Volume 43, Issue 7 - July 2008

Issue @ Hand 

Energizing the Industry
by Debra Levy

The architectural glass industry has been under attack from a variety of quarters recently. Most of these attacks revolve around energy issues. Some of them we can fix and others we will have to counter. While this industry has born a lot on its shoulders over the years, it has never had a target on its back the way it does now.

Just last month, the New York Times published an article called “Starting to Think Outside the Jar” in which the author lumped together all types of glass as being energy-inefficient. “Consider,” the article said, “industrial glass used to make windows in houses and cars, containers, screens for computers … and a hybrid of other products. Glassmaking is based on old, stable technologies that require lots of materials and energy.”

The article quotes Michael Greenman, executive director of the Glass Manufacturing Industry Council (GMIC), a group that the article identifies as “a trade group that represents the country’s major players.” Greenman is quoted as saying: “Glassmakers … until recently usually shunned technological advances because savings in materials and energy didn’t justify the costs of introducing new designs and processes.”

Nonsense, in my opinion. There are few industries in the building trades that have been as proactive in energy-efficient new product development as the glass industry. The introduction of insulating glass, reflective glass and low-emissivity glass, just to name a few, were all developed to reduce energy consumption. What the article doesn’t tell you is that a goodly number of major players, such as Saint Gobain, Pilkington and its parent Nippon Sheet Glass, Cardinal and Guardian Industries are not members of GMIC. It also doesn’t tell you that GMIC is an amalgamation of many types of glass manufacturers including container glass and fiberglass. I am not quite sure for whom it speaks.

Float glassmakers have always been the construction industry’s whipping boy. And, like a good whipping boy, they’ve just winced and taken it. Glass is one of the few materials that actually provides an alternative to energy usage. Can you imagine a world without glass? How much would it cost us to light the interior of buildings in the daytime as well as nighttime?

Critics always say that it cost more to cool an interior down than it does to light it. But the use of the newer glasses, shading and window treatments can come close to negating that differences. And the next generation of solar and energy glasses will harness the sun’s energy itself. Let’s see concrete or wood do the same.

The real shame is that our industry is doing a very poor job of avoiding and countering such misperceptions. It’s also a shame that we’ve done nothing to extricate ourselves from being lumped into the energy dumpster with fiberglass, container glass and other types of glasses. And it’s sad that we have to fight inane approaches like those currently promulgated by the National Fenestration Rating Council. Today, more than ever before, we need to get the real story heard and understood.

It is not without irony that I mention editor Megan Headley’s landmark report on the coming surge in photovoltaic glass, beginning on page 42. In the next few months you’ll see a lot of coverage of the next generation of energy-efficient glasses. It’s another example of what the industry IS doing to create energy-efficient products. If our industry doesn’t sing its own praises, surely no one else will.

—Debra Levy 

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