Future-proofing tile production
Building Environmental Policy into the Bottom Line
Ready or not, environmental concerns are changing the marketplace. For a growing number of consumers, how something is made is becoming as important as the look and feel of the product itself. As consumers demand more transparency in organizations, and governments begin to enact more stringent environmental policies, even the most reluctant companies are thinking about upgrading their environmental policies. The question is where to start.
Just start here
For a person, making a good living by doing worthwhile things can be a lifetime goal. For a company, as an aggregate of people, making change for the better can be more complicated. In some cases, country or state of origin may be critical. Taxation or fees may reflect the environmental footprint, and may include disposal levies, energy use disincentives and, now, a company’s CO2 footprint.
Where environmental legislation attempts to reflect real cost economics, it makes dollars and sense to save on resource use and limit toxic byproducts. But given the changes in consumer demand, even in places where environmental regulations are lax, it still makes sense for manufacturers to look for future-looking solutions.
Here, we look at the examples of three very different West Coast tile manufacturers, and how they have successfully incorporated environmental policy into their bottom line.
Bonfire Glass Tile is a small, two person operation out of Bend, Oregon. They make, in the words of co-owner Mare Schelz, “art deco designs with a handmade look.” For Bonfire, green tile production is achieved by keeping the scale small and controlling the inputs and outputs. Their production studio is situated next to the home of Jamie Branch and former glass blower Mare Schelz.
Bedrock Industries owns a glass recycling plant and factory store in Seattle WA. From the outset, Bedrock has been a manufacturer of 100% recycled glass products. Fifty percent of their output is glass tiles. Their 12 full time employees are also involved in the making and selling of garden art, landscape glass and indoor glass art.
Vancouver BC’s Interstyle Ceramic & Glass, sponsor of Aboutglasstile, is a company of 200 employees that makes both recycled and non-recycled tiles. Their environmental policies and practices have grown gradually, stemming from the company's detailed approach to production and a concern for quality above all.
Bonfire makes all of its tiles out of post industrial glass, with a 90% recycled content. Interstyle has three lines that use 100% post industrial glass. They have also developed a counter top surface that is 100% post industrial recycled glass. Bedrock blends both post industrial and post consumer glass into its 100% recycled products.
All three companies use fusing techniques, where kiln temperatures peak at about 800 degrees C. Though not low temperature in the conventional sense, this method, called “cool firing” consumes much less power than processes that transform glass powder or silica into tiles by sustaining kiln temperatures of 1400 C. On the tools side, Bonfire has also developed a process that also enables them to recycle their handmade tile molds.
None of the companies have their tiles made offshore, meaning a reduced shipping and transportation footprint. The raw materials for their recycled products are locally sourced as well. Bedrock and Bonfire hand-pick their post-consumer glass from the local waste stream; Interstyle uses local post-industrial glass waste.
Energy and Heat
Bonfire Glass Tile buys electricity through a renewable energy program offered by Blue Sky Energy, their utility company.
Bedrock estimates that their glass tiles use approximately the same energy as similar sized handmade ceramic tile, and about half of the energy used to make most cast glass products.
Interstyle’s computerized, modern continuous kilns, go 24 hrs a day, and run on natural gas. Development VP Kim Hauner claims the energy used is identical to what would otherwise be needed to heat their 75,000 sq foot factory in the winter - which, in fact, is exactly what the kilns are called on to do. The kilns are the only source of factory heat. Waste heat is sent via insulated pipe to their glaze drying rooms. By the time it is finished there, the temperature has cooled to 45 degrees C, and the heat is introduced into the open factory, recirculated by ceiling fans in the winter, and expelled through vented skylights in the summer.