GPD Presenters Address Sustainable Design
June 20, 2011

GPD wrapped up today in Tampere, Finland and this evening participants are enjoying the famous annual farewell party.
Participants at Glass Performance Days (GPD) 2011, the biennial event held by Glaston Corp. in Tampere, Finland, have had to carefully pick and choose seminars from among five different tracks, many of which offered a variation of this year's theme, “Glass and Solar in Sustainable Design.”

Dr. Sergio Gaetano of Thornton Tomasetti commented on this point in his presentation, 'How to be Sustainable on Glass and Facade Engineering,’ that “choosing the right materials for the facade is a key component.”

As Gaetano noted, and other speakers pointed out, sustainability is more than materials, but other resources that make a project efficient. “I think the future [will be creating] a single file from design to production,” Gaetano commented, noting the use of building information modeling will be compulsory in the U.K. by 2016.

Mic Patterson of Enclos Corp. asked with his presentation the simple question, “Is Glass Green?” For Patterson, the problem with discussing sustainability starts at the beginning, with the ill-defined term that is often interchanged with the equally vague “green.” “We're not going to make progress until we can come to a consensus (defining sustainability),” he said. From there, Patterson answered his opening question with a no - at least when it comes to many older existing structures.

“Some estimates indicate that 70 percent of existing building stock suffers from underperforming facades,” Patterson said. He added that of the approximately 80 percent of float glass used in buildings, already half of that is largely dedicated to retrofits.

While that presents a great sense of opportunity for the innovators able to reach the end-consumer to explain the big benefits of an energy-efficient upgrade, it also presents challenges in sustainability. First, Patterson pointed out that one of the many benefits of glass is that it is “infinitely recyclable” as well as “up-cyclable,” such as when broken glass is returned to the furnace and added to the make-up of a more advanced product. Once processed, however, with coatings or perhaps an interlayer, there's no progress today in recycling those products. As window retrofits potentially continue to increase, more of those old windows are filling, for example, the 10,000 landfills in the United States. Patterson did note that some glass manufacturers are beginning cullet collection with secondary fabricators.

Secondly, Patterson pointed to adaptability as a factor of sustainability. He noted that as predominantly glass buildings came in vogue decades ago, there was no thought to putting systems in place to easily swap out those monolithic lites for a more efficient insulating unit, for example. Now, with products such as building integrated photovoltaics seeing much interest, but still struggling to reach the commercial cost-effectiveness that could bring them into the mainstream marketplace, the design industry is making the same mistakes of not retrofitting buildings with an eye toward future retrofits.

Patterson finished his presentation by noting that the many benefits that glass offers, from views to daylighting, make it an obviously sustainable product. But, he added, there could be more work done on using it in more sustainable ways. He suggested that relying on the development of increasingly sophisticated low-E coatings to achieve greater energy-efficiency could be something of a “crutch” for designers today. He suggested “a need to get back to the power of design” to improve upon the natural benefits of glass. GPD concludes today with the famous annual farewell party this evening. Stay tuned to for more updates from the conference.

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