Editor's Notes | The Battle for the Wall is a Battle of Words

Katy Devlin
May 23, 2019

New York City skyline

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made waves in April when he announced plans to limit use of glass in buildings as part of the city’s Green New Deal. “We are going to introduce legislation to ban the glass and steel skyscrapers that have contributed so much to global warming. They have no place in our city or on our Earth anymore,” de Blasio said. 

Initial media reports were jarring. “NYC’s ‘Green New Deal’ to ban glass, steel skyscrapers,” said Construction Dive. “NYC mayor wants to ban new glass skyscrapers to cut emissions,” according to New York’s local PIX 11 news station. 

However, neither de Blasio’s opening remarks on the topic, nor the initial headlines, tell the full story. The proposal would limit “all-glass high-rise construction until it meets the absolute highest energy efficiency standards,” said Dan Zarrilli, de Blasio’s chief climate policy advisor and the OneNYC director. Glass-clad buildings are allowed, so long as they meet the tightening requirements.

The glass industry has the solutions to meet such requirements. However, the mayor’s anti-glass rhetoric, and the overly-simplistic labeling of glass as a poor energy performer, is harmful to a glass industry that has spent the last decade fighting the “Battle for the Wall”—the industry’s pushback against proposals to limit the use of glass in buildings.  

“De Blasio’s blunt rhetoric—and the headlines—are definitely a threat to highly glazed buildings,” says Tom Culp, NGA energy code consultant and owner of Birch Point Consulting.

De Blasio’s concerns should be focused on “highly glazed buildings with poor windows” along with the value engineering that eliminates high-performance façade products from a project to save money, Culp says.

“A highly glazed building with high-performance fenestration is a good thing,” Culp says. “The building can still show energy equivalence and offer other significant benefits that have been demonstrated in many studies such as increased occupant health, increased productivity, increased student learning in school settings, increased health recovery and decreased health costs in hospital settings and increased real estate values. Daylighting and views are critical to high-performance green buildings, and can help achieve sustainability and climate goals with good high-performance fenestration.”

The glass industry must fight back against anti-glass rhetoric before other mayors in other jurisdictions make the same assumptions and issue similar proposals. And glass companies must continue to demonstrate how glass is essential to meeting building performance goals and to creating healthy spaces for occupants.  

Demands for high-performance buildings are not going away. They shouldn’t be seen as a threat to the industry, but as opportunities to bring highest performing glass and glazing solutions into the built environment. This includes new construction in addition to the vast existing building stock. 

What can our industry do to ensure that glass is part of the solution—that the next mayor to introduce a Green New Deal points to the glass industry as a key partner in its success?  

Katy Devlin is editor for Glass Magazine. E-mail Katy at kdevlin@glass.org.