Eco-friendly composites firms used to be novel. Today, they’re necessary, as the marketplace seeks companies with green initiatives. That trend has made corporate sustainability a key strategy — and a head-scratching challenge — for the composites industry.
“While sustainability in Corporate America is informed by environmental and social activism, it’s really about trying to create economic advantage within the pursuit of social progress,” said Frank O’Brien-Bernini, vice president and chief sustainability officer at Owens Corning, during a General Session at COMPOSITES. “When you look at the opportunity from an environmental lens, comparing our products to aluminum, steel and concrete, we see a tremendous opportunity to grow the composites marketplace.”
Rather than simply teaching attendees to “be green,” multiple sessions at COMPOSITES showed them how to “market green” and win business from sustainability initiatives.
Stricter EPA regulations, along with state and federal guidelines on health and safety in the workplace, have increased the need for composites firms to produce and offer products that are both user-friendly and environmentally safe. Strategies for complying with the alphabet-soup of regulation agencies (EPA, OSHA, UEF, etc.) need to begin way before auditors show up, COMPOSITES speakers and attendees agreed.
Sessions on regulatory issues gave attendees “a great opportunity to hear and learn about the latest news, and to interact with others to learn what they have faced and what they are actively doing to adjust,” said Larry Cox, principal of Structurlite Composites.
The composites industry could be much more effective if it didn’t take as long to explain what composites are, and why they matter. That messaging problem was an overarching theme at COMPOSITES.
Many engineering firms and other users of traditional building materials have little understanding of composites and are often reluctant or resistant to change. The onus is on the industry itself to combat that problem, and communicating the benefits of composites to engineers, architects, designers and specifiers is both a challenge and a necessity.
Composites “need to be promoted as a known, track-record-proven material, not some cutting-edge, mysterious material that only certain people are privy to understand,” said Robert Lacovara, CCM, CCT-I, president of Convergent Composites. He pointed to ACMA’s ongoing Load & Resistance Factor Design (LFRD) project as an example of a smart move toward making composites engineering properties known in a widespread way.
COMPOSITES proved the industry is filled with pioneering professionals who understand the importance of exploration, data and new ideas. The Awards Luncheon featured ACE and Pinnacle award winners, celebrating the industry’s innovation. Also, industry leaders and achievers provided “what’s next” insight during more than 40 education sessions and peer-reviewed technical papers.