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Darrell Delamaide

Darrell Delamaide

Darrell Delamaide is a writer, editor and journalist with more than 30 years' experience. He is the author of three books and has written for…

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Is Saint-Gobain An Energy Play?

As it celebrates the 350th anniversary of its foundation this year, French multinational Saint-Gobain sees itself in the forefront of the meeting the challenge of climate change by addressing the problem of sustainable energy.

“It is a very important part of our strategy,” CEO Pierre-André de Chalendar said in an interview with Oilprice.com. “We are focused on products that are solutions to the problem.” Related: This Country Wants To Rejoin OPEC As Soon As Possible

A leading global manufacturer of construction materials, Saint-Gobain feels that its products – from the glass wool used in insulation to innovative breakthroughs in reflective roofs and electrochromic glass – make an important contribution to energy conservation.“We are a net reducer of greenhouse gas emissions,” de Chalendar explains, because the emissions saved by use of its building products far outweigh those resulting from the company’s manufacturing processes.

De Chalendar is on something of a crusade to get businesses involved in addressing climate change.“Companies are considered part of the problem,” he said, “but they can be part of the solution.” The French executive was an organizer of the Business & Climate Summit held in May at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Speakers ranged from French President François Hollande to Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi.

The May meeting was organized, de Chalendar explained, to show the engagement of business ahead of the UN Climate Conference in Paris later this year. Related: This Dutch Innovation May Solve The Energy Storage Problem

“Your presence here,” de Chalendar said in his welcoming remarks to the thousand-some participants in the conference, “confirms the essential role of corporations in seeking solutions for climate change.”

Addressing Hollande and other government officials attending – including OECD secretary-general José Angel Gurría and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius – the Saint-Gobain chief executive called on governments to adopt “bolder and more intelligent policies to create bigger markets on the scale and rhythm required by the climate emergency.”

De Chalendar was visiting the U.S. this week to accompany the five pavilions of “Future Sensations” that are touring the world as part of the company’s anniversary celebrations, including a stop in Philadelphia, near the company’s US headquarters in Valley Forge.The French executive acknowledged that Saint-Gobain “took a hit” from the housing slump in the US, forcing it to idle factories and cut back. The current recovery in housing starts is a positive sign for the company.

“We are reopening the plants,” he said, “and we can reasonably expect housing starts to get back to the pre-crisis average” of 1.5 million a year.

He is particularly excited about the prospects for Saint-Gobain’s solar reflective asphalt roofing shingle, which contains advanced colored granules that reflect the sun’s rays and can reduce a roof’s temperature by as much as 20% in the summer.

In 2012, the French company completed acquisition of SageGlass, a Fairbault, Minn.-based manufacturer of “dynamic glass” – window glass that darkens as the sun shines on it – and helped the unit build the world’s largest factory for electrochromic glass.Saint-Gobain got out of the photovoltaic panel business after Chinese competition cratered prices, but offers roofing with integrated PV panels for new home construction. Related: Forget The Noise: Oil Prices Won’t Crash Again

Although it was founded in 1665 as a royal factory for mirrors, the company has also retreated from manufacturing mirrors for concentrated solar power, shutting down a plant it opened in Phoenix in 2011 to manufacture mirrors for solar thermal power stations.

But de Chalendar confesses to being “an optimist in general” and is bullish on the US. “I think the prospects for growth are relatively good,” he said.

By Darrell Delamaide of Oilprice.com

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