Tom Reynolds, CEO of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, believes administrative burdens are mounting up around the Environmental, Social and Governance agenda.

Current high inflation is less of a surprise to those of us in the construction supply chain than to others. Thanks to an unprecedented combination of supply chain difficulties and the almost immediate uptick in demand in the summer and autumn of 2020, we saw prices rise quickly in our sector ahead of other parts of the economy.

Nevertheless, two years on, the rising cost of living adds pressure on all businesses and their staff.

I recently participated in a round of Confederation of British Industry meetings where trade associations and business leaders discussed this challenging environment.

The Confederation is rightly aiming to reduce the cost of doing business as its top agenda item. It wants the Government to reduce the red tape and administrative expenses that are so time-consuming for companies and, therefore, expensive.

While I hope the Government listen, I'm also mindful that companies themselves can reduce the burden of doing business with each other, the B2B bureaucracy or 'blue tape'.

Administrative burdens are mounting up around the Environmental, Social and Governance agenda. On the one hand, it's highly refreshing that corporates are taking their social obligations seriously and conducting due diligence accordingly.

It's correct that private enterprises should be geared to achieve profit and maintain standards that ensure integrity, ethical trading, and a minimum impact on the natural world. On the other hand, are the emerging processes driving those standards or merely driving increased B2B costs?

BMA recently surveyed the bathroom manufacturers in our membership to ask them what ESG reporting challenges they were facing. Nearly everyone said customers are asking for 'more' or 'much more' ESG information than in the previous year.

Respondents felt the task was becoming more time consuming and therefore taking up considerable resources within the business. 

I should emphasise that manufacturers are not whinging about having to answer ESG questions. For years we have been talking about the importance of product compliance, stewardship and understanding the provenance of goods. We've pursued efforts to make the sector more sustainable through collaborative forums, championing the Unified Water Label and running sustainability awards.

As corporate businesses have focussed on ESG, a new industry has sprung up around managing the disparate information involved. Our concern is that there is so little consistency in how customers make ESG requests. The solutions offered by the ESG management software are not always the most intuitive, flexible or proportionate and give little indication of the expectations placed on the supplier.

It's no wonder that 95% of the bathroom manufacturers we surveyed would support a standardised ESG questionnaire. I've suggested a collaboration on the ESG issue in conversation with several merchants. The response has been incredibly positive, suggesting current processes cause as much pain for merchants as suppliers.

We all want to do the right thing, so we need to work together to ensure that it doesn't entail excessive bureaucracy and cost.