What does sustainability mean for the glass sector?

Jenni Staves, Environmental Manager at British GlassJenni Staves, Environmental Manager at British Glass, reviews the current Climate on Carbon and Sustainability.

Originally I set out to write an overview of the current consultation on structural changes to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS). However, when deconstructing the drivers and outcomes for each proposed change an underlying theme became apparent and I would rather share this with the reader. Essentially there is a growing tide of environmental legislation aimed at creating a sustainable society. But what does this really mean for the glass sector?

Policy makers say that the price of carbon in the EU ETS is not high enough to drive the investment in low carbon technology required for our long term goals. They are consulting on options to increase the price. Others say the market is functioning perfectly - reflecting the availability of allowances in the carbon price and ensuring the absolute carbon cap is met. All of the changes that the EU is considering either increase demand or reduce the supply of carbon, but either way the goal is to increase the price of an allowance and this will only add more cost for the majority of EU glass manufacturers. In summary, the cost of not reducing an installations emissions is going up. Its not just in Europe; Australias emissions trading scheme is set to be linked to the EU scheme from 2015 and there are many other such schemes being conceived, piloted and introduced worldwide including: California, China, Japan and New Zealand to name a few.

The problem with glass and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions is that, after centuries of improving the glass making process, efficiencies are fairly close to the optimum level possible with current techniques. The EU target of 20% emissions reduction from 1990 to 2020 may be achievable, but what about 80% by 2050? Surely we are looking at either a step-change in technology, a significant reduction in production, or offsetting (purchase of ever more expensive allowances). The only feasible technology changes on the horizon appear to be Carbon Capture and Storage or melting from renewables (either electricity or biofuel) but these require unprecedented cooperation and planning. In my eyes, the impact of the EU ETS is unlikely, in the medium term, to bring about such radical change in member state energy infrastructure. The impact of the proposed changes will be either higher manufacturing costs in the EU, reduced EU production or a possible move elsewhere (often referred to as carbon leakage).

The ultimate goal of climate change policy is sustainability, which is defined as living in a way that meets the needs of today without preventing future generations from meeting their needs. I have yet to meet an intelligent person who would argue against sustainability, so why not apply it to glass.

Society needs glass. Many of the basic building blocks of society are critically dependent upon glass; component parts of low carbon technologies like wind turbines and photo-voltaic solar panels are made from glass. Glass also has significant value in medical and scientific applications, is an integral part of the IT and communications revolution, makes the purest form of food and drinks packaging and can be made into beautiful, decorative and functional products which make life better and easier. Such needs could arguably be met by substituting less carbon intensive materials, but pragmatically it can be reasoned that sustainability must allow for products to be made in the society that consumes them.

However we also must accept that in order to meet the needs of tomorrow we must manufacture goods today in a way that limits the impact on all elements of society. In most cases legislation is now in place to eliminate or minimise the more serious negative impacts, and the ETS focuses on limiting the repercussions of increased greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. One area of sustainability which is finally beginning to come to the fore is the issue of resource scarcity and efficient use. One of glass's inherent environmental gains is that it is made from abundant, naturally occurring material whilst the product is often available for reuse and/or re-melt. In the future we do not know which constraint will be of highest significance. As policy makers strive to predict the future, they still cannot speculate upon one material or technology over another, but they can however set up conditions which aim to push producers towards the behaviour they would like to see.

As is often said, Failing to plan is like planning to fail. The glass industry needs to look to the future if it is to align that future with the sustainability initiatives of the policy makers.

Recently, in a timely move, the UKs Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) contacted me to say that they are planning a 2050 roadmap for each industrial sector - and would we like to work with them on the glass roadmap? This is exactly the kind of approach to positive cooperation between government and sector which is needed to lay the ground work for change without inadvertently decimating an essential UK industry and British Glass will be seeking expert industry input into the process.

British Glass relies upon a core of experts from industry to help develop policy and whilst those experts are busy on a day to day basis we need them now to look further than the next few rebuilds, which will in any case inexorably take them right into the period that policy makers are considering today.

Reproduction of this published material is provided courtesy of Glass International -www.glass-international.com.

Published in Glass International February 2013.

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