Glass Can Save the World
The tag line for the National Glass Association’s International Year of Glass activities boasts a bold claim: glass can save the world. While the sentiment may seem audacious, it’s also true.
Glass is central to the way people communicate. Consider the ultra-thin glass touch screens on our mobile devices or the glass fiber optic cables that allow for near-instantaneous connection and collaboration across the globe. Glass has revolutionized science and medicine. Chemically resistant glass vials are used to safely store and deliver life-saving medications and vaccines. Through its optical properties, glass is opening a window to understanding the cosmos. The highly reflective mirrors on the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope can withstand the frigid temperatures and harsh environment of space, while tracking the history of the universe. And, perhaps most relevant to the world’s pressing climate concerns, glass is essential in building a sustainable future. It makes solar energy generation possible; it is recyclable; it is necessary in achieving net-zero performance in buildings.
It is for these reasons, among many others, that the United Nations declared 2022 the International Year of Glass, known as IYOG 2022. The year will celebrate how glass can “aid the development of more just and sustainable societies” and recognize “the most recent scientific and technical breakthroughs,” according to IYOG organizers. “With its unparalleled versatility and technical capabilities, glass in its many guises has fostered innumerable cultural and scientific advancements,” they say.
Arguably, the largest “world-saving” intervention of glass comes from its role in combatting climate change. Glass has a major role in the “big picture strategy” in reducing carbon emissions of buildings, according to building scientist and window expert Stephen Selkowitz, who spoke during the NGA Glass Conference: Long Beach, held in January. Selkowitz is principal, Stephen Selkowitz Consultants, and affiliate for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he served as senior advisor for Building Science and group leader for the Windows and Envelope Materials Group in the Building Technology and Urban Systems Division.
Buildings account for about 40 percent of total worldwide carbon emissions, between building operations and emissions related to building materials and construction, according to estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. When embodied carbon is also taken into consideration, the building sector’s emissions increase to closer to half of total emissions, says Selkowitz.
“This is a crisis. We have major carbon and energy challenges … and buildings are about 50 percent of the problem,” Selkowitz says. “If we want to solve the big picture global problems, buildings have to be a part of the solution … and if we are going to come up with better buildings, we need better windows.”
Selkowitz continues, “yes, glass can save the world. But how do we do it?”
The April issue of Glass Magazine takes a closer look at this question: how can glass save the world? The Architects’ Guide, “The High-performance Façade Equation” addresses the wide range of factors affecting the performance of glass facades. It covers the issues of thermal bridging and daylighting, and spotlights advancements in next-generation, high-performance insulating glass. Additionally, the “Flat Glass Recycling” feature offers insights on the sustainability and manufacturing efficiency opportunities in glass recycling.
For additional information on IYOG 2022, visit glass.org/IYOG.