Glass Industry Responds to Obama's Better Buildings Initiative
February 3, 2011

President Obama unveiled today a five-point "Better Buildings Initiative" intended to make commercial buildings 20-percent more energy-efficient by 2020 by catalyzing private sector investment through a series of incentives that promote energy-efficient building upgrades. Glass industry professionals were understandably optimistic following the President's remarks this afternoon at Penn State University.

During an address today at Penn State University, President Obama unveiled his Better Buildings Initiative to make commercial buildings 20-percent more energy-efficient by 2020.

"This is very encouraging news," says Chris Dolan, director of commercial glass marketing for Guardian Industries. "Retrofitting commercial buildings can be a huge source of energy-efficiency savings. Recent advances in commercial fenestration products and technology can make a significant improvement in the performance of the building envelope. With the slowdown in construction of new buildings, energy savings can be achieved by retrofitting existing buildings …"

"This is a very encouraging step," adds Dr. Thomas Culp of Birch Point Consulting LLC, energy consultant to the Aluminum Extruders Council and the Glass Association of North America (GANA). "A lot of focus and work is aimed at the energy-efficiency of new construction and, while that is important, it ignores the 72 billion square feet of existing commercial building space where huge amounts of energy are wasted. It is nice to see more attention being paid to retrofit, which will benefit both the industry and overall nation."

"The initiative is not only favorable for our industry but for overall sustainability and the reduction of carbon emissions on a broad level," agrees Don McCann, architectural design manager for Viracon. "There is a significant inventory of commercial buildings that need to be retrofitted. A recent government report states adding low-E to every window in the U.S. would reduce oil consumption by 500,000 barrels of oil a day. This equals 1/3 of the oil we import from the Persian Gulf daily."

During his speech President Obama touched on initiatives already promoting research in this direction, such as Penn State University's Energy Innovation Hub, a five-year initiative designed to improve the energy-efficiency of buildings in the United States. He commented on Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries involvement in the Hub during his speech, noting that through high-performance glass products "PPG Industries is providing walls that reflect sunlight and windows that reflect infrared. Building this campus will support jobs in all of these businesses, and the discoveries made on this campus will lead to even more jobs - jobs in engineering; jobs in manufacturing; jobs in construction; jobs in installation; jobs in retail."

"We are pleased to see President Obama and his administration re-emphasize their commitment to energy-efficient buildings, and PPG is proud to be one of five industry partners in the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Hub that he and Secretary Chu launched at Penn State today," says Mark Seeton, director of sales and marketing for PPG Industries. Seeton adds, "We contend that the construction industry and the country as a whole would benefit from even bolder incentives."

The initiative builds on last year's Building STAR bill that never got off the ground.

"GANA supported Building STAR in 2010, which embraced many of the President's goals. We will continue to advocate for energy-efficient glass as a critical component of commercial building energy-efficient retrofits," says Bill Yanek, executive vice president of GANA.

Seeton adds, "From a glass industry standpoint, for instance, we believe the Building STAR Energy Efficiency Act of 2010 didn't provide financial incentives large enough to entice building owners into retrofitting or improving the energy efficiency of their buildings. For windows, the rebate was $150 to $300 per unit, while the curtainwall rebates were $3 per square foot. A more generous credit or rebate would have induced more building owners to move forward with energy-efficiency improvements. That would have increased demand for the types of high-performance energy-efficient glasses …"

Bob Trainor, chief executive officer of Trainor Glass, agreed the initiative is "great news" for the commercial glazing and solar industries. "Growth in these sectors of the economy has been driven by innovation in building technologies," he says. "Lack of available financing made it difficult to close some of those sales. The President's new initiative should help make financing more readily available for a wider range of green initiatives, from energy efficient new construction to commercial retrofits. We are optimistic about a quicker recovery…"

"The Better Building Initiative is a positive step that should help spark a quicker recovery within the industry, as well as continuing to point it in an exciting new direction," adds Tom Trainor, president of Trainor Glass. "Tax incentives and the availability of financing will help to encourage more robust growth and jumpstart many green projects that have been put on hold until now."

To share your thoughts on this story, tweet @USGlass or e-mail mheadley@glass.com.

Need more info and analysis about the issues?
CLICK HERE to subscribe to USGlass magazine.