But maybe you don’t want warm water. We developed a cold start faucet. This means that when the faucet is in the middle, it’s not mixing warm and cold water; it starts with cold.
And if you want to get warm, you need to basically turn it on the left. By doing that, we can save lots of energy because you don’t heat the water unnecessarily, particularly in markets like Nigeria where water is already warm. This is another example of energy saving.
The second point is water enhancement. Unfortunately, on this planet, the quality of water is not getting better. It’s getting worse. And as well, the amount of drinking water is getting less. That is a real challenge.
We have developed solutions like Grohe Pure. Grohe Pure is a faucet with a special filter. In fact, we have made different types of filters for different parts of the world. We have one filter for all of the main African markets, and it enhances and improves the quality of the water. It filters out negative ingredients.
But it does not only filter things out, it as well adds magnesium, zinc, and silicate, which enrich the water. It cleans and enriches the water.
The third topic, which we just presented, is water recycling. You know, the amount of water you can save in a shower is limited because, at some moment, there’s no water coming out anymore.
If we reduce only water flow, there’s a moment when it doesn’t make sense anymore. And this is why we have now presented a solution for water recycling in the shower. It’s called the Grohe-ever stream.
It’s an endless shower, and basically, what the shower does is that the water which flows down goes through a filter. It’s cleaned, reheated, and you can reuse the water. It goes into a cycle.
And by doing that, you have the full water flow. But you save a lot of water. You can save up to 75 percent of the water you typically use for a shower. You use only one-fourth of the water you would have used if you just let it flow down the drain. But now it’s reused, and you only consume one-third of the energy because the water flowing down the filter is reheated.
As a company, what steps have you taken toward boosting sustainability?
As a company, we have taken several steps. One step has been on the product side. Like I have just shared with you some examples of water-saving technologies like EcoJoy, which reduces water usage by 50 percent, and water-enhancing solutions like Grohe Pure, filtering the water.
We also have water recycling solutions like Grohe Everstream, which recirculates and recycles water. The second thing we are doing is supporting raising the standards of what is legally required.
We comply with regulations all over the world, including the toughest regulations, but we show as well that more is possible. Working together with governments and public sectors around the world to raise standards.
A third thing we are doing is increasing the transparency of what we are doing because sometimes to end-consumers, it’s not visible which brands make a contribution to sustainability and a better planet and which brands do not.
We are making a very conscious effort to educate consumers globally on what to look for when buying products like water flow. Beyond our products and collaboration with governments, we also contribute by working to change the habits of end consumers in a way that they can contribute to saving water. For example, we have campaigns in some markets to encourage people to make basic changes like showering for 20 seconds less to save more water and energy.
What are some significant constraints to Grohe’s engagement in building a sustainable environment in Nigeria?
The first constraint is the existing habits of end consumers. Understanding how people use water all over the world is vital for our company, which is a consumer-focused company that wants to do what is right for the end consumers worldwide. Our parent company, LIXIL’s mission, is to provide better homes for everyone, everywhere.
We need to understand who everyone is. And this is a constraint because sometimes we don’t go deep enough. For sure, the way people use water to clean their bodies in Nigeria is different from Egypt and Turkey, and so on, so it is very important to understand everyone.
And then what does better living mean? How can we contribute? The second constraint is the existing habits in markets of how people use water. To not only provide products but also education.
The third constraint is the installation of products. The type of products we sell needs to be installed to a large extent, and in some markets, there is a lack of know-how to install products, and there are not enough installers.
This is why we have created the GIVE Program – Grohe Installer Vocational Training & Education (GIVE) Program. And we have now opened 50 schools all over Europe, the Middle East, and North and West Africa. And we have trained ten thousand installers already.
They get a certificate that they have been trained by Grohe and this can give them employment opportunities and a future. We have also worked with associations like SOS-Kinderdorf, Don Bosco, and other charitable organisations to address this constraint.
In your experience, what are some of the most innovative and effective approaches to driving growth and expanding market share in the commercial development space?
In discussing how to approach different markets, it’s important to recognise that each market is unique. For example, in African markets, we cannot simply do a TV campaign and tout ourselves as the best brand with great products.
It’s not credible or appropriate. Instead, we focus on contributing to society, such as opening the GIVE plumber schools. By doing so, we can demonstrate our commitment to the market in the long run and provide training and expertise to locals.
Additionally, we prioritise topics such as sustainability and water scarcity and offer solutions and education on protecting and using less water. Lastly, in all our communications, we emphasise our mother company LIXIL and its mission to provide better homes to everyone, everywhere. Our mission is not just to grow sales and profit but to make a positive impact.
And we have proof points for this. For example, with our Sato Toilet project in Africa, in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we provide basic toilet solutions for areas without access to traditional sanitation systems, where you don’t even have water sometimes.
This is very different from what others are doing. Some competitors come with mass products, drop prices, and just flood the market. This is not what we want to do. We are a leading global company and want to be here for the long run, not just for the next few years.