Reflections on Sustainability

Recently, AAMA formed a Sustainability Steering Committee of which I’m privileged to serve as co-chair. I find myself thinking about the development of my interest in sustainability over the years and of the milestones along that path.

When I was a kid, we saved and used up everything that we could. Not because we believed in sustainability … or even knew what it meant, but when times are tight you make the most of everything you have. Waste not, want not. I remember helping my parents cut the wood that heated our home and tend the huge garden that supplied our vegetables.

As I grew older, issues like Zero Population Growth and Earth Day became part of the general vocabulary. In the early 1980s I joined the glazing industry, following in my father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, grappling to foresee a future where environment and development are inextricably connected. A 1987 report titled Our Common Future created the universally accepted definition for sustainable development. It encouraged the idea that the environment and development be considered a single issue, which is comprehensively measured via ecology, culture, politics and economics.

When I got involved in AAMA in 1990, early versions of low-E glass were beginning to take significant market share. Life cycle assessments (LCA), which quantify the green and cleaner aspects of a product’s life cycle and inform their improvement process, began to take off as the ‘90s progressed. I have attained a new level of “geekiness,” or, as my sister calls me, “nerdvana,” since I spend so much time working on these issues through my associations with AAMA and GANA.

In the early 2000s, I began looking for my next career adventure. I wasn’t really clear on exactly what I wanted to do, but knew it had to involve energy-efficient, sustainable buildings and communities. I wanted to participate more in the global industry, in innovation and collaboration that could have a real impact. I wanted to work in a company with sustainability as part of its core principles, not just window dressing. In 2004, I found Technoform whose people, core values, and technologies were a perfect fit, and continue to be so today.

The complex and rapidly evolving challenges of sustainability sometimes seem like eating a soup sandwich. The overused buzz words “sustainability” and “high-performance” have blurred meanings … hollow claims akin to green-washing. Part of the task ahead is to develop common definitions for these critical terms.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007) defines a high-performance building as one that integrates and optimizes all major performance attributes on a life cycle basis. A high-performance green building outperforms similar buildings in a life cycle comparison, according to eight primary criteria groupings (Mic Patterson, Enclos, 2014 Building Enclosure Council conference). Quantification of the green attributes of glazing products – which will allow better understanding of their contribution to green, high-performance buildings – is one of the challenges to be addressed by our new AAMA Sustainability Steering committee.

I have been fascinated recently by McKinsey Global Institute’s (MGI) app named Urban World. It tracks how, “the growth of cities in emerging markets is driving the most significant economic transformation in history.” The resource requirements to support this mass urbanization will have a powerful effect on reshaping businesses, industries and countries. How will the world of my grandchildren be changed, and what can we do about it in our lifetimes? Will we react to changes (some too late) or anticipate and drive them forward via innovation and collaboration?

…which brings me back to sustainability. My journey seems to be repeated cycles of searching, learning and confusion. Sometimes, it seems a bit frustrating as well. But a close friend of mine says that if we’re confused on a higher level about more important things, that’s good.

At my oldest daughter’s wedding, my toast to the newlyweds included the fact that I was proud of her and her husband because they walked lightly upon the earth. Like wise hunters or stewards of the forest, they only took what they needed and no more. Like good campers, they left nature a bit better than they found it.

Together, let’s leave a legacy that our descendants can thrive in, and we can be proud of.

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