Why We’re Going Back to the Past to Get to the Future

Why We’re Going Back to the Past to Get to the Future

If you keep up with the news, you’ve probably noticed that things have been pretty busy for us here at Vetrotech. We are in a year of big transitions here. This is, of course, on top of all the transitions that have been shaking the industry and the world over the last few years.

Shaking things up can be daunting, even when you control the process. Fortunately, we’ve got an excellent guardrail in place as we move forward. To borrow a great line, you can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been. That feels particularly true right now for us here at Vetrotech, as we’ve been looking at the past to help guide our decision-making around the future.

Where Were You in 1980?

Do you remember what you were doing in the 1980s? If you’re around my age, maybe you were selling glass for some postmodern buildings beginning to change the architectural landscape. If you’re a bit younger, maybe you were playing that very first round of Pac-Man. The rest of you must trust me that 1980 was a big year. That was the year highly tempered, clear, fire-resistant safety glass was introduced to the market.

That product was groundbreaking for its time. Here, at last, we had a replacement for the wired safety glass. Even then, we all knew wired glass was problematic, if not for the life-threatening safety issues it would later be known to cause, then for the institutional look of crisscrossed wire blocking the view. So, when a product became available with the promise of fire protection and a clear view, it was a pretty big deal.

It turns out an idea is not all that different from a fire: in the right environment, it spreads fast. In no time, the value of wire-free fire-rated glass had caught the imagination of the glass industry and spread to other manufacturers.

Of course, back then – and, truthfully, not all that long ago – clear fire-rated glass was a luxury for many building owners. It took some time for those owners to catch up to the value of fire-rated glass as a solution. But once they caught on, it was clear that this product could solve multiple challenges. Bundling transparency, fire protection and impact protection into a single component might have been the beginning of the ubiquitous multifunctionality we see in glass products today.

Understanding that might explain why we’ve been looking back to pave the road forward. Why not bring a classic product to today’s demands for longer fire protection? But the truth is that, like the old-fashioned fabric shopping bags once again replacing plastic or the classic cars that outlast their newer counterparts, this is a case of an older solution proving to be a more sustainable option.

Where Will Your Product be 40 Years from Now?

They say the most sustainable project is the one you never build. Short of that, I dare say the most sustainable project is the one you can repurpose, reuse and recycle into new life someday. The same goes for your products. The most sustainable product is the one that can be easily recycled, and it’s here that glass stands apart from many other materials.

Not all specialty fire-rated solutions are truly recyclable, but highly tempered low-iron glass is. I believe that expanding the applications for recyclable products is essential for creating a more sustainable world we want to live in. For this reason, we took a look back at a fire-rated glass classic and updated it to provide more versatility without the complexity of UV-sensitive interlayers, films, embedded wires, or ceramics that will keep sending glazing products to future landfills.

There’s a need for some of these materials in certain applications. But sustainability has to be at the forefront of product innovation for all of us as we move forward as an industry.

Sustainability is a priority for many glass companies. At both Vetrotech Saint Gobain and our parent company, we’ve set ambitious targets for reducing our carbon footprint. Sometimes that means making a good old idea new again. Sometimes it means spending a little more to do what’s right, such as running our production facilities on 100% renewable energy. And sometimes, it means making the right move, like the move that will bring Vetrotech headquarters closer to other local Saint-Gobain businesses, allowing us to leverage synergies, maximize resources, and reduce emissions in transporting products to our sister company, SAGE Electrochromics.

When it comes to doing what’s right for our planet, it might be a little cheesy, but the products we deliver today must not negatively impact the planet tomorrow. Working for a company that’s been around for more than 350 years makes you think differently about your actions’ lasting impact. So, to paraphrase another ’80s classic, even if you guys aren’t ready for this sustainability stuff yet, your kids will love it.

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