Saving the World with Glass

National Glass Association
Written by Claire Suttles

National Glass Association (NGA) is the unified voice of the glass industry. Founded in 1948, NGA combined with Glass Association of North America (GANA) in 2018 to become the industry’s largest trade association, with over 1,800 member companies. From glaziers and fabricators to manufacturers, suppliers, and full-service glass companies, NGA takes pride in bringing the entire industry together.

“There is strength in numbers and being part of an energetic community of peers and competitors,” President Nicole Harris says.

Always a vital material, glass rose to the forefront during the COVID pandemic, when it was used as an essential safety product to help stop the spread of the virus. While that crisis has thankfully passed, glass continues to play a critical role around the globe. “Our mission is to save the world with glass,” Harris summarizes.

A world without glass would be uncomfortably dark and dreary. “Glass is really core to everybody’s quality of life,” Harris points out. “Can you imagine living or working or sending your kids to school or taking care of a sick parent in a dark, concrete bunker?” In fact, using glass to brighten our lives with natural light has been found to improve mental health. “There are a lot of studies about how natural daylight improves learning and healing, and never mind just being in a good mood. We’re envisioning a future in which glass is the material of choice to enhance spaces where people live, play, learn, work, and heal.”

Advantages of membership
“Our purpose as a trade association is to promote and protect the interests of our glass and glazing members,” says Harris, “and they make up the entire supply chain.” She uses a pyramid to illustrate this concept. At the very top are the float glass manufacturers. “They’re taking sand and other raw materials and making the glass that you see on your tabletop and your shower doors, on the high-rise buildings, and the windows and doors in your home. There is a very small number of those big manufacturers.”

The next category of membership includes the glass and metal fabricators. “They’re taking that raw glass, and they’re doing something with it,” Harris says. “They’re putting holes in it; they’re laminating it; they’re putting coatings on it.”

And then come the installing companies, which are “at the bottom of that pyramid just because of their size and number.” These members do everything from installing a glass shower door in your home to installing the massive amounts of glass found in a modern skyscraper.

Low annual dues deliver a wealth of benefits to each of these member segments. “That’s an important distinction for NGA,” Harris says. “We can afford to keep our dues very low because we produce very profitable events and publish profitable magazines.”

Maintaining this profitably has taken a concerted effort. “It’s a tough deal to publish economically,” she says of today’s publishing industry, “but we have figured out how to do it.” NGA’s two publications, Glass Magazine and Window + Door, keep members abreast of the latest industry news, financial knowledge, and product announcements.

GlassBuild America: The Glass, Window & Door Expo, is North America’s largest annual show for the glass and fenestration industries, and this massive event is another means through which the association keeps dues low. “It’s really our trade show primarily that allows us to do everything else,” Harris says. “It underwrites everything we do—our technical publications which the industry relies on, our education initiatives, online training, recruitment resources.”

Indeed, education and training are foundational to NGA’s mission. “All of our net profits go into funding these very sophisticated educational and training online programs,” Harris says. “We’re just rolling them out all the time.” At MyGlassClass.com, members can access over one hundred courses in both English and Spanish. The association also offers a very popular apprenticeship program.

“We’ve spent a lot of money and a lot of attention and resources on the education element,” Harris says. This effort includes hiring instructional designers, trained to meet adult learning needs, to ensure that NGA’s educational programs are effective.

NGA also has an online store with free technical resources, as well as manuals, guides, and books that come with a member discount.

Glass goes high-tech
The glass industry is advancing at a rapid pace. “It’s a very, very technical industry,” Harris says, which may come as a surprise to many. “We’re walking down the street and see a piece of glass and [think], ‘no big deal.’ Well, that piece of glass may have multiple coatings, maybe multiple layers of glass, lamination… There are so many high-tech applications to what you’re looking through. It’s pretty extraordinary,” she says.

“We’re talking about thousands, tens of thousands or more of really, really innovative products,” Harris continues. “And they meet the requirements for energy efficiency, daylighting, school security, bird- and turtle-friendly glass,” which is specially designed to protect these animals from harm. “It’s just incredible, the technology that’s come up.” Other examples include the strong, laminated glass the industry has developed for security purposes, and vacuum insulated glass (VIG), a very thin, highly efficient insulating glass ideal for cold climates.

NGA helps industry insiders navigate the rapidly evolving technology by providing technical manuals to its members for free or at a very low cost. The association also maintains a portal that helps members meet current codes and standards as technology impacts the industry. “It’s really important to follow those health and safety [regulations],” Harris points out. “There are reasons why we have building codes.”

The future of glass
The glass industry faces some challenges that NGA is working to overcome. “Like many industries, I’d say top of mind is the skilled labor shortage,” Harris says. “You can’t escape that anywhere you look. It’s always in the news and it’s true for us… Everybody’s competing for talent. That’s why we are focusing so hard on the education piece and helping our members attract new people.”

To this end, NGA’s downloadable recruitment kit provides materials to help its members illustrate to potential employees the benefits of a career in the glass industry.

“Beyond that, there are still a lot of misconceptions about glass in the built environment,” Harris says. “I think that’s a messaging issue.” In response, NGA is actively spreading awareness about the benefits of glass and its ability to improve our lives. “We’re working to advance the entire glass and glazing mindset and view of what we can do to benefit the built environment and by extension, humanity,” Harris says.

The United Nations recognized the industry’s importance by naming 2022 the International Year of Glass, and NGA is making sure that the industry remains strong through 2024 and beyond, as the challenges and expectations evolve in the years to come.

“It’s not just a job,” Harris says. “I believe in this industry. I believe in our members’ ability.” And, as these members continue to make a positive impact by bringing glass to our built environment, NGA will continue to support them, doing its part to save the world with glass far into the future.

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