The Glass Performance Days Conference officially kicked off in Tampere, Finland today with industry experts from around the world gathering to discuss new ideas and challenges in the future.

The following is the latest report from the Guardian’s Earnest Thompson about his take on the first of the conference’s three days:

“Glass is too sexy to be lumped with timber,” said one speaker from deep in the heart of timber country in heavily forested Finland.

And with that began a three-day glass industry discussion of how glass must combine incremental product development with step-change innovation to remain a façade building material of choice.  The discussion is a cornerstone of the 2013 edition of the conference, which kicked off today with morning keynote speeches from Guardian, Viracon, DuPont and Dow Corning before following with an afternoon filled with parallel technical sessions.

GPD program chairman, Jorma Vitkala, joined with the mayor of Tampere to welcome nearly 400 attendees to the opening Ceremonies. They teamed to chronicle the history of GPD since it was established in 1992 and the many attractions of the city and region.  But it was the glass industry speakers who seemed to light a fire among the audience.

Guardian Flat Glass Group president Scott Thomsen built on his recent speech at this year’s GANA Building Envelope Conference (BEC) to bring his “Battle for the Wall” concept to an international audience.  He called for “step change innovation” in glass and challenged attendees to focus on projects that “create value at each step in the value chain.”  Viracon CEO Kelly Schuller echoed concerns about attacks on window-to-wall ratios (WWR) and asserted that there are significant benefits in existing technologies that have yet to be widely implemented.  “Glass is under threat from voices that do not fully understand glass,” he said, adding that it’s the industry’s job to educate and inform.

Thomsen talk about “clock speeds” of innovation within various industries, contrasting the developments within glass to the pace of recent change inside telecommunications, particularly the phone set.  “Both of these industries have been pretty staid for a long time, but, since around 1980, telephones have just taken off,” he said, showing animated timelines of the two industries. “Because the whole supply chain innovates, phones enjoy a speed 20 times faster than glass.”

Schuller talked about the viability of glass as a primary building material and said that “floor-to-ceiling glass has a great value proposition” while using charts that showed how well glass performs in cost comparisons.  He showed a view from such windows and then compared it to the view from a drastically reduced WWR configuration.  The “user experience” in such a building was dramatically distinct.

DuPont’s global business director for advanced interlayers Jonathan Cohen took the audience through four global megatrends that impact glass and call for an increase in laminated solutions.  He pointed to population growth, urbanization and increased terrorism as raising the bar on security concerns and on climate change as changing the building codes in many parts of the world.  In a recent industry survey that DuPont conducted in the construction and architect’s community, energy efficiency was the number one industry issue, in keeping with the focus of earlier speakers.  Larger glass panels and safety and security beat out costs for the next two most important issues, a finding that suggests an interest in solutions over price.

Don Futter, vice president of Dow Corning’s high-performance building solutions (and solar) business, added a perspective from outside the glass industry.  “We all agree on the challenge,” he told the audience to close out the morning, “but who says the solution has to be glass?”  He said that there’s a strong case to be made for glass but the industry needs to be diligent in doing so – “it won’t just happen.”  He pointed out that there’s need for both “sustaining innovation and game changing innovation” to meet the bottom line challenges of everyday business operations.

Stay tuned to for more from Glass Performance Days.