Glass for Europe plays a crucial role in ensuring that the flat glass industry’s opinions are brought to the attention of EU policymakers. As the organisation’s newly elected Chairman, Philippe Bastien is fully committed to delivering added-value benefits to Europe’s flat glass manufacturers, transformers and processors. In addition, however, he is acutely aware of the extra responsibilities that fall upon the Brussels-based Glass for Europe team and members in these challenging times, created by the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. “The flat glass industry has demonstrated its ability to react quickly to ensure the health of its workers and to safeguard the integrity of its industrial operations” Mr Bastien confirms. “The next step will be to overcome the challenges, while framing the opportunities that are presented.”
As the Covid-19 crisis forces people around the world to review their priorities, Philippe Bastien contends that it is essential to take a long-term view. “Glass for Europe should stay focused on the European Union’s objective of building the first climate-neutral economy by 2050” he confirms. “Released in December 2019, the European Green Deal sets a new horizon and operationalises a decarbonisation agenda across all relevant policies. We need to prepare the ground for accompanying the industry on its decarbonisation journey, while ensuring that our green efforts do not hamper its competitiveness.”
At the same time, Mr Bastien emphasises the importance of supporting the uptake of high performance glass to decarbonise the building sector, to support clean and autonomous mobility and to boost solar energy development. “Glass for Europe faces two years of intensive legislative activities, with new challenges around the corner. We need to transform them into business opportunities.”
Senior management experience gained over several decades with one of the world’s leading flat glass producers will be a valuable asset for the recently appointed Glass for Europe Chairman. “Resilience, in particular, is at the heart of the AGC Glass Europe corporate strategy and is a must for me personally” Philippe Bastien confirms. “Resilience is not something to be taken for granted. It needs to be built and then cultivated every day to nurture an agile and positive mindset. With my expertise and leadership, I believe I can support Glass for Europe to thrive in the future changes to society and the economy, to proactively adapt to the new environment and so to stimulate its resilience.”
According to Mr Bastien, with policy pressure mounting and a new legislative agenda ahead of the industry, Glass for Europe’s role will continue to be crucial. “Ensuring a fast recovery from the crisis and a prosperous future for the glass ecosystem will require improved co-ordination of all economic factors throughout the entire flat glass value chain. It is imperative for the industry to talk to European institutions with one voice and because it represents the entire flat glass value chain, Glass for Europe is that voice.
“Glass is more than a product, more than an industry, it is a whole ecosystem and as Glass for Europe’s preferred journal, Glass Worldwide is its reliable reference source of information.”
Philippe Bastien has been Regional President for AGC Glass Europe’s Building and Industrial Glass Division since 2017, although his professional career with the global AGC organisation and its predecessor businesses dates back to the early 1990s. He joined Glaverbel (now AGC Glass Europe) at the age of 24, on completion of his studies and military service in his native Belgium. “From the outset, my intention was to work for an industrial group, with a strong European presence” Mr Bastien recalls. “I applied for a job at Glaverbel, which was heir to a long glassmaking tradition in Belgium. As a result, I discovered the flat glass industry and an amazing product that became a passion” he confirms. “The dynamic challenges presented by this industry have exceeded my expectations.”
An extensive management career in Europe, initially with Glaverbel and then AGC Glass Europe, has been augmented via a series of important global roles for the parent AGC Glass group. Collectively, these different responsibilities have stimulated a diversity of skills development, starting with the very analytical, before embracing strategic competences, human relations and senior management leadership.
“While not having any particular technology competences, for example, from 2005 to 2008, I was asked to lead our R&D activities, spread over different continents. This helped me to understand the importance of culture, creating a positive climate to facilitate collaboration among colleagues and the creation of a single team.”
In addition, leading AGC’s global solar BU (dedicated to solar energy) provided valuable experience of a business cycle over a short period. This involved massively scaling up a business over two years and downsizing at the same speed. “This goes along with a sense of humility” Philippe Bastien recalls. “Managing a business is a human story. It is what my team teaches me every day” he adds. “I am very proud of my team, with people coming from everywhere in Europe.”
Mr Bastien acknowledges that many people have been influential in shaping his professional career over the years. Notable among them were two former Glaverbel CEOs: Luc Willame for his sense of strategic leadership (he was the architect of Glaverbel’s expansion throughout greater Europe); and Arthur Ulens for his ‘feel’ for business and understanding. “In addition, both impressed me with their human skills.”
As Regional President, Philippe Bastien is responsible for the company’s building and industrial glass activities in Europe. This covers the value chain from glass production (including basic glass for the automotive industry) to glass distribution and transformation for building and industrial activities (glass for solar applications, displays/screens etc). Approximately 150 sites are operated in the region, which extends from the south of Portugal to the east of Russia, employing roughly 10,000 people in total. In addition, AGC Glass Europe operates in the Middle East and has customers throughout the world thanks to its diverse range of glass products.
At a global level, the AGC Group is organised around four major activities, or so-called in-house companies: B&I (building and industrial glass), automotive, electronics and chemicals. Europe is the largest part of the B&I company, which also covers Asia, North America and South America. The Technovation Centre in Gosselies, Belgium is the worldwide reference R&D centre for B&I in the AGC Group.
“The beauty of an organisation like AGC is the extent of complementary synergies between businesses” Philippe Bastien explains. “Not all products, segments, regions or activities perform well at the same time but they support each other, bringing resilience to the whole system. In the past, products were a major source of differentiation, leveraging performance. This is still important but customer service has become the major driver.”
In recent years, several European float lines have been repaired, featuring state-of-the-art technology in terms of energy efficiency. According to Mr Bastien, similar investment projects will continue to be undertaken in the future. Also highlighted is the recent start-up of AGC’s first VIG (vacuum insulated glazing) line, one of the most important innovations in the field of insulated glass manufacture. Fineo is a vacuum assembled double glazing (starting from 6mm total thickness), offering thermal and acoustic insulation properties as good as or even better than triple glazing, while remaining much thinner and lighter. This innovation brings application opportunities for historical buildings, for the renovation market and for high performance windows.
In addition, two anechoic chambers have been built next to the AGC R&D centre in Gosselies. “These are aimed at developing and testing AGC technology for windows with built-in antennas (for automotive and building applications), in response to the growing demand for connectivity” Mr Bastien confirms.
Future capital expenditure programmes are expected to concentrate on digitalisation and sustainability opportunities. “Digitalisation represents the delivery of genuine opportunities in terms of process improvement, customers relations and business models, while sustainability is also at the heart of our strategy. Glass is a fantastic product, having a positive carbon balance” says Philippe Bastien. “For every tonne of CO2 emitted by our process, we contribute to saving more than 10 tonnes of CO2 thanks to the use of our products. We continue to improve the efficiency of our processes, addressing direct and indirect emissions, while also developing new products, solutions and models to improve the efficiency for sustainable buildings, future mobility and energy production.”
AGC Glass Europe is fully committed to meeting the EU’s objective of carbon neutrality by 2050, having developed its own roadmap that combines an incremental track and a disruptive one. “We fully understand that the continuous improvement approach will not be sufficient, requiring us to work on new melting technologies, on carbon use and on different business models. Partnerships will become essential, promoting a more collaborative way to mobilise the glass ecosystem.”
Innovation is recognised as a fundamental driver to build a successful and resilient industry in Europe. AGC Glass Europe has a modern research centre at its disposal, as well as a highly skilled and motivated workforce. As well as the digital and sustainable priorities outlined previously, the growing importance of wi-fi connectivity is emphasised. “The evolution towards 5G leads to new challenges in term of transmission inside buildings and densification of the network” Mr Bastien explains. “Glass antennas (more precisely, antennas in glass) can bring an attractive answer to this requirement, respecting the most severe existing protective norms, while preserving the appearance of our urban environment. Thanks to years of experience in the automotive industry and the availability of unique anechoic chambers in Europe, we now have a great opportunity.”
Future challenges and opportunities
Unsurprisingly, the main challenge currently facing AGC Glass Europe and its fellow glassmakers is associated with the management of the Covid-19 outbreak. Initially, the focus was on crisis management, securing healthy conditions for personnel, adjusting operations to the market and safeguarding the group’s industrial tools. Now, the organisation’s priority has moved on to planning safe restarts, scaling-up in line with the progressive evolution defined at the national level.
“There should be no doubt that this crisis will leave its mark: How will the glass ecosystem be impacted? Will it bring changes to the automotive industry and to the construction sector? What is the state of the value chain, of our customers, of our suppliers? How will the supply chain evolve? And will our way of working be subjected to radical change? "
According to Philippe Bastien, the glass ecosystem has been shaken, bringing new challenges for the future, especially in the coming months. “Many glass processing sites in the EU, both for the automotive and building sectors, have been closed, as the level of activity has dropped to unprecedented levels. If the lockdown is further extended and production sites have to be stopped, the maintenance of float furnaces (‘hot holds’) must be ensured to guarantee safety and preserve the industrial equipment.”
The sustainability challenge also represents a major opportunity for the industry and for AGC Glass Europe. Meeting the carbon neutral objectives defined by the EU Commission and reinforced by the Green Deal will lead to the in-depth renovation of real estate. “Buildings accounts for about 40% of the energy consumption in Europe and 36% of emissions” Mr Bastien explains. “Studies show that renovation rates should grow to at least 3% to meet the target, with glass having an important role to play.”
According to independent studies, up to 37% of the total energy consumption in the EU building stock could be saved in 2050 thanks to high performance glazing products. “Mass urbanisation is another mega trend that characterises the modern world. It brings challenges to cities in term of pollution, congestion, housing, crime, food, water, waste, education and health. Smart and sustainable cities leverage technologies to bring solutions and secure a better quality of life for every citizen. Glass can definitively help, supporting sustainable housing, security concerns, connectivity needs, enabling mobility or decarbonising the electricity grid.”
Philippe Bastien concludes by emphasising that the current Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates the need for a strong European industry and local supply chain. “The European Union should adopt an ambitious industrial strategy to provide answers to the social and economic shock” he contends. “Supporting development and investment in efficient processes, promoting a circular economy, massively renovating ageing buildings, evolving to new mobility and increasing the share of clean energy are all good and fundamental tracks to follow to ensure that the recovery matches the EU’s climate-neutral priority.”