It would later prove phenomenally productive that as a student living and studying in Vasto (central Italy, on the Adriatic coast), Graziano Marcovecchio focused his political economics dissertation on the nearby industrial area of San Salvo. The role of SIV (Societ Italiana Vetro – founded in 1962, then privatised to become Pilkington Italia, before being acquired by the NSG Group in 2006), was afforded a “central chapter in the dissertation,” explains Mr Marcovecchio, “given that this large glass manufacturer, which started up in the 1960s, was crucial in the development of the area.” Upon graduating the young Graziano was perhaps not surprisingly taken on by Pilkington Italy, where he joined the company’s administration, finance and control department. By 1998 he had worked his way up to the position of Chief Financial Officer and in 2003 he took on the additional role CFO in Spain.
“In 2006 I had my first experience as General Manager in charge of Pilkington’s business in Spain, where I spent 18 months of my life,” recalls Mr Marcovecchio. “Back in Italy, in 2009 I became responsible for Pilkington’s European business with the motor industry. In 2012 I became Country Manager of all Pilkington’s business and became Chairman of Pilkington’s Board, as well as Human Resources Manager for the Group in Southern Europe, positions I still retain."
“Making a career in a company of this size, of this importance, in the place where I was born and where I live, was undoubtedly a positive outcome to all my expectations,” he remarks.
Being a key part of the European market for industrial glass (architectural, and automotive), Pilkington Italia is subject to the EU’s timetable for carbon neutrality as part of its ‘Fit for 55’ programme, requiring greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 55% by 2030 and for Europe to become climate neutral by 2050. “We are a high-impact industry in terms of reducing CO2 emissions, and one of the eight industries described as ‘hard-to-abate’ ", concedes Mr Marcovecchio.
“Significant goals still need to be achieved to secure the future of the industry and to meet the new 2030 and 2050 European decarbonisation targets, but the journey, which started some time ago, is ongoing, with determination,” he states.
“The primary glass production process is characteristically energy-intensive and cannot be 100% electrified, for technological reasons associated with the high temperatures required (up to 1,600°C) and the need for high energy density,” he continues. “The melting process, starting from raw materials and recycled glass cullet, takes place at temperatures in the region of 1,500–1,600°C and accounts for more than 50% of the overall energy consumption of the entire production process. Nowadays the main energy vector powering this phase of the process is natural gas. The predominant technology, even for large furnaces, is hybrid technology, using an electric booster. In this scenario, in 2021 some companies in the industry launched a project to help reduce glass industry emissions by using hydrogen. Among the initiatives to increase the use of renewable energy sources we should also mention some companies’ use of energy from biomass-fuelled thermoelectric power stations, where the fuel is exclusively uncontaminated plant material from the agricultural and forestry sectors, especially waste, as well as that originating from forestry work and riverbed maintenance.”
Carbon neutrality goals
NSG Pilkington has been conducting ongoing research into improving the lifetime energy efficiency of its glass furnaces, reducing CO2 emissions, SCR for controlling NOx emissions, and developing and using plants in accordance with 4.0 technologies, which can provide increasingly innovative mechanisation and technological aspects to develop new products that are technologically much more advanced, “as required by the automotive market in particular,” notes Mr Marcovecchio.
Approaches to decarbonising the industry currently range from the “more conventional” – such as revising production processes to reduce the need for thermal and electrical energy for the same level of output, and the reuse of production waste/recycled materials – to “more innovative” methods; e.g. using green fuels (hydrogen, biomethane), electrification, and the capture, transport, storage and possible reuse of carbon dioxide from production processes, he surmises.
“Research is something very important in Italy,” Mr Marcovecchio underlines. “We are part of a Group network where all research projects are shared worldwide (we have a presence in more than 20 countries). In Italy we have R&D units at San Salvo, where all the focus is on automotive glass, although the share of R&D dedicated to construction is not neglected.”
A key indication of the glass industry’s commitment to increasing the sustainability of all production activities in the industry is the expenditure and investment made in the Environment and in worker Health and Safety, believes Mr Marcovecchio. “[This is] not only to ensure continuing compliance with current legislation, but also to specifically and fully implement [the industry’s] own continuous improvement objectives.” Such investment to improve the safety of production facilities and reduce environmental impact includes: “measures to reduce and optimise water consumption, measures to reduce diffuse emissions and noise, expenditure on certification and consulting in the field of HSE, measures to reduce energy consumption and emissions from melting furnaces, as well as measures to protect against spillages.”
Strategic partnership and investment
Two significant investment projects at Pilkington Italia took place between 2018 and 2020, with a major revamp of the automotive glass production facilities at the San Salvo plant and the re-starting of the furnace at Marghera. “These were plans that involved a financial commitment of more than €70 million,” says Mr Marcovecchio.
“It is important that our automotive suppliers should also be looking to optimise these technological products,” he adds. “The aim of our partnership with them is to increase their loyalty and make a joint search for new industrial solutions for product feasibility.”
However, “The pandemic has since led to a general slowdown in investment,” notes Mr Marcovecchio, “particularly in the automotive market, which has been severely impacted by recent economic events” [resulting from Russia’s attacks on Ukraine].
The main challenge that NSG Pilkington is currently facing in Italy, according to Mr Marcovecchio, centres on alternative energy sources. “I’m referring to the development of hydrogen, to the development of the whole gamut of renewable energies, which will be part of the challenge facing us,” he clarifies. “In Italy in particular, it is a particularly hard challenge, bearing in mind the gap that still remains between us and other European countries in energy policies, despite the fact that something has been done. The real challenge will be to have competitive products to fill this yawning gap.
“The confrontation in the world of governing institutions continues and Assovetro [Italy’s trade association for glass manufacturing and processing companies], our reference point for these joint activities, has the task of promoting what we seek and our willingness to change. The aim is to have products allocated here, to Italy, and to try to convince multi-nationals that our country remains an important place to invest.”
Assovetro represents 100% of Italian glass packaging manufacturers and currently three flat glass companies, as well as a number of flat and hollow glass processing companies and some companies in the lighting and display sectors – around 70 companies in all. The Association is a member of Confindustria – the Italian employers’ federation and national chamber of commerce – and has relations and contacts with national authorities on specific topics of interest to the glass industry. “It is the reference within the European industry organisations (FEVE, Glass for Europe, Glass Alliance),” says Mr Marcovecchio. “It is also signatory to the national collective agreement for the industry, which regulates the employment conditions of over 29,000 workers in Italy, not all of whom are employed by member companies."
“Extensive attention is given to the topics of energy, carbonisation, energy transition, the circular economy and environmental issues such as atmospheric emissions and waste management,” continues Mr Marcovecchio. “It monitors and contributes to national and European technical standards, and promotes market research into flat glass and the building industry. It maintains relations with industry trade unions, with which it signs the national collective employment agreement.”
Mr Marcovecchio has a 20-year history with the Association, having held various roles since 2002 when he was Vice-President of Industrial Relations. In 2018 he took office as President of Assovetro for a four-year term (his successor will be elected in July). “Being President of Assovetro is a position that is both prestigious and a great responsibility,” he acknowledges. “There are many issues facing the Association, and representing it in front of national institutions and other economic, political, trade union and social organisations requires a constant presence. As President, I have tried to pass on my vision for the industry, projected into the future, making sure that everyone is aware of their contribution to achieving these objectives.”
Aims and activities
“Sadly, part of my term of office occurred during the Covid-19 health emergency,” recounts Mr Marcovecchio. “[During] the first phase, particularly, all the Association’s efforts were concentrated on both assisting companies and making the government and the authorities aware of the needs of the industry in such a difficult period. This was also done in conjunction with the trade unions, with which we signed a number of national agreements and sent two jointly-signed open letters to the government.”
Throughout and post-pandemic, Italy’s hollow glass market has proved most robust, being an essential industry linked to the food and pharmaceutical industries; indeed, hollow glass output in Italy in 2021 recorded a significant increase of 6%, reports Mr Marcovecchio. “In general it is a sector that has really experienced no crisis in comparison with the more vulnerable flat glass sector and, especially, automotive glass,” he adds.
More recently the Association’s commitment and concerns have been directed towards the energy price hike which, “after the shock caused by the pandemic, and now the Russia-Ukraine war, is seriously undermining the competitiveness of the industrial system,” says Mr Marcovecchio. “Beyond the current situation, Assovetro continues to engage with all the issues relating to ecological transition, in view of the new 2030 and 2050 European decarbonisation objectives and the circular economy, and the development of technical regulations for the building industry.”
In terms of co-operation with other hollow and flat glass regional bodies, Assovetro has an “ongoing relationship of useful collaboration” with FEVE (the European Glass Container Association). “Every year we take part in the European communication campaign, achieving good results in terms of performance, contacts, new alliances and partnerships (the one with Legambiente came out of a FEVE campaign),” notes Mr Marcovecchio. “The Friends of Glass platform continues to generate new content and the social channels are very active. The co-operation with Glass For Europe (the trade association for Europe’s flat glass sector) is also beneficial, with regular participation in the various working parties.”
Assovetro is planning a number of activities to support the UN International Year of Glass 2022, including an event on energy transition to be held in Rome at the end of the year. “For the occasion we will create a small glass sculpture to pay homage to our hosts, which will help them remember this year, which coincides with another notable anniversary,” reveals Mr Marcovecchio: “In 2022 we will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of Assovetro. A double birthday that deserves to be remembered.”
Image: Graziano Marcovecchio and Pilkington Italia’s San Salvo plant.