Glass & the Sustainability Equation

Nick Shore, NSG Group

40% of all the energy consumed in the EU is used in buildings. All this power, heating and cooling in turn accounts for a whopping 36% of total CO2 emissions across member states. This represents just the tip of the iceberg as part of a much broader global issue that we need to address.

Changing the way we generate energy is of course part of the answer; and in a future blog post we’ll look at the untapped potential of solar power. But a smarter move is simply to use less energy in the first place. And buildings are great places to start in making this happen.

How? By changing the way we think about energy, placing it at the heart of building design and construction, rather than the afterthought it can all too often be today. This entails looking at the very fabric of the buildings we are designing in a new light, and this is where it gets exciting.

Clever architectural design matched with innovative construction materials means it’s often possible to eliminate the need for energy hungry – not to mention increasingly expensive – heating and cooling technologies. Let’s look at the role of glass as just one example.

Pilkington Eclipse Advantage (with a blue tint) in action in the Al Fardan Towers, Doha

Take the Middle East for instance. With average highs of 35°C in countries such as Saudi Arabia, it’s impressive the region’s skyscrapers, glistening with all that glass, aren’t more like greenhouses than office blocks. In the past, keeping these buildings cool meant packing them with environmentally and financially costly air conditioning systems. Advances in glass technology, driven by R&D teams like ours at NSG, mean that coated, body-tinted and laminated glass ranges can now filter out the worst of the sun’s radiant heat. Using solar control glass in this way can also help control glare, which can be just as much of an annoyance as being too hot.

Of course, keeping buildings cool is not such a concern for architects working in colder climes. Here, ultra thin double-glazing, innovative triple-glazing and other insulating coated glass units are revolutionising the way buildings are constructed. Special thermal ranges like Pilkington Optitherm™ allow architects to design buildings that maximise the precious natural light and solar heat available, without letting heat escape. This is possible because the heat coming in and getting out are at different wavelengths, so we can design glass compositions and coatings that selectively pass or block one category and not the other.

Likewise, vacuum glazing options such as Pilkington Spacia™ mean that even the oldest period properties can be brought up to standard. The extremely thin glazing units provide great thermal insulation, but can still be fitted in old-fashioned window frames, maintaining the original appearance of traditional buildings. This is a key part of the mix, especially given the number of leaky old buildings dotted across Europe.

Products like Pilkington Spacia can be retrofitted to period properties, like this museum in Amsterdam

Yet it’s temperate regions in which the biggest challenge arguably lies. Countries with hot summers and cold winters cannot rely simply on solar control or insulating glass to reduce energy consumption. Huge strides forward in the glass industry have given architects unprecedented options for improved energy efficiency in buildings in these climates. Products like Pilkington Eclipse™ Advantage combine low emissivity with solar control properties; helping keep a building comfortable, and energy bills lower, all year round.

So glass can do far more than just keep the wind and rain out. It can drastically reduce CO2 emissions and monthly energy bills too and it pays to remember this when sitting down at the drawing board. We won’t be able to make all our building stock zero-carbon simply by changing the way we specify glass. But it’s certainly an important and smart place to start. What matters is that you don’t stop there.

Nick Shore is Sustainability Director for the NSG Group’s Building Products division. His remit is the creation and implementation of sustainability strategy to ensure it remains a core value at the heart of what the NSG Group does. The NSG Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of glass and glazing systems in three major business areas; Building Products, Automotive and Specialty Glass.

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