Between Tradition and Innovation
Katharina de Silva: Roca is a family company with a history going back over 100 years. How do tradition and innovation go hand in hand in the company today?
Marc Viardot: Exceedingly well. It is not for nothing that today we produce around 35 million ceramic bathroom items every year. In addition, our faucets, bathtubs and shower trays in various materials, bathroom furniture, installation systems, but also electronic shower toilets are produced in 76 plants on all five continents. How does the saying go? You have to know the rules before you can break them. And we do that. In our competence centers we rely on our extensive industrial know-how and combine it with creativity and design. We like to speak about “experience driven innovation”. The experience not only refers to our consumers but also the entire process chain – from intelligent production via transport through to sales. The mission of the Roca family of owners is to ensure that when the company is passed on to the next generation it is always strengthened. This long-term view gives us the stability to develop things sustainably. Also anchored deep in our corporate values are a respect for people and the environment as well as the industrial leadership idea. All areas are inspired by the city where Roca was founded and which is still our headquarters today: Barcelona. An open, dynamic city with creative flair, outstanding architecture and that really special Mediterranean light, surrounded by mountains and sea.
What does a design need to be like to satisfy Roca’s exacting standards?
Marc Viardot: It must be part of our brand identity and represent our values. Ideally, it can be clearly recognized as a Roca product even without branding. We only achieve that if we all collaborate very intensively and over a long period with selected designers. They must understand our DNA and be able to derive from it what a product needs to embody and how much avant-garde it needs. A Roca design must be innovative but it must never appear artificial. That is a fine line to tread, and one we are constantly exploring with our Roca Design Center and designers from outside the company.
Roca is considered to be exemplary when it comes to sustainable production. Why is that?
Marc Viardot: First of all, our core material is ceramic, which is a purely natural material. In production, care has always been taken to use resources sparingly and reuse them in the process. In our ceramic plants we have long spoken of zero-waste-factories, as all the raw materials that are used can be returned to the cycle and reused at any time. In recent years we have approached the topic of sustainability in a highly professional manner and anchored it in all our units and operations. We drive our contribution to a better environment and living conditions through eight clearly defined workstreams with currently 50 different projects with science-based targets. For example, we are committed to halving our carbon emissions by 2030 and operating as a completely carbon-neutral company by 2045.
Roca developed sustainable technologies in the past, such as your “W+W” product, which is a combination of washbasin and WC. Is there currently something comparable the team is working on?
Marc Viardot: W+W is an early example that demonstrates that this idea of sustainability has long been part of our daily work. We launched W+W in 2009 at a time when the topic was not as omnipresent as it is today. Now we work exclusively on sustainable innovations. Every new product development has to meet holistic sustainability criteria with relation to resources, regardless of whether it’s a toilet, a faucet or a service. We collaborate with a network of companies and institutes to develop innovative solutions and also make their sustainability measurable.
In 2010, the “We are Water Foundation” was established. What exactly does Roca do to improve water supplies and hygienic conditions in developing countries?
Marc Viardot: The “We Are Water Foundation” not only provides education about water and hygiene but is also proactive in those areas. Since its establishment, the Foundation has accompanied 85 projects in 33 countries and in doing so has helped to improve access to drinking water and safe hygienic conditions for almost four million people. These are long-term projects, such as constructing sanitary facilities in rural areas in Madagascar in partnership with UNICEF. In addition, we run projects such as creating sanitary facilities for Ukrainian refugees in Rumania and Moldavia or providing emergency hygiene kits for the victims of the earthquake in Turkey – where we respond to a particular crisis.
What Roca innovations can we expect to see at this year’s ISH in Frankfurt?
Marc Viardot: We are really looking forward to being able to present the various focal areas of our work physically. Quite classically we will present two complete bathroom collections: “Ona” and “Tura”. “Ona” captures the Mediterranean lifestyle and closeness to nature in its simplicity while “Tura” is inspired by the architecture of Barcelona and region. “Tura” is a collection with a host of details and small innovations such as a concealed drain in the washbasin or the integration of homely elements in furniture and bathtubs. Naturally, we also showcase cutting-edge toilet technology, such as the vortex flush that makes less noise, generates less aerosols and requires less water. We are also showcasing a world innovation: A toilet with an integrated cistern that works without electricity. Thanks to our latest corporate acquisitions we have greatly expanded our range of installation systems and bathroom furniture. Without a doubt, one colorful highlight will be the new minimalist “Nu” faucet line that was realized in collaboration with the Spanish design studio Inma Bermúdez.
What new things can we look forward to in the technology field?
Marc Viardot: We will present “Roca Connect” – a platform for connecting our products in the public and semi-public realm. In particular facility managers can use it to monitor the consumption of faucets, urinals or toilet flushes via their existing building management systems or directly via the Roca Dashboard and the Roca Connect app. It means we can save water by adjusting the settings. In the field of service and maintenance, malfunctions can be anticipated and rectified more efficiently using Roca Connect. Building on this platform we are also presenting three new shower toilets, in other words smart toilets that can also be controlled via the Roca Connect app.
What do you place particular emphasis on when planning your trade fair presence?
Marc Viardot: The trade fair is an excellent channel for being able to talk with people and explain complicated matters in a clear fashion. We place particular emphasis on a consistent presentation – across all channels. For this year’s trade fair stand we are working with the young architecture office Mesura from Barcelona. As it’s their very first exhibition stand their approach is more unconventional and people should be prepared for a surprise. The main thing is that they did a precise analysis of our brand history and understand where we see ourselves in the future. Our trade fair booth will reflect our DNA very consistently – from the aesthetics via the atmosphere created by Mediterranean light through to the choice of sustainable materials. We are having all CO2
emissions monitored starting with the materials used, their transport and assembly through to the travel of all our employees and not forgetting the catering in Frankfurt. And we try to keep the emissions as low as possible. Then we offset the emissions generated through certified projects of the “We are Water Foundation” and further climate protection projects. Consequently, our exhibition stand will count as being carbon neutral.
Will you also give people an idea about your vision for the bathroom of the future at the ISH? Will AI also play a role in the bathroom?
Marc Viardot: Oh absolutely. The bathroom is the room where we are most in touch with our bodies and it offers discreet opportunities for analyzing our health. In collaboration with partner companies, we are amongst other things developing health monitoring concepts that are especially interesting for our aging society. For example, a device that can be installed in a shower toilet seat and optically scans solid and liquid excretions, reporting any abnormalities. We are currently collaborating with another partner on a concept for a ceiling-mounted luminaire that activates an alarm when someone falls down in the bathroom – without this being recorded by a camera. A third concept involves smart mirrors: mirrors that monitor vital signs and can conduct detailed skin analyses. Incorporated into our IOT system Roca Connect, these can be employed both in private homes but also in all areas of healthcare. Our presentation is aimed at creating an awareness of just what is possible and working with our partners to create a demand in the market.
What role does the bathroom play as a place of inspiration and relaxation in our ever more complex world?
Marc Viardot: The bathroom is the room that we enter every morning and evening at the very least. It is the place where we look after ourselves. If the harmony between the various elements is good, then bathrooms are capable of providing inspiration and relaxation and are not merely places designed for physical hygiene. Indeed, it is crucial to find the right balance between a calm atmosphere but also practicality. I see the choice of certain materials for the individual activities and their interplay as being essential.
What challenges are you facing as a company right now?
Marc Viardot: Since we are a multinational, the global economic consequences are matters of great concern to us. Inflation and high energy prices influence strategic decisions on all levels. Ceramic production is very energy intensive, for example – sanitary ceramic is fired at 1,200 degrees centigrade and typically these kilns operate on gas, which as is generally known is sold at unequal prices over the world. On the one hand this can lead to economic distortions but on the other hand it also encourages a shift in thinking. We are pushing ahead, for example with electrification, particularly using solar energy. Moreover, the circularity principle already applied in production is also being expanded to include product lifecycles. Which brings up back to the crucial topic of sustainability and it becomes evident that every crisis also offers opportunities for tackling things more quickly and implementing new ideas more direct.
Roca @ ISH 2023
13 - 17 March 2023
Hall 3.1, Stand C69
ISH 2023 World's Leading Trade Fair for HVAC + Water
60327 Frankfurt am Main