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AGC GLASS EUROPE: CLEAR SOLUTIONS FOR ENVIRONMENTALLY POSITIVE PRODUCTS

When AGC Glass Europe recognised that the market was struggling to differentiate between environmentally positive products and others, the company set out to find a third-party product standard that ensured products with better environmental performance could be easily recognized. Sustainability & Product Stewardship Specialist Deepthi Kurian explains how Cradle to Cradle Certified™ offered a clear solution. 

AGC often cites Cradle to Cradle certification as a big part of the company’s environmental commitment. What role does the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard play in the company’s sustainability strategy and approach?

AGC’s motto is “clean manufacturing of sustainable products.” That means we produce environment-friendly products through an environment-friendly process. Our driving principle is to develop products with a positive impact on the environment during their lifetime. 

When we recognised that our market was struggling to differentiate between environmentally “clean” products and others, we set out to find a third-party product standard that would ensure our products with better environmental performance could be easily differentiated from others in the market. Cradle to Cradle Certified™ presented a clear solution. The standard includes the construction industry (for instance, the EU Ecolabel excluded glass) and no other label covered as many aspects of sustainability: material health, material reutilisation, energy and water management, social fairness. The fact that Cradle to Cradle Certified is also a global certification was also compelling as compared to other, regional standards. 

We became the first European glass manufacturer to implement Cradle to Cradle Certified. Because the market has responded so positively to our products being differentiated from others in this way, more than 75% of our products are now certified Cradle to Cradle. 

How does Cradle to Cradle Certified equip AGC to meet market and customer demand for safe, circular and responsibly made materials? 

On the supply side, we have worked hand-in-hand with suppliers to optimise their products so that they meet our requirements for environmental performance. Our achievements in Cradle to Cradle certification give us more leverage in asking suppliers for improvements in their products so as to meet even higher Cradle to Cradle certification requirements. The certification of our insulating glazing is a good example of this. We engaged 20 different suppliers in order to meet the criteria for the material composition. This process was quite challenging, but it helps us build customer trust.

From a customer perspective,  architects increasingly want products that guarantee the sustainability of their projects. With Cradle to Cradle Certified products, they know that they can deliver on this guarantee, plus earn higher ratings when seeking green building certifications such as LEED.

How has Cradle to Cradle Certified enabled AGC to drive continuous improvement across its internal operations and environmental performance?

Expanding our number of Cradle to Cradle Certified products has driven a number of internal benefits for us. For instance, collaboration with internal stakeholders for data collection has become more flexible and strong. In addition, our plants and other stakeholders have become more aware of Cradle to Cradle Certified requirements and how they enable us to design and make products that have a positive impact on the environment. In fact, Cradle to Cradle requirements are also incorporated into our Research and Development (R&D) methodology, ensuring that our R&D, Sales & Marketing, and Sustainability departments work hand-in-hand on developing, producing and bringing Cradle to Cradle Certified products to market. 

Using the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard to certify our products supports our commitment to continuous improvement by providing us with a framework for optimising our products for environmental performance. 

Transitioning products from certification under Cradle to Cradle Certified versions 1 and 2 to version 3 is a powerful example of this. Indeed, there were tremendous changes between the two first versions and the third one, so re-certifying our products  according to the requirements of Cradle to Cradle Certified version 3 was quite challenging for our teams. But we rose to the challenge and working with the 3rd version pushed us to make some optimisations that resulted in measurable improvements and led to better certification levels. For example, our laminated glass was certified at Bronze level under version 3  but, thanks to a collaboration with suppliers that improved the material health of the product, we finally could reach Silver level. When developing our new mirrors, we immediately worked on the fields that prevented us to get a better certification with our standard product. This is how our Mirox 4Green could reach Silver certification.

Cradle to Cradle certification has also played a critical role in helping optimise our organisational environmental performance as well as the environmental performance of individual products: We aim to be at the forefront of developing new products with better environmental performance during their lifetime, and trying to improve our products and processes is part of our sustainability strategy: 50% of our R&D budget is devoted to sustainable solutions. 

Since 1998, we have managed to reduce the quantity of production waste sent to landfill by 95% on a like-for-like basis. In 2019, our landfill waste was 1.7%, which means 98.3% of material previously considered waste was recycled. For each tonne of CO2 emitted by AGC Glass Europe activity, nearly 11 tonnes of CO2 are avoided thanks to our energy-saving products. In addition, from 1998 to 2019 we managed to reduce water consumption by 73% on a like-for-like basis.

What are some of the sustainability challenges and/or opportunities AGC (and the industry) may face in the next few years? 

One of the challenges we face as we look ahead is that, as an energy intensive industry, we cannot rely only on renewable energy sources to heat our furnaces -- even if we limit the impact of our industrial activities as much as possible. This is the reality we have to face. The development process for the Cradle to Cradle Certified version 4 product standard is helping to shine a light on this challenge - and how industries like ours may require options for meeting decarbonisation requirements that consider the amount of CO2 saved by the use of our products. With this in mind, we are actively working towards the EU’s decarbonisation agenda and are also participating in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme.

 

Deepthi Kurian is Sustainability & Product Stewardship Specialist for AGC Glass Europe.