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Interview with John Jansen

President of Wishbone Site Furnishings in Langley, John Jansen was an early adopter of incorporating recycled materials into attractive, durable outdoor furnishings.

– SABMag: The mid-90s were early days in the green building movement. What prompted you to start making products from recycled materials back then?
– J.J.: The industry that I was in was going through a lot of transition. It was changing from being focused on people to more about achieving numbers. I needed to find a new career that provided an opportunity to make a difference.
Two products were getting some interest in the media at that time. Pressure treated lumber and recycled plastic lumber.  My thinking was that the benefits of recycled plastic lumber would out-weigh the negative impact of using pressure treated lumber and that this would make a good business opportunity.

– SABMag: Was it difficult to get customers to accept your products?
– J.J.: Unbelievable!! At the consumer level it’s all about price. Using recycled plastics as an alternative to treated lumber makes sense when you talk about saving trees, reducing toxins from leaching into the water table, reducing plastics from going into landfills, and cutting maintenance cost. But, it seems not to make sense when you have to pay more for it. At the municipal government level it was shocking at how long it took to make decisions and how replacing wood in site furnishings was looked upon as taking away jobs since the recycled plastic required very little maintenance.

– SABMag: There are more products around now with recycled content. How have you differentiated yours?
– J.J.: The recycled content of the product is important. What’s more important though is determining the primary environment your products are going to be exposed to and then matching the recycled materials to create the best fit.
In our particular case a co-mingled combination of 100% recycled plastics works best.  What sets us apart is that we clearly understand the advantages of the materials and design around the deficiencies. Most companies fail to figure out the deficiencies in the early stages of product development. Products get misrepresented and consumers don’t get what they thought they we buying.

– SABMag: In the spirit of thinking globally and acting locally, private companies changing how they do things can have a positive effect on the environment. Have you tried to improve your manufacturing operations to use fewer resources?
– J.J.: We are continually looking for ways to use fewer resources and yes this will have a positive effect on the environment. To be honest, we are motivated by the bottom line first, and then by environmental considerations. If we can figure out how to use fewer resources we can reduce costs and, in turn, be more competitive. It’s strange but the global market seems to think that the Canadian market is as big as its landmass. They all seem to want to be here, and are bringing their competitive advantages with them. For us it’s all about figuring out how to survive in our market.

– SABMag: Do you anticipate including other types of recycled content, or introduce other products using your current recycled materials?
– J.J.: Introducing different types of recycled content creates challenges, as you really don’t know how the products are going to perform in the long term. We have figured out what has worked and the limitations, and are now exploring how these products can best be used in other applications.

– SABMag: Do you feel more companies will include recycled content in products that we use everyday? Will it become commonplace?
– J.J.: I believe companies will use more recycled content in their products if the cost of the material does not severely affect the bottom line. Although recycled content appears to be important to people, it’s another story when they have to pay more for it. There needs to be incentives at both the manufacturing level and consumer level to really make a difference.