The energy agenda

The energy agenda

Sustainability has been a hot topic for some years now. Countries all over the world are confronted with climate issues. Businesses and individuals around the world are facing rising prices for oil and coal. Due to these resources becoming increasingly scarce and demand continuing to rise in emerging markets such as China and India, prices will continue to increase.

It is clear that these climatological and economic problems call for radical changes to our attitudes and behaviors. In the 1970s, after the first oil crisis, sustainability-focused mostly on developing better-insulated buildings. The 1990s saw experimentation with integrated architectonic climate concepts: in particular, grass roofs, atria, and high-tech double-skin façades. Governments and environmental organizations developed new quality labels like the international FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), a quality label for paper or wood that declares the products were sourced from a sustainably managed forest to which Reynaers has subscribed) and the several low energy labels, like the Passiv Haus quality mark for buildings with an extremely low energy demand for heating and cooling.

It took the 2002 publication of the book and concept ‘Cradle to Cradle,’ by the architect William McDonough and the chemist Michael Braungart, and the 2006 release of Al Gore’s film about global warming ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ for the general public to grasp the concept of sustainability. As buildings are responsible for 40% of the total CO2 emissions in the EU, the construction industry has now also placed sustainability at the top of the agenda. ‘The problem is urgent indeed,’ says Nigel Jollands, Principal Administrator in the Energy Efficiency and Environment Division of the International Energy Agency (IEA), who acts, among other things, as a consultant for G8 countries. ‘We thoroughly need to change our energy systems, as they are polluting and expensive. And if you know that the building industry consumes a substantial part of a country’s energy, taking measures here definitely makes sense.’


What is sustainability?

Nevertheless, the question remains: What is genuinely sustainable? The fact that the topic is receiving increased attention means that the concept of ‘green’ inevitably involves a certain amount of commercialization and inflation. Everyone is claiming that they are using sustainable methods. A timber producer claims that his or her product is ‘100% biodegradable’ and CO2-neutral. A company manufacturing synthetic construction elements stresses that its products do not biodegrade at all, meaning that they do not have to be painted, replaced, or impregnated with environmentally harmful products. And a brick manufacturing company states that its products are made from all-natural materials and have a ‘timeless appearance’ which supposedly benefits the architecture's sustainability. It has been clear to Reynaers for a long time: Sustainability is not a cut-and-dried concept, and shouldn’t be approached as such. `It is a fact that aluminum is a green material thanks to its durability (75% of the aluminum ever produced is still in use) and the 100% recycling capacity. But it is what we at Reynaers Aluminium do with this material that illustrates our commitment to a sustainable future,’ says Erik Rasker, Chief Technology Officer at Reynaers. It is the same opinion that energy expert Dr. Jollands expresses: ‘IEA strongly argues for energy-efficiency to be integrated into buildings, including the existing stock. Thermal performance, of both windows and façades, is very important, as is the building’s design: orientation, ventilation, and heating systems, and so on.’

The energy agenda

The photovoltaic panels of the roof of Reynaers' distributon centre in Duffel generate 80% of the total energy need.

Key development theme

Energy-efficiency is one of the most important themes in all of the developments Reynaers has implemented in the last several years, and it is something Reynaers is continually working on. For instance, much attention has been paid to the development of highly insulating windows, sliding doors, and curtain walls which minimize the building’s energy loss. Reynaers is searching for ways to better regulate daylight: on the one hand by developing very slim profiles for large glass panes allowing more light to enter, meaning that less energy is required for lighting and heating, and on the other hand by working on Brise Soleil systems which keep the sun out when needed, thus reducing the cooling burden. Reynaers has already started working on energy-producing systems and now offers façade and sun screening systems that allow integration of solar panels. Reynaers doesn’t only contribute by developing sustainable systems but invests in efforts to minimize the use of fossil fuels. In 2007, a total of 3072 photovoltaic panels were built onto the roof of the new distribution center of Duffel headquarters, producing over 550,000 kW h annually and reducing CO2 emissions by 330 pounds. This installation was even expanded by 7047 panels at the end of 2010, ultimately generating 80% of the total energy needed.

Strategic drives

It is evident that Reynaers takes sustainable entrepreneurship seriously; the company subscribes to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) concept and ensures CSR is at the forefront of its working practices. At the center of the CSR approach is the idea that the stakeholders' demands should be met, under the motto ‘People, Planet, Profit’. Reynaers has taken countless concrete actions arising from this ambitious manifesto. In terms of ‘People,’ this means more than just customer service and user-friendliness – it involves everything from developing the simplest working mechanism for windows and doors to minimizing the number of parts per project to reduce the risk of error as much as possible. It also means encouraging social awareness among employees through a yearly organized community day. In terms of ‘Planet,’ the focus lies on integrating energy-efficient technical innovations and architecture, such as the before mentioned photovoltaic installation on the warehouse in Duffel. Another example is the development of high-quality insulating profiles and more aesthetically pleasing ventilation systems, which are available to architects in nearly any size and color. This will ultimately help make sustainability attractive to everyone and, thus, a self-evident choice. The term ‘Profit’ relates to the company’s financial health and continuity, necessary for research and development and the implementation of new, sustainable systems. This includes the development of new know-how and the exchange of this knowledge with other parties. Reynaers not only sells low energy systems, but these days also participates in various projects. For instance, the company is currently examining how the Cradle to Cradle approach could be implemented throughout the Reynaers Group. To promote aluminum recycling, Reynaers has recently started a project with its partner E-MAX, a Belgian aluminum extruding company. Together, the two companies have documented the renovation of an old aluminum façade, the remelting of the different elements, and finally the production of new profiles, which meet the latest thermal insulation requirements. Finally, Reynaers has entered into a new partnership with the International Energy Agency (IEA). The goal of the partnership is to develop a ‘Window Policy Pathway,’ a brochure for governments about energy-efficiency and windows. Nigel Jollands: ‘The contribution of a company like Reynaers offers us and governments insight on new technologies, and is, at the same time, a ‘reality check’ to see if and how policies are implemented. Apart from this, their experience in the energy-efficiency market may result in recommendations on how to remove existing barriers and create incentives.’ The demand for sustainable building systems will still increase in the coming years, for both new construction and refurb projects. Reynaers’ innovative products, continuing research, and focus on knowledge exchange will allow the company to make a genuine contribution to a new way of building.