The global pandemic has made us pause, especially in the past year, and given us time to reflect on how we live, work, communicate, travel, consume, build and shape our world. Above all, to reflect on our necessary action in the climate crisis, which, according to scientific consensus, represents a clear threat to the entire biosphere and thus the greatest challenge of the coming decades.
This is clearly illustrated by the “Keeling curve”, which graphically depicts the daily atmospheric carbon dioxide content of the Earth’s atmosphere measured at the Hawaiian volcano Mauna Loa since 1958. Over the last 800,000 years, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has never exceeded an approximate level of 300 ppm (parts per million). A conspicuous rise in the curve has been documented since the 1960s, and it has been climbing ever steeper ever since. In May 2021, the peak level was already around 418 ppm – despite the fact that the world was temporarily decelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The higher the value, the greater the global warming – that is the scientific consensus. All global efforts to date in the field of renewable energies have so far failed to flatten the Keeling curve. We are too hesitant: for the consistent conversion of energy and heat generation via renewable energies, the rate of expansion would have to be multiplied worldwide.
Climate extremes are occurring worldwide at ever shorter intervals, be it sweltering heat or massive flooding – so-called “floods of the century” or “summers of the century” with prolonged periods of drought are occurring far more frequently than the striking designation would lead one to believe. If humankind does not succeed in limiting CO₂ emissions to the targets agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement by 2030, global warming of 1.5°C or even 2°C will be exceeded in the current century. Whereas the “climate layperson” shrugs his shoulders and associates 2 degrees of global warming with the prospect of pleasant weather, informed people know that weather is not the same as climate. Warming of around 1.2° Celsius, for example, is likely to make coral reefs a thing of the past. With a global average warming of 2° Celsius, we will lose the Greenland ice sheet in the foreseeable future, which will then raise the global sea level immensely. In any event, the ice sheet is already melting much faster than expected. Due to the shrinking ice sheet, less solar energy is reflected, which leads to additional warming feedbacks.
The Arctic region has already heated up by a catastrophic 3.5° Celsius compared to pre-industrial times. If we lose the ice sheet, coastlines worldwide will migrate inland and millions of people will become climate refugees. All over the world, land situated along coasts or rivers will turn out to be an expensive bad investment. Jakarta, Mumbai, Shanghai, Durban, New York, Sydney, Hamburg – will be flooded, and small island states like the Maldives or the Bahamas long before that. Research also assumes that in the complex global climate system, changes in the framework conditions will also cause reactions of the entire system and so-called “tipping points” will exacerbate the situation. In addition to the loss of the Arctic Sea ice, these are, for example, the loss of permafrost and tundra, the death of boreal forests and the Amazon rainforest, the increasing instability of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and the weakening of the Gulf Stream.
Politics and industry must act now
The goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, which are relevant under international law, have been ratified by 195 parties and are by no means meant to be symbolic or merely a “nice to have”. They are not a utopian “vision of the future” or an idealistic idea of the future of the planet – but essential for a halfway intact biosphere and thus also for human civilisation. Many scientific studies already consider it unlikely that a warming of only 1.5° Celsius can still be sustained, and even limiting it to 2° Celsius already seems ambitious. CO₂ emissions would have to be reduced to pre-industrial levels and a way would have to be found to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and bind them in CO₂ sinks. To achieve this, it would be imperative to restore natural landscapes such as moors and forests with high biodiversity worldwide. It is imperative to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible and to massively expand renewable alternatives. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, tweeted on 18 September 2021 that the NDC Synthesis Report 2021 currently forecasts a global temperature increase of 2.7° Celsius – and that this will happen by the end of the century if the industrialised countries in particular do not at least double their efforts to protect the climate. To put this in perspective: With a global warming of this calibre, we would be living in a climate that last prevailed about 3 million years ago, i.e. in the Pliocene – a time when the species “Homo” did not even exist and the planet had not yet experienced an ice age.
Perhaps the toughest change is in store for the construction industry, because according to the UN Environment Programme’s report “2020 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction – Towards a zero-emissions, efficient and resilient buildings and construction sector” (16.12.2020), the greenhouse gas emissions of the construction sector are at a record level worldwide – this sector is responsible for around 39 percent of global CO₂ emissions. This fact is both frightening and hopeful, because it means that the potential for improvement must be considerable and that massive changes would have strong effects. However, if construction continues at the same energy-intensive pace and with non-sustainable building materials as before, the goals set will become unattainable. Due to global population growth, sealed surfaces are expanding rapidly, and at the same time, unfortunately, the hunger for energy continues to grow. The industry is therefore challenged to develop climate-neutral or climate-positive, sustainable building products. Politicians must set the right course to ensure that these products are consistently used: create market incentives, subsidise climate-positive and climate-neutral products, ban ecologically harmful products, tighten building regulations, create standards for calculating climate damage.
Buildings must not only be energy-efficient, the products used must also conserve resources, be produced, transported and installed in a material-efficient manner and with the lowest possible CO₂ emissions. Products must be planned in digitalised processes in such a way that they enter into cycles with the originator and the components are recycled many times over. The inter-changeability of components in buildings must be given greater consideration in architectural planning so that years later, obsolete products can be easily replaced with new developments. The real challenge, however, will be to act quickly, because time is slipping through our fingers.
Industries must become drivers of sustainability
The glass industry is inherently energy-intensive, because glass production consumes raw materials and requires a great deal of energy to produce the molten glass. Float glass plants around the world are heated with fossil fuels – at AGC Glass Europe, natural gas is used almost exclusively, as more CO₂ emitting heavy fuel has been gradually removed. Energy is also needed to extract the necessary raw materials. Many of the basic ingredients in the melt are natural but have to be mined and transported, and the synthetic soda ash used among natural soda ash is produced by a chemical reaction between sodium chloride (salt) and limestone and this requires a considerable amount of energy. AGC is already continuously increasing the proportion of cullet in the melt – which saves a lot of energy and raw materials. But a real milestone would be to substantially decrease the part of fossil fuels used to operate the furnaces. The group already devotes 50 per cent of its R&D budget to researching sustainable products and solutions that will make the company’s ecological footprint climate-positive in the future.
AGC also assesses the sustainability of its large product range with a holistic approach based on three pillars: EPDs and life cycle assessments, the company’s carbon footprint and Cradle to Cradle for environmental certification of almost all products.
1 EPDs and life cycle assessments provide evidence to make each new product more sustainable and to optimise the existing portfolio. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is an internationally recognised (ISO 14040 & ISO 14044 standards) and scientific tool for quantifying the environmental performance attributable to the different life phases of products, including upstream phases. Operational efficiency is continuously mapped, product designs are optimised and environmental transparency is created. The aim is to assess the potential impact of each product – based on all inputs and outputs that occur during production and subsequent use. This includes all upstream or downstream processes, such as the supply chain, packaging transport and more. AGC is actively involved in the life cycle assessment of European float glass and magnetron-coated glass as part of the Glass for Europe association.
The Group is also involved in LCA for insulating and laminated glass under the programme of the French trade association for the flat glass industry (Chambre Syndicale des Fabricants de Verre Plat) and in the ongoing work of Vakgroep GLAS, Bouwend Nederland, which aims to introduce industry-wide EPDs. The AGC EPD programme is part of the integrated approach: a life cycle assessment (LCA) is established for each product in order to continuously improve the corresponding EPDs, monitor the Cradle-to-Cradle policy, evaluate the impact of all materials used and quantify all environmental impacts as accurately as possible. The value chain and resource efficiency are also under constant scrutiny. To minimise air pollution, AGC equips its float plants with DeNOX and DeSOX systems to reduce pollutants. All AGC EPDs are independently verified externally.
In the wake of climate change, the most important environmental indicators that need to be monitored in glass production are greenhouse gas production, primary energy consumption and NOX and SOX-related air pollution. Above a certain temperature during glass melting, oxygen and nitrogen in the air react spontaneously to form NOX. This is the main source of acidifying substances. SOX emissions also contribute to this indicator, but are declining sharply, as they were mainly from the use of heavy fuel oil, which has now almost completely disappeared from AGC’s plants. Other emissions come from sulphate-containing raw materials.
The result of the life cycle assessment of each product provides important and necessary information for the sustainability certification of buildings and allows to continuously optimise the environmental impact in the production phase. EPDs offer planners and architects the possibility to identify and evaluate the environmental impact of building materials, products and building systems. Under various green building programmes, such as LEED and BREEAM, points can be earned by using products with EPDs (or related information) in the design and construction of buildings. The regulatory framework is also driving the development of building-level LCA for upcoming projects. In this case, the whole building is assessed, taking into account the production and deconstruction phases in addition to the use phase, which has already been covered by the energy performance of buildings. Here, too, the EPD system is a way of providing scientifically sound, verified and comparable environmental information. An EPD is thus a comprehensive and concise disclosure of a product’s environmental impact based on the results of a full life cycle assessment. EPDs follow international standards, including ISO 14044 and ISO 14025, and EN 15804 sets out the basic rules for preparing environmental product declarations for construction products and materials. AGC Glass Europe’s EPD journey began in 2009 with the publication of the first EPD for float glass. Today, almost all AGC products are covered by EPDs.
2 The calculation of AGC Glass Europe’s carbon footprint helps to identify all greenhouse gas emissions generated by the company: all direct and indirect emissions, emissions from electricity generation, from upstream and down-stream activities along the value chain, such as glass transportation, emissions from resource extraction, etc. AGC’s first carbon footprint calculation was carried out in 2009 and has been repeated at least every three years since then. Taking these aspects into account, AGC Glass Europe is responsible (directly and indirectly) for 3,900,000 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent per year (reference year 2019).
In addition to the impact of production, many products in AGC Glass Europe’s portfolio also have a positive impact in the use phase by reducing the energy demand of buildings and therefore CO₂ emissions. These include, for example, the high-performance double and triple glazing used in residential and commercial buildings worldwide. Depending on the geographical region, they help to reduce the heating and air-conditioning requirements of buildings – CO₂ emissions are thus significantly reduced. For use on car windscreens, AGC developed the so-called “IRIS coating”, which blocks much of the sun’s heat and thus reduces the need for cooling. Other coatings increase the energy efficiency of commercial refrigerators and freezers. Last but not least, AGC produces glass for building-integrated photovoltaics, solar mirrors and much more – the glass is thus also used to generate sustainable energy.
Various methods have been used to calculate the energy savings achieved by the building’s glazing and thus the avoided CO₂ emissions, e.g. The “GHG Protocol for Project Accounting, ISO 14064-2 Greenhouse gases – Part 2: Specification with guidance at the project level for quantification, monitoring and reporting of greenhouse gas emission reductions or removal enhancements” and “METI Guidelines for Quantifying GHG emission reductions of goods or services through Global Value Chain”. In the case of glazing, for example, the avoided emissions are calculated as the savings from advanced low-E coatings compared to conventional double or single glazing over a 30-year lifetime. The calculations are carried out using the scientific total energy simulation software “Energy Plus”. This software performs a dynamic simulation with adjustable time steps based on outdoor temperature, solar radiation and wind effects. A wide range of variables and also the influencing factors in the different climate zones are taken into account. For all products manufactured by AGC Glass Europe in 2019, it has been calculated that the amount of CO₂ avoided for heating and cooling buildings is approximately 23,300,000 tonnes. In addition, about 9,200,000 tonnes of CO₂ are saved for artificial lighting, because incident daylight means that electric lighting does not have to be switched on until later. In total, therefore, the savings amount to about 32,500,000 tonnes of CO₂. It follows from this: for every tonne of CO₂ emitted by AGC Glass Europe’s activities, more than 8 tonnes of CO₂ are avoided through the use of its products.
3 Cradle to Cradle – only holistic is sustainable: back in 2010, AGC became the first European glass manufacturer to receive Cradle to Cradle certification for float glass and magnetron-coated glass. The certification assesses the sustainability of a product over its entire life cycle and expands the definition of good product design to include positive impacts on economic, environmental and social health. To be certified, a product must meet strict requirements in the categories of material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water management and social fairness. Eight AGC product families now hold C2C certification: float glass, magnetron-coated glass, decorative glass, solar mirror, laminated glass, insulating glass, patterned glass and fire-resistant glass. The certification of insulating glass products was complex because the complexity of the product (e.g. spacers, sealants, etc.) means that there are many more variables than in glass products with a lower level of manufacturing. AGC is the first glass manufacturer in the world to successfully go through this process for insulating glass units, which involves dozens of suppliers and 40 AGC plants involved in the manufacturing process. Under the certification programme, a product receives a Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum performance level in each category, with the lowest performance level always representing the final score. Each C2C certification is linked to a scorecard. This shows in detail how a product has performed in the different assessment categories. Under version 3 of C2C, AGC achieved Bronze level for float glass, insulating glass and solar mirrors, and Silver level for magnetron-coated glass, patterned glass, laminated glass, and fire-resistant glass. The product range for decorative glass was certified with silver and bronze.
AGC Glass Europe: Targets for 2030
In recent years, AGC has already made important progress in the development of new insulating glazing, e.g., the vacuum insulating glass “Fineo”. The energy performance of thermal and solar control coatings has also been continuously improved. Multimodal transport by ship or rail is increasingly replacing road transport and the reuse of glass packaging has been improved. For general cargo shipments, AGC now only uses sustainable wood for packaging. Atmospheric emissions and energy consumption have already been significantly reduced.
In 2020, AGC achieved…
- 40,300 tonnes of finished glass products transported in multimodal traffic
- 1 million tonnes of glass recycled
- 69 per cent less water consumed than at the beginning of the observation period (1998)
- 56 per cent of all raw materials transported by ship, barge or train
- 11 per cent less CO₂ emitted (compared to 2002)
- 97% of solid waste recycled
- 98% of packaging reused in Belgium
- 61% less specific dust emissions caused (comparative value 1999)
For the current decade until 2030, AGC has defined six over-arching targets – the baseline is 2020:
These targets address the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, water use and waste, and drive the development of new products with better environmental performance throughout their life cycle, including end-of-life recycling.
- Improve the energy efficiency of all production processes and downstream activities
- Reduce the environmental impact of all production processes
- Certified environmental management systems
- Improving green procurement
- Focus on multimodal transport
- Development and optimisation of products that save energy and contribute to sustainable development, such as functional coatings and photovoltaic products
- Research, trials and projects aimed at massively expanding recycling at the end of a product’s life and creating real life cycles
- Substitution of hazardous substances in processes and products beyond the legal requirements
- Ensuring compliance with the REACH regulation and other regulations on chemical substances
AGC sees certified environmental management systems (EMS) in all plants as essential to achieve the internationally relevant goals of its environmental policy. However, this is not only about compliance with environmental regulations, but also about a general attitude and the perception of social responsibility by using the company’s innovative power to develop innovative building products that counteract manmade climate change. The glass industry must contribute to reducing CO2 emissions, especially finding solutions to reduce direct emissions in the process of glass melting and raw material production. At AGC, too, the largest share of direct CO2 emissions comes from melting activities. About 75 percent of the CO2 emissions from the melting furnaces are energy-related, while the remaining 25 percent are caused by the decomposition of raw materials. AGC has a target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% from 2020 to 2030.
This article was originally published in IGS Magazines Winter 2021 Issue: Read the full Magazine here for more thought-leadership from those spearheading the industry
Marc studied humanities at the Technical University of Braunschweig (Germany) with a focus on the psychological and sociological contexts of internet-based communication. After a total of 14 years in PR agencies, he was Head of Marketing Communications in the glass industry for 6 years before starting his own business in spring 2021. With a clear focus on sustainability topics, he now supports companies and architects in matters of strategy, communication, networking and events with his agency “Marc Everling Sustainable Communication”.