PODCASTS

Sustainability for Building Material Companies

Sustainability for Building Material Companies

 

Please join us as Jon Smieja goes over the importance of Sustainability and how Andersen Doors and Windows is championing the cause. Jon is a wealth of Sustainability knowledge and a super awesome person to talk to. Thank you again Jon for spending time with us at Concora.

 

 


 

 

Podcast Participants:

Graham: Product Director Concora
Kip Rapp: CEO Concora
Jon Smieja: Corporate Sustainability Manager at Anderson Windows and Doors

 

Kip:

Yeah. Well, thanks Jon, for joining our podcast. And I know we talked before around the prep and it’s always good to talk to people about sustainability overall. Because it either comes up a lot or it comes up a little depending on who I talk to, but as we know, it’s certainly a very important thing. And I think even now when you connect COVID to health and sustainability environment, it seems interrelated to me, right? People want to be healthier, and also healthier to the buildings that we live in and each other and healthy people, healthy buildings, happy people and all that, productivity and all that. It’s great to listen to your thoughts on sustainability, your products, new things that are happening. And so how we start, Jon is just introducing who you are, what you do and what your company does.


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. So, thanks for having me Kip, I’m excited to chat today. I’m Jon Smieja, I’m the corporate sustainability manager at Anderson Windows and Doors. We have been offering a full line of windows and door products for, geez, almost 120 years now. So this company has been around for a long time. And we always pride ourselves on being different and better in this industry. Right? So I think of those qualities and I think of customer service, quality products, and then a commitment to our people in the communities where we live and work and may maybe most importantly for my team, our commitment to the environment. So that’s a little about us.


Kip:

Yeah. And have you always been in sustainability in your career?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. I actually, I have a PhD in chemistry and when I finished graduate school, I didn’t want to be in the lab anymore, so I ended up finding my way into a role working on the global sustainability team at Steelcase, the office furniture manufacturer, spent about five years there in different sustainability roles before coming over to Anderson in 2017.


Kip:

Yeah. I’ve met a lot of sustainability people and there’s always a common denominator, they just have a huge passion about sustainability. Is that with you about more of an altruistic feeling to each other in the world?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. I think it’d be really tough to do this job if you didn’t have a personal commitment to it. Because it’s slow moving, you run into a lot of road blocks when you do any sort of business, sustainability work. So I think you almost have to have some of that personal commitment to it. And I’ve tried to live this way, I grew up on a farm, so we always thought about the environment there. Being a chemist, there’s a lot of bad press around chemistry, so thinking about how to do chemistry in a more sustainable way when I was in graduate school. And then, now it’s more about, where can I go to work with my sustainability and my technical skillset to just have a big impact, right? How do I make an impact on the world and make whatever company I’m working for, whatever organization I’m working with a better place. So-


Kip:

That’s awesome.


Jon Smieja:

Yeah.


Kip:

Yeah. And this is me not knowing a lot about sustainability, because I’ll talk to architects and they say sustainability was big years ago and now some of them say we are sustainability in spirit, but we don’t necessarily want to get LEED certified because it takes a lot of time or there’s a lot of paperwork. So is there any truth in that or is there something else?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. I think in general buildings, new buildings, retrofits, remodels, the energy efficiency side of it has just gotten better over the last few decades, right? Because we’re developing more efficient appliances, whether it’s HVAC systems, lighting, things like that, and also just the building envelopes tend to be a little tighter now.

So windows have improved significantly, wall and ceiling systems, things like that. So I think there is some truth to that. I do still think there’s an important place for some of the green building programs like LEED and Living Building Challenge and things like that to really push buildings past what those architects might say is the norm now to where we probably need to go, right? We need to get more towards net zero. These buildings that don’t really emit anything don’t require a lot of energy. I think there’s still a lot of work left to do there, so I see a place for both. But it is in some ways exciting that architects see it as something that just happens now, because it is better than it was, for sure.


Kip:

Sure. So what I’m hearing is there’s an incremental progression to greener buildings because of materials and technologies and maybe what conscious effort for building material corporations, but is it where … because I just assume if you are LEED or Living Building Challenge, and there’s a certification, is that the driving force? Or is it because of the technologies and the sustainability objectives of each corporation that says, “Oh yeah, we want to have our materials greener and better and healthier and all that”?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. I think it’s a little of both, right? So if you look at where the building industry is now, I think you could argue that it probably wouldn’t be as good as it is as far as efficiency and materials, safety and things like that, if it weren’t for programs like LEED, right? So LEED came along and pushed the whole industry a little bit beyond where it might’ve been comfortable 25 years ago. Now a lot of people say, “Oh, LEED is not that cutting edge anymore. It’s just how we do things, we just don’t certify.” But that’s where things like Passive House, Living Building Challenge, some of these even more advanced programs can then step in and just keep pushing that norm.

And I think building product manufacturers like us, we have our own sort of altruistic reasons why we want to make our products better and be better stewards, right? But at the end of the day, we are also really pushed by what our customers are asking for. So I think there’s some pressure for more sustainable buildings and more sustainable products coming from the manufacturers, coming from the end users, coming from these green building programs. And it’s fun to see that evolution as you hear more and more about it. At least I’ve been hearing more and more about in my eight plus years working in this area.


Kip:

Yeah. Do you see that there’s, I guess, a connection to the design community, like architects, engineers, and how much they adopt it? Because I’m guessing they are influencing that a lot or they could. Right? And so do you see that as being more accepted or the same or any differences there?

 

Jon Smieja:

Yeah. I think we’ve gotten a lot of push in the building products industry, just in my time, my relatively short time working in it, from architects on things like product transparency, right? So whether its environmental product declarations that you publish based on life cycle assessments, or if it’s these ingredient transparency labels, like health product declarations, the architecture community has really been a driving force there. Right? Some of them have required things like that just to go in and give a lunch and learn as a building product manufacturer now. So that’s been, that’s been really pushing the whole industry forward. And I think what we’ve been waiting for as building product manufacturers is that push to translate into more specifications, more sales of our sustainability products, as opposed to just these sort of … I don’t want to call them empty threats, right? But this sort of idea that, oh, we need these sustainable products, but then they don’t always get specified. So I think we’re working towards that over time, and it its getting better. Right? Everybody along the whole value chain in the building industry is really starting to focus more and more on this stuff.


Kip:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Are you thinking it’s getting more accepted now or is it the same versus years ago?


Jon Smieja:

My history doesn’t go back that far. But what I have seen in this eight plus years working here is, more companies in the building product manufacturing industry and more architecture firms having statements around this, having programs around this. Right? It seems like every time I go to Greenbuild or one of the other green building conferences, there’s new manufacturers there talking about their programs that they’ve developed just over the last couple of years. So we do see that, I think trending in that direction. And I think it’s becoming more … Just in the window and door industry, for example, we have more conversations centered around sustainability now in our industry groups than we used to. And more and more industry groups pushing that whole industry forward so that manufacturers don’t always have to go it alone. So I do think it’s been it been improving and expanding over the last decade or so, maybe not as fast as I’d like it to.


Kip:

Yeah. Yeah. I got you there. What would you say would be, I guess, some of the inhibitors? Because I know maybe in the US, and it’s just anecdotal feedback I get, where it’s not as popular versus Europe. Right? And so is there international differences? Is there other things that are maybe more friction points in general for green buildings?

 

Jon Smieja:

Yeah. To me right now, one of the biggest things is really this conflict of a lack of new and innovative materials, and then how that relates to cost. Right? So if you think about our building stock, let’s just say in the US, North America, right? Most of our homes are concrete foundation, some sort of wood stick Piltz building, and it’s been like that for 150 years. Right? And so when you start talking about new and innovative ways to build things, it can be tricky to get over that memory, right? We’ve got a little bit of muscle memory for how to build buildings. And that’s pervasive in most industries, right? Cars, the fact that most electric cars now look like a typical gas engine car. There’s no reason for that anymore.

So I think one of the things we’re running into is just this lack of technological advancement in materials that can really push us to lower carbon buildings, safer materials from an off-gassing or human interaction standpoint or even environmental. And then when materials do hit the market, they often just have this difficulty overcoming that scale that they need to get into the major manufacturers. Partially because it’s hard to ramp up manufacturing, it’s expensive and partially because their materials tend to be more expensive, right? And we’re all in some ways locked on to how much our products cost. And so if you double the cost of your product, it’s going to be harder to sell. And so I think every business is trying to balance that, how do we incorporate these new technologies to make our products better while at the same time still protecting that third part of sustainability, which is staying in business.


Kip:

Makes sense. Yeah. I’m hearing what you say, and it’s the cost as a driver, the status quo or muscle memory, it’s either proven or consistent or it’s the way we did it yesterday. And then the scale, as you mentioned. And I know, I talked to other folks in the podcasts and you can see some people have made forward progress because of technology. And a lot of these are actually definitely correlated that it’s a better sustainable product. It’s a safer product. It’s a more durable product. And I think a lot of that is due to invention and new ways to manufacturer, right? So if it’s a liquid or if it’s a piece of metal, or if it’s wood, for example, I was talking to some guy who had a really good wood treatment and which makes it much more durable, right? And that’s going to be a podcast in the future. And he was like, “Oh yeah. Well, that’s awesome.” That is definitely helping with greener buildings because of that investment into technology. So I can appreciate that.

And then I was talking to other folks, Jon, and they’re just like. It’s like, “Why? That’s all what I used to know, was a concrete foundation and a wood stick building. I don’t know what else I would ask for and that’s all I’m presented.” And it was curious what you’re saying there. So what would be like an alternative to that building, right? Is it better concrete? Is it better wood? Or is it different material? Is it steel? What is it?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. I think it could be both. Before this last year, where I’ve been stuck in my basement working, we used to travel to a lot of conferences, to share best practices and learn. And there’s a couple of ways to approach better buildings, right?

Well, there’s a bunch of different ways, but some of the ones I think of are really, first, how do you lower the operational impact of your building? Right? So once those utilities are turned on, how do you make sure that building is very energy efficient, water efficient? Sometimes we think about, do we still need to be hooked up to natural gas? Things like that. So there’s that operational side.

And then a lot of what’s been discussed in the past, I would say, three to five years, especially, is this embodied carbon side. So all the impacts from extracting the materials, all the way to when the owner gets the keys to the building. So there’s a lot of impacts associated with product manufacture, shipping those products around the world, building the building. And so we’re really thinking about new ways or new approaches to putting buildings up, right? So in the residential space, for example, there’s some really innovative work around building walls out of straw bales, it’s a very low carbon, generally, low impact material. It’s very good insulating, you can build these buildings for the long haul. And I know there’s some manufacturers and some builders, especially in the Northeast actually that are doing a lot of cool work in that lower embodied carbon space.

But then if you’re considering the materials that are currently used, there are lower carbon intensity concretes, for example. And one thing that’s starting to gain traction in this embodied carbon space is, maybe when I’m specifying carbon or when I’m specifying concrete, I should be looking at the carbon impacts across multiple manufacturers and seeing which one has the most innovative, lowest carbon material. So that there’s less carbon in my building to start with. And so I think there’s a lot of opportunity there within the materials we currently use, but also rethinking how we build these buildings to just use less carbon intensive materials in the first place, right? Instead of fiberglass insulation, straw bales, or some other technology, right? I think there’s a lot of technology out there still to be explored. And one of the things that we tend to do when we build these buildings is we think about that first cost, right? Not that total cost of ownership. And I think there’s a lot of opportunity out there to rethink that way of building and selling and owning spaces.


Kip:

Sure. And again, I know maybe I’m like most of the listeners, when you say embodied carbon, is that where it’s the full carbon footprint from sourcing to manufacturing to installing and then the operational use?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. One way to think about it might be maybe we simplify it, we think of a television, right? So for a television you’ve got, you’re sourcing your metals, injection mold in plastics, all of the sourcing and manufacturing of the parts, and then the assembly of the television, and then the shipping of that television to whoever’s going to use it. Right? So everything up until it gets plugged in is really the embodied carbon, all the impacts along that life cycle. And then there’s your operational impact of actually using that television once it is plugged in. And for buildings, it’s just a much more complicated process, because it’s a lot more materials and a lot bigger supply chain. So there’s been a lot of emphasis in the architectural community, especially over the last five years on this embodied carbon idea. Because frankly, as we make appliances more energy efficient, as we make building envelopes tighter, the operational carbon impacts of buildings are going down and down and down over time.

But if you’re still building buildings the same way with the same high carbon impact materials, you might not be improving as much as you think in the overall climate change perspective view.


Kip:

That makes sense. And what would you say is the, I guess the percent for building and delivering versus use? Because you mentioned that there’s a natural progression to better use because of electricity or just things are more efficient or tighter building envelope. So is that the majority of the carbon footprint or is it the manufacturing and delivery?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. There’s some really good resources out there right now. One of the ones I can think of is Architecture 2030. So they’ve got some good graphics that show, basically, if you put up your standard building today, and this is mostly geared towards commercial, I don’t know if there’s been similar studies on residential buildings, but if you put up a standard commercial building today, that embodied carbon is going to be the majority of the carbon associated with that building from today until about 30 years down the road. And that’s when operational carbon is going to take over as the majority of the overall carbon impact.

So if you think about it that way, a 30 year old building would be about 50-50 between operational and embodied, right? And then from then on the operational would be larger. So that’s essentially a slope of operational carbon and as you make your building more efficient, the slope just goes down and it just takes a lot longer to be the dominant force as far as climate change potential of a building goes. So it’s kind of what we’re thinking, is, we’re lowering the slope on the operational carbon, now let’s really tackle that first bar, that day one bar of embodied carbon, let’s make that smaller too. Especially as we think of all the new buildings stock we’re going to need worldwide over the next 20 to 30 years as populations grow. Right?


Kip:

Yeah. Yeah. No, that’s really cool to understand. And you mentioned something else that was interesting, that the total cost of ownership, which the people I talk to, it’s like a really hard thing to grasp and make decisions on. And I’ll talk to people that says, “Well, the contractor …” they see one price, they see another price and they’re like, “Oh, I know which one I’m going to,” versus the door ability. Right? So how do you … I know you may not have the answer, but it was just an interesting topic of how can you overcome that? Have there been signs on overcoming that? Right?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. That’s a really tricky one. So, just anecdotally, I’ll use my sister as an example. So my sister bought a house in, I think 2006, maybe 2007, and it would have been flipped.

So it had brand new windows in it, but they were these hollow frame, vinyl windows, and you could scour those things for 20 minutes and not figure out who made them. And now 15 years later, she sits in her living room in the winter, she feels like she’s outside because the wind’s blowing through her windows. Right? And so she needs new windows. And when I think about that, I think, well, if they would’ve put a really durable, let’s say wood frame, or even fiberglass window in that space to begin with, she’d probably still have windows that operated like new today and for the next 20 years.

So it’s really hard to explain that to somebody, especially given, I think we’re down to something like seven to 10 years on average somebody owns a home now and then they move. So it’s really hard to talk about that kind of stuff. But that’s the way we look at it in the sustainability world and frankly at Anderson, right? We try to make our windows durable, stand up to the elements, last longer. And sometimes that means the upfront cost is going to be a little higher, but if you can keep them for 30 or 40 years, like many people do, and replace broken parts and things like that. That’s the other thing, my sister’s windows, she has a lock break, I don’t know who to order a new lock from. I can’t find the manufacturer name on the windows so we can’t order a new lock and replace it. Right? So it’s the same with everything, right? You try to buy a high quality shirt or pants. Right? We should be trying to do the same thing with our building products. Right? Not think of them as a ten-year investment, think of them as something longer.


Kip:

Yeah. I hear you. But it still sounds tough because if you’re only in the home for seven years, it’s a hard argument to say, I want to buy the 30 year window at twice the price or something. Right? Maybe if the price is like 20% higher, it’s like, “Yeah, maybe I’ll think about it,” right?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. It really is difficult, and especially in the window and door space, because frankly, if you’re a home buyer and you’re walking through a house on your first tour, you’re going to be looking at the floors and the granite countertops and the lighting. Right? Most people don’t look at the windows and doors unless they’re really bad. So that’s sort of a balance too, is how do you actually make that a selling point? Right now I don’t think it is for most home buyers. So that’s a challenge in.


Kip:

Yeah.


Jon Smieja:

For sure.


Kip:

Well, good there. And as we get more towards what you all do, windows and doors, and I know we had this conversation, Jon, the other day of, okay, think a windows and doors, as you mention it, it’s almost part of the scenery. Right? You don’t notice them. But when I do notice that I’m like, okay, sometimes they’re cold, they let light in. And I’m thinking of this sustainability characteristics, right? I’m thinking heat, I know there’s the energy side to it. So maybe my understanding is a little like everyone. So walk us through what really in the impact of how windows and doors can really be one, healthier on people and from a sustainability in a better environment.


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. That’s a great question. Because before I started at Anderson that would have been as far as I would have gone to with window and door sustainability, is like, does it open and close, and can I feel a breeze coming through it? But it turns out there’s really a lot more to it. The first thing I think, that everybody’s going to think of, and frankly is probably the most important is energy efficiency, right? So are these things efficient? Are they keeping the heat out in the summer and the cold out in the winter? I live in Minnesota for example, and we’ve got some pretty crazy temperature swings from different parts of the year, so windows have to be able to not only stand up to those temperature differentials, but also like I said, keep your heat in, in the winter and keep it out in the summer.

And I think there’s a couple of different things to look for in windows and doors from that perspective. First of all, pretty much every window manufacturer is going to have a variety of different coatings that you can order on the window that make it more efficient, depending on let’s say, what side of the house it’s on, what orientation it is to the sun, things like that. So we’ve got these solar heat gain coefficient coatings that help keep the sun out in the summer. We’ve got reflecting coatings that keep it in, in the winter, things like that. So that’s one thing I think that most people would think about when they’re buying new windows, right? You’re going to think about the efficiency and things like that.

I think second really for me, is that durability piece, right? Not only durability, but also quality and the ability of the manufacturer to support something if it goes wrong, right. Do I need a new part for my window? If I do, can I get it? Most reputable manufacturers will provide parts long after your windows go into the openings. Right? And then from a durability standpoint, right? I think of, if you’re in a place like let’s say, in the Southwest, in Arizona, that the surface temperature of a dark window in the summer might get up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas inside is 70, right? So if you’ve got a 90 degree temperature differential and your material is not strong enough, it’s going to warp and bow based on those temperature differentials. And so I think having the right window or door material for the climate you live in is really important.

And then beyond that, there’s a whole bunch of other considerations, right? And it gets complicated really quickly. Anything I’m buying for my home, I’m going to focus on, is it low off-gassing right? Is it safe for my family and the people that are in my house? There are certification programs out there that support that like, SES Indoor Advantage and UL GREENGUARD are sort of the same, very similar programs. Looking for those labels on building products is always a good thing to do as a homeowner. Because high VOC levels can cause headaches, they can cause longer-term health issues if you’re in your home a lot, most of us are, always have been and maybe even more so today than we used to be. So that’s an important one too.

And then, beyond that, one of the things that is really interesting and is on the leading edge of sustainability is this idea of biophonic design, right? And being connected to nature. So there’s a lot of research out there that shows that humans have this innate tendency to want to be close to nature. Right? Windows can actually provide that in a lot of ways, right? Natural ventilation, natural light, things like that. But then in other ways, you can support it by natural materials. So if your interior is wood grain, so wood grains tend to bring out that biophonic design as well. So a lot of considerations, a lot more than I ever thought there was before I started in this space, for sure.


Kip:

That’s cool. And I’ve heard the off-gassing piece before, it makes a lot of sense. Like, how you don’t know where you may have these chronic issues. And I was talking to a lady about ventilation, and it’s like, yeah, these things are important in your house, and you have like the furnace is what? 30 year old technology, and the windows are probably just as old, I guess, as far as the technology. Right? So and then you’re you look at the, you called it biophonic design, which makes a lot of sense because outdoor, natural light obviously has just better productivity and emotional, psychological improvements. And I have a lot of farmhouse tables. It’s like, oh yeah, I love the woods stuff because it’s not as artificial working in a cave for a year. Right? You’re like, “Oh, I don’t want to see like stone and concrete around.” So that’s awesome.

So I think that’s great to be able to explain maybe some of the nuances about not only the health impact of windows and doors, but the environmental and some of these other things that you’re just talking about. And do you see just from a technology … I hear the coatings that you’re talking about with types of light and maybe UV and temperature, but is there other things from a door and a window technology or material that is interesting?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. I think there’s some interesting things coming down the pike that are sort of, I would say, not quite ready for commercialization yet, but could be really cool in the future. There’s some companies out there that are working on actual solar collection technologies. So it’d be a thin layer, basically photovoltaic like a solar panel on the glass of your window that maybe you could power something like window automation with or something like that. Right? So there’s those technologies that are starting to become, I would say, closer to commercialization. And then there’s a lot of really cool technologies that companies are working on to try to just make more efficient windows. Right?

So right now most of our windows are two panes of glass filled with argon. There’s some work going on around vacuum insulated glass units. So it’s a vacuum between the two pieces of glass instead of of a gas fill, you can increase the efficiency quite a bit that way. We’ve actually over the last year or so, Anderson released for some limited products in our Renewal by Anderson portfolio, a thin triple pane. So it’s a triple pane glass, but it’s the same thickness as your normal dual pane. So you get improved efficiency, but in the same weight and the same sash pocket, right? So it doesn’t look different than your typical dual pane window, and it’s not heavier, but you can improve efficiency from that.

So looking at options to expand that across more of our portfolio and offer that more widely. So there’s a lot of cool things out there. Frankly, there’s still a lot of work to do, I think, in this space, right? Most windows and doors are going to be one of the most energy leaking things in your house. And so we’re still working on it, but there’s still some work to do there, for sure.


Kip:

Yeah. Well, I was thinking two things when I think about a window. And one is, when you open it up, it just looks dirty because you have the screen, and then all that dirt is like, I don’t want to open this up. I want the stuff to come in. So one, cleaner, like, can we have the wind come in without the thing accumulating? Like you always see bugs and you just don’t know how they get in there. And it’s like … And then the rain, obviously, because it’d be nice to open your window without getting wet. Right? So that’s another thing that I think about these windows. Because I always keep them shut because of one, I’m afraid of the buds coming in, it’s dirty out there, and so you just keep them shut and it’s something that’s like, oh, I’d like to feel the breeze every once in a while, so …


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. There’s a lot of really interesting research starting to accumulate about the health benefits of natural ventilation. Right? Or even, I guess, mechanical ventilation, right? Any sort of increase in ventilation increases productivity, lowers the amount of headaches people get, you get better sleep. Like there’s all these benefits of it. But I hear you, depending on where you live and what your circumstances are. We used to live right on the river at our last house, and yeah, the number of bugs between the window panes and the screens was just crazy.


Kip:

Yeah. And you mentioned something, other thing that was interesting about the, I don’t know what you call it, the energy footprint. How much does the windows and doors really contribute to the, do we call it the green initiative or as far as operational use and the carbon footprint or leakage, right? Versus everything else in the house.


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. It’s interesting. Because windows are. If you think about R-values, right? Like when we think about walls and insulation and things like that, we often talk about R-values. A wall can be well upwards of R-30, most windows in the market now are more in that R-5 range. So they’re quite a bit less insulative than a wall. But we still tend to lose a lot of our heat through the ceiling. So I don’t want to say that the window is like the worst actor in a building, but from an R-value perspective strictly, it tends to be a little lower. And I’m not an expert in that area at all, but have learned a little bit in my years here at Anderson. And so the more efficient we can make our windows.

It’s not the biggest contributor by any means to a building’s energy efficiency, but it definitely makes a difference.
Right?
And then the other thing we can do is, as we’re designing our buildings, think about passive solar, let’s say, so let’s orient our windows so that some sun’s coming in, in the winter, not in the summer. And then also designing for cross ventilation so that if you do open your windows on either side of your house, you can actually cool it down in the spring and fall instead of having to use that air conditioner. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity there in both improving the windows and just improving the way we orient and build our buildings, right? A smarter design can lead to some pretty good improvements.


Kip:

Yeah. No, that makes sense. And then for what you do at Anderson, if you can share, what are some of the important things you’re doing now regarding sustainability for this year?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. One thing we’re really pushing towards, we’ve actually integrated sustainability into our product development process. So as our engineering teams are sitting down and redesigning windows or redesigning parts of a product, or even developing a new product line, just being there, answering questions, having a voice at that table to say, “Well, you might want to consider this material or this material.” So that’s one thing we’ve really pushed forward in the last year or so. And then on the other end of the spectrum, we’re working on really thoroughly documenting all the impacts of our current products, right? So doing life cycle assessments on the products we already have and publishing environmental product declarations, looking at the chemistry of our products. In late 2018, we published our first health product declarations, which for those who don’t know, or basically, I think of it as like nutrition label for a building product, right? It’s a full list of ingredients and their hazard impacts.  So we’re working on publishing those for our products as well, so that’s a big push.

And then on the corporate front, we’re always thinking about, how do we make our facilities more efficient through relighting, dust collection, things like that. How do we eliminate waste from our products by either upfront design or being able to put things back into the system if they’re scrap material, things like that? So it’s really some of the more typical corporate sustainability initiatives around energy waste, water efficiency, and then looking into the future of, what is our carbon footprint as a company? How do we reduce that over time? So that’s where most of our focus is right now.


Kip:

Yeah. So there’s both an inward focus with the employees and how you operate your own sustainability objectives. Right?

 

Jon Smieja:

Yeah.


Kip:

And then the outward focus, as you mentioned with the documentation. It’s awesome that you’re working in product development, right? Because I know we talked about that before, which, oh, that’s a good place to start. It’s like, if we can change the material and the technology or the mix, then that’s a great way. Because as you mentioned, that’s what? 30 years of the building right there?


Jon Smieja:

Exactly. Yeah.


Kip:

Yeah. We’ll get stuff there. And what would you say, let’s say just 10 years from now were, where some of the initiatives going just maybe not Anderson, but just overall from a sustainability for the world, for the country, where do you see us 10 years as far as improvements? Or 20 years, I don’t know.


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. I’d like to say one of the things that we’re starting to see a lot more of that could really have a big impact is this idea of companies taking the initiative to reduce their carbon emissions. Right? So whether that’s companies committing to being carbon neutral or even things like the zero waste initiatives the manufacturing companies have, I think those are becoming more and more mainstream. And as more companies set those targets now, hopefully we will be reaping the benefits of that 10 years down the road, as more companies are sourcing renewable energy or thinking more about business travel and logistics and how to decrease the emissions there. We’re also looking, I think at a future of a lot of electrification. Electrification in transportation but also the way we heat and have processes going at our manufacturing facilities, for example.

If you think about glass manufacturer, they rely really heavily on natural gas. There could be a shift in that over the next decade. And I would hope to see a shift in that over the next decade, right? If they can figure out new ways to make glass that don’t don’t require so much natural gas. Same with steel, right? The steel industry operates on coal. Is there a way to improve that over time? So I think we’re looking at a lot of electrification opportunities, hopefully a lot of backup storage and things like that can support that transition. And then this overall focus on carbon emissions, whether it’s in the built environment or in our companies and the way we live at home.

That would be my hope, I think, over the next decade. And I think we’re starting to see some good indications that some of that will happen.


Kip:

That’s awesome. Yeah. And just maybe one last question for you, if you are a listener and you’re marketing, or you’re an employee at a building materials company and they’re like, “Oh, I love sustainable, but I don’t know what to do. How do I start this?” What advice would you give them?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. I think if your company has a sustainability function, I haven’t met a lot of sustainability practitioners at companies that wouldn’t like to have more advocates throughout their company. Right? So I would say, if you have an interest in this and you’ve got sustainability or environmental people at your company, reach out, ask what you can do. Right? Man, especially in marketing. We love to tell our story when it comes to sustainability. So that’s one thing to do. The other thing that I think a lot of companies do and every company I’ve interacted with at least has had, is these green teams, right? So if you’re at a facility, you work at an office space or in a manufacturing facility, start a green team and start taking on initiatives like recycling or composting, things like that. I think sometimes those green teams can really be a nice grassroots effort in sustainability in a company. But like I said, a lot of companies have sustainability functions now, or there might be different names for them, but for the most part, if your company has that and you’re interested in it, I would say, reach out to those people as soon as possible and let them know. Because we need all hands on deck on some of the issues that we’re facing right now.


Kip:

Yeah. I thought you were going to say, well, get a PhD, become a chemist and do that.


Jon Smieja:

That might not be the most wise route to get where I am today.


Kip:

Well, it gets tough. It’s been a joy talking to you, Jon and just kind of. Again, I don’t know if I’m like most people, but I don’t have a very deep definition of sustainability, and it was a joy talking through that, your experience and how Anderson’s helping and some of the technologies and progression across both the residential, the commercial and the impact on the overall environment. Well, I do have one last thing that, I know I was talking to someone earlier about the buildings themselves have a huge contribution to the environment as far as carbon. And so I just wanted to hear your thoughts on that. How huge is that? And if we are able to solve that problem, right?


Jon Smieja:

Yeah. I think most estimates are that buildings contribute about 40% to the global carbon emissions between the construction and the operation of buildings. And so frankly, because so much of that now is in that upfront embodied carbon phase, I think we need to get creative about how we reuse spaces and modify spaces, retrofit spaces to keep buildings in use longer. I think that’s a key. And then the other one is just using best practices when we’re putting up new buildings, so that we’re not only making them operationally efficient into the future, but also thinking about those carbon impacts of construction. So yeah, like you said, buildings have a huge contribution to global carbon emissions. And I think that means we’ve all got a responsibility to try to make them as good as we can while we still have time. Right?


Kip:

Yeah. Well, I’m certainly more educated and I think that’s where it starts, is as a, at least a homeowner, then you can think about the next home you buy or your current home and thinking more than just the cost, right? And then the two year payback versus the overall nobility of making the world a better place. I do appreciate that. I appreciate your time, Jon, and all the stories we just went through. And it’s definitely great to learn from you and thank you for your time. And hopefully we can talk again about sustainability in the future.


Jon Smieja:

Yeah, of course. Thanks so much for the invite. I appreciate it.


Kip:

Yeah. Well, thanks, Jon.


Jon Smieja:

Thank you.


Kip:

I wanted to thank everyone again for listening to our podcast. And if you’re interested in knowing more about Concora, we help building product manufacturers get specified and purchase more by providing a great web experience that’s bolted onto your website. It makes it easy for your architects, engineers, and contractors to do business online with you. We sum it up as three things, it’s providing a good web experience, good content and good tools. And we have some great tools such as middles, sustainability, project showcases or anything else needed by your design community to specify and purchase products.

We’d be more than happy to show you a quick demo and you can go to concora.com, to learn more, read case studies and see how other customers have grown sales with our partnership.


Graham:

All right, folks. That wraps us up for today’s show. So you can find our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and SoundCloud by searching for The Concora Corner. And if you’d like to, we’d love a rating and a short review if you listen on apple, any feedback is appreciated on any of our shows that are coming out or just the show in general, or if you just want to say hello. You can find out more about Concora and our services at www.concora.com. We’re on Facebook at facebook.com/ConcoraLLC. We’re on twitter, @Concora. And you can find us on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/company/Concora. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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