MEP Middle East talks to Eric Kirwan, director of International Projects at Grohe, about the push for sustainable water usage and the obligations his company has to increase awareness
What has been the biggest advancement in terms of water saving technology over the last few years?
Digital technology has been advancing quite rapidly over the last few years. You can use digital technology to do things such as pause the shower and stop the water flow, and then press a button to bring it back into play.
We’ve really focused on the user interface, making it really simple so that people don’t struggle to use the products. We’re inspired by the simplicity of the iPod and how people use it. So, as a result, our new products are battery operated, wireless and can be used just about anywhere in the bathroom.
So while we’re helping users in terms of simplicity and making things more intuitive, we’re also helping in terms of installation and the technical side of things.
Instead of the traditional manual value that you’ve got behind the wall, there’s a remote box that fulfils the same function. The pipe work and so on remains exactly the same, so it’s not asking any more of the MEP contractors than what’s being asked today.
What is Grohe doing to help promote sustainability?
Sustainability has been a keyword for the brand going forwards. However, in the last four or five years in particular, there has been a shift in thinking, because we have a product that delivers water.
Being such a scarce resource, and being in a position of global leadership, we felt a responsibility to try and lead the debate on how you could save water and still meet client expectations.
So we’ve taken up the technology that is the bedrock of Grohe, the German technology that is there, and thought about how we can use those more intelligently to actually deliver a more balanced performance.
Has there been a shift in awareness when it comes to sustainability in the GCC?
Even in my short time with Grohe, I’ve seen a change. There’s much more awareness now and it’s recognised. First of all, international standards such as LEED from the USA are being used widely across the Middle East.
Then there’s ESTIDAMA, which is being used in the UAE itself.
(I would say) that the awareness levels are much higher than they used to be.
That’s not to say that there’s not much room for improvement either. In the GCC, water usage in hotels in particular, is still far and away ahead of typical usage levels in Europe. So there’s still a long way to go.
What has growth been like over the last few years?
We’ve had growth and it’s been another exciting year. The last four or five years at Grohe have seen continuous growth and innovation in terms of product design. Last year, we also made an investment in China, which is going to be very exciting in the future.
In regards to the GCC, it’s been another successful year, particularly in the projects business, but I can’t provide specific figures at the moment. The driver for our success was a decision taken a few years ago, which was to invest very heavily in product design.
We set up our own in house product team and that has really driven growth over the last four or five years. From water saving perspective and a performance perspective, at design is absolutely key to getting a balance between performance and the sustainability challenges that we face now.
What are your expectations for 2012?
I think we’re all expecting 2012 to be another challenging year. With all the uncertainty around the Middle East and the Euro zone, all those macro economic factors are going to make it a challenging year and there’s no point in pretending otherwise.
But amongst all that, there are opportunities out there and we see opportunities either in specific challenges and specific geographic markets. The Middle East and especially Saudi Arabia is very strong. Qatar looks strong, Dubai has settled down and Abu Dhabi continues to steadily offer very good opportunities for us.