The glass industry representatives I chatted with during the Greenbuild Conference and Expo last week in Chicago didn't express too much optimism about 2011. Most think 2011 will remain flat, looking much like 2010. However, on the green products front, glass and glazing exhibitors were more positive. Most say the green building movement continues to drive growth for energy-efficient glass products, despite the slow construction market.
Helen Sanders, vice president technical business development at Sage Electrochromics Inc., Faribault, Minn., said high-performance technologies, such as SageGlass, have strong growth opportunities in the current market. "Everyone is asking the same questions about the economy. I'm optimistic. I think for us, the news of the Saint-Gobain investment is great validation of what we're doing, and will help us going into 2011," Sanders said. "This really is the next generation of glass. You think back, the slide rule was normal 30 years ago. But technology moves so quickly. I think our kids will look at us in 30 years and say, 'static glass?' It's like the difference between a computer and a typewriter. I think in the future we'll see dynamic glass and static glass working together."
Oliver Stepe, senior vice president for YKK America AP, Austell, Ga., agrees that green products offer growth opportunities even in the current market. "We're forecasting growth for YKK in 2011, as we focus on our energy products," he said.
Glass industry companies are pushing development of green products, and the industry brought a range of green products to the show floor last week (see the photo galleries and videos for more information). Sun shades and light shelves continued to be big, with several companies coming out with systems to address maintenance concerns. All of the framing and glass suppliers were touting ever improving performance values with their new systems (thermal barriers are a must with the framing folks, and increasingly advanced coatings for glass). Viracon, Owatonna, Minn., for example, has come out with a new line of solar control laminated glass products, said Garret Henson director of sales, North America. Additionally, the company plans to introduce a new low-emissivity coating in Spring 2011 "designed to achieve a solar heat gain coefficient of .25 or better," he said.
Suspended film technologies also were quite prevalent at this year's show, with Serious Materials, Sunnyvale, Calif., promoting the insulating glass units with suspended coated film used in the Empire State Building retrofit, and Southwall Technologies, Palo Alto, Calif., announcing its partnership with Dow Corning to develop suspended film IGUs for commercial applications.
This green product development is critical to the success of the industry once the construction market emerges from its slump, Stepe said. "In my view, the industry is a new world now. It's not the same industry as it was before the recession. When things pick up, it's not going to be, how can we keep doing what we used to do, it's how can we evolve. It's a totally different landscape," he said.
--By Katy Devlin, associate editor