“Sustainability” is a word used frequently in our industry. We look at products and design practices to ensure that we are creating lasting, healthy and safe buildings. The definition of sustainability is one that is shifting, and as manufacturers and suppliers we have to deliver on a much broader range of criteria that extends beyond energy efficiency to things like daylighting, acoustical efficiency, occupant security and ultimately occupant comfort.

Let’s explore the evolution in sustainable building – more specifically, the façade. When we talk about sustainable façades, it’s almost certain we will speak to energy efficiency. However, with the broader definition of sustainability, we increasingly see projects where these aforementioned criteria are specified in a way that makes them at least as important as other design criteria, and they force us to rethink our standard approach.

Let’s take the example of occupant security. Increased urbanization and the congregation of large groups of people in public places have created a greater focus on applications that enhance occupant security – those that are strong enough to withstand catastrophic weather and security events. As hurricane code requirements continue to move northward and inland, the demand for products that are capable of meeting a variety of performance levels increases. Blast and fire concerns were first recognized in public building but the requirement for these building standards will increase as urban areas become more densely populated and the concern extends to areas that surround public buildings and gathering spaces.

Looking back in time, the industry largely pursued a strategy of meeting current building codes. For façades, that meant small windows, double glazing where required and the absence of shading or daylighting elements. Contrast that with a future vision of building where façades are transparent – delivering daylight to optimize the impact on productivity and electricity, while minimizing the drain on systems with integrated controls and shading.

And so our focus on delivering sustainable façades cannot only be on delivering energy efficiency when we are seeing the demand for increased occupant security – an objective so inextricably linked to sustainable solutions – growing in parallel. More often we have to think about how our products integrate into façades that are extremely energy efficient but also have more to do than provide that efficiency.

As we look at that vision of the future, we are developing very different products. The cycle of innovation is becoming shorter as codes develop more quickly and we see an increasing use of technology in our markets. Our processes must be continually evaluated and improved to minimize their impact on the environment and ensure the safety of our workforce. While there are certainly technical and manufacturing challenges that result from pursuing our sustainability agenda, and it will require greater investment in development and equipment, we see the investment as fundamental for top-line and bottom-line growth. Nowhere is that more evident than in the high-value, sustainable products that we are releasing today.

 

Diana Perreiah
Vice President,
Alcoa Building and Construction Systems
General Manager,
Kawneer North America