Last week’s Fenestration and Glazing Industry Alliance Virtual Summer Conference was a refreshing return to business as usual, albeit still in a virtual format. For the first time since March 2020, COVID didn’t overshadow every conversation. In fact, I can recollect few sessions in which participants discussed COVID even in passing, let alone based content around the impacts of the pandemic.
Instead, the conference provided a detailed look at what’s happening and what’s to come in the fenestration and glazing space.
1. Green is saturating the industry
Sustainable and green building practices have been more than a trend for some time now. Last week’s conference focused heavily on green building and our industry’s critical role in it. Green is not only expected today, but it appears as though it will be required in the foreseeable future.
Codes across the U.S. and Canada are moving to stricter and stricter efficiency standards. New York City, for example, is enacting stricter codes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also has Local Law 48, which, in part, adds thermal performance requirements for energy modeling of buildings. Meanwhile, Denver is making moves to advance the 2019 Denver Green Code, which is written to provide minimum requirements for the siting, design, construction and plan for operation of high-performance green buildings.
Keep an eye out for Canada’s 2020 National Building Code, which likely will emphasize energy performance, to be published by the end of this year.
The regulatory report similarly emphasized sustainability. Kathy Krafka-Harkema, FGIA’s U.S. codes and regulatory affairs manager, explained that several executive orders President Biden signed relate to climate change. EO 14027, for example, ensures climate change is integrated into all elements of the U.S. foreign policy-making decision processes while EO 14030 requires the federal government to develop a government-wide strategy on financial risk to federal programs related to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050. That executive order also limits the global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5 C.
2. Daylighting is a huge conversation, and for good reason
Lisa Heschong delivered a terrific presentation about daylighting, how and why humans need it for physiological and cognitive function and windows’ crucial role in this. “Humans,” she said, “are inherently visual animals. A large part of the human brain is devoted to visual processing. Seeing is believing and how we construct our understanding.”
Heschong explained the cell in human retinas are the most energy intensive tissues in the body and are especially sensitive to blue light, most often produced by digital screens. Because the cells are directly connected to the brain, they have the capacity to impact nearly every aspect of human health. Light at the eye affects alertness, sleep quality, mood, emotional resilience, learning, memory and metabolic health, among others, she explained.
Americans spend about 95 percent of our lives indoors. “We are in indoor species,” Heschong said. “So we need healthy buildings that support our physiological needs. Codes and voluntary standards are beginning to recognize this more. Circadian lighting doesn’t compare. Sitting next to a window is superior.”
She also said people are often unconscious of glancing out a window, but will do so for about 50 percent of the time they are working if given the opportunity. That action, she continued, results in larger working memory and long-term memory consolidation. “This is supportive of cognitive function. Architects know this. Great architecture celebrates the view.”
3. Companies need to continue work on internal operations
Firms will need to fill 4.1 million manufacturing jobs in the next eight years, putting manufacturers at risk of $1 trillion worth of output if they are not filled, said Julia Asoni, senior director, student engagement for the Manufacturing Institute. Right now, there are 851,000 manufacturing jobs open, she said.
Asoni encouraged companies to participate in MFG Day, a national initiative the first Friday of every October, that aims to engage the students and the public about modern manufacturing careers and the opportunities they afford. “MFG Day empowers manufacturers to come together to address collective challenges to help communities and future generations thrive,” she said. “The industry isn’t dark, dirty and dangerous. It can include high pay and exposure to cutting-edge technology innovations.”
Asoni cited a study by Harvard University that found the highest correlation with skilled labor and STEM positions leaving high school is based on a student’s interest when entering high school. Because of those findings, Asoni emphasized the importance of targeting middle schoolers and their parents so they gain an understanding and excitement for manufacturing as they are entering high school. “We must increase awareness and change misconceptions of manufacturing among the emerging and existing workforce,” she said.
Safety is another area companies need to constantly evaluate. Brad Baptiste, regional Voluntary Protection Program manager for OSHA Region VIII, shared how OSHA’s VPP program builds continuous improvement into it, which leads to long-term performance improvement and excellence. Although the VPP program is U.S. only, he said Canada’s safety equivalent is the Certificate of Recognition, which is administered by each province.
4. The vinyl industry should tell its green story
Domenic DeCaria, technical director at the Vinyl Institute, described the vinyl industry as resilient, but predicted its resilience may be put to the test when it comes to regulatory issues. The industry produced 11.1 billion pounds in 2020, about 5.7 percent higher than in 2019. Windows and doors accounted for 7 percent of that market. Market demand for PVC remains very strong, DeCaria said.
DeCaria touted vinyl’s sustainable attributes, including its recyclability. More than 1 billion pounds of PVC are recycled each year, he said. He also spoke about vinyl’s low carbon profile and the Vinyl Sustainability Council’s goal to increase post-consumer recycling by 10 percent over 2016 amounts by 2025.
DeCaria also encouraged the vinyl industry to accelerate environmental product declarations. “The time is yesterday for EPDs,” he said. He encouraged the industry to start by creating a digital EPD, which will save time and money and plug them into programs already using digital EPDs.
The vinyl forum meeting also discussed lifecycle assessments, which is gaining some traction from companies interested in participating. “There is more pressure from outside groups to get this done and have data available to compare vinyl to other materials,” said Kevin Seiling, vice president of engineering and new product development, Veka Inc., and council first vice president. “Many require EPDs; there’s no way around it.”