Owens Corning, Pickens focus on energy conservationWritten by Julie Ryan | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Owens Corning building sits as a silent sentinel as the Maumee River flows through Downtown. But what goes on inside the building, with its 950 employees, has been making global headlines all year. The company’s work with oilman T. Boone Pickens, and production of energy-conserving products, is causing a green splash in Washington and the world of fiberglass and building insulation.
Working with T. Boone Pickens
Pickens said he recognizes the importance of the work Owens Corning is doing to improve energy efficiency in buildings. His plan to improve energy efficiency, the Pickens Plan, incorporates Owens Corning’s ideas.
The plan, announced in July, aims to reduce America’s dependency on foreign fuel by encouraging energy efficiency.
Owens Corning has publicly contributed to the plan since the end of March by showing the need for insulation in homes — its specialty — which would decrease the need for heating energy.
“It’s very straightforward: We want to get off foreign oil. All of us working together, we’re going to accomplish that,” Pickens said in an April 14 telephone interview.
Pickens said he met with Owens Corning executives in Dallas last year and after several long meetings, he visited the Owens Corning world headquarters in Toledo in December.
Frank O’Brien-Bernini, Owens Corning vice president and chief sustainability officer, said Owens Corning is excited to work with Pickens as there is a need in the United States to improve energy efficiency.
“There’s 126 million residences, homes, in the United States. Of those, there’s about 80 million homes that are underinsulated according to what the department of energy says buildings in those areas ought to be insulated to,” O’Brien-Bernini said. “Depending on the building, increasing insulation could give a 20 percent gas bill relief.”
Owens Corning CEO Mike Thaman said it was a hard decision to become politically active and use the company to back the Pickens Plan.
“It’s difficult to measure how much impact you will really have, and you can draw attention to your company in a way that maybe creates more risk than there is benefit,” Thaman said.
However, he saw the need to take a stand and work to improve efficiency in buildings.
“Somebody, some entity, some organization needed to be more aggressive and more out front in trying to create a comprehensive energy policy for the United States,” Thaman said.
After contacting Pickens, Thaman said Owens Corning became involved with the Pickens Plan, adding input on energy conservation. Pickens said Owens Corning’s financial support, and also the support they received through Thaman’s leadership and employees, is “invaluable.”
“They are the key to conservation for us,” Pickens said. “They’ve given us the input we need; they understand the question; they have the materials and all to help with conservation. They were the experts on that question.”
Thaman said Owens Corning reviewed the Pickens Plan and saw the one piece of policy it was missing: energy efficiency in both residential and commercial buildings which consume 40 percent of the energy in America.
“When Boone Pickens came forward with the Pickens Plan, you know, we felt like he had really advanced the ball on a number of fronts,” Thaman said.
“He was very committed to wind energy which we think is far and away the most cost-effective renewable out there today, hopefully down the road, there will be many more renewables as cost-effective.”
Pickens said it is necessary to put an energy-efficiency plan into action.
“We’ve gone 40 years without an energy plan for this country,” Pickens said. “If you go forward 10 years with no plan, you’re going to be paying $300 a barrel and then importing 75 percent of your oil. You know, we’re crazy the way we’re doing it; 85 million barrels of oil are produced every day and we’re using 21 million barrels a day. So, we’re using 25 percent of all the oil produced in the world every day and we have only 4 percent of the population. Something’s out of whack.”
Jay Rosser, spokesman for the Pickens Plan, said an important part of the plan involves renewable energy.
“A key development of his plan is development of renewable energy — what [Pickens] describes as a ‘wind corridor’ from Texas up to Canada, a little bit east of the Rockies,” Rosser said. “You’re going to see massive wind farms develop in that corridor.”
Rosser said the wind corridor will lead to production and manufacturing opportunities for Owens Corning, making Owen Corning’s involvement critical and their relationship deeper.
Time for improvement
“The wonderful thing about one of the big problems being buildings is that a lot of people own one,” O’Brien-Bernini said. “They own their home or live in their apartment or have some ability to impact either through their own decisions about how they consume energy in their home and increase energy efficiency in their home. We like to talk about insulating attics; that’s one of the most cost-effective things you can do to save energy.”
O’Brien-Bernini said home and building owners have two options if they are underinsulated. Low-income owners or occupants can call their state and get connected to the weatherization program. He said the Ohio weatherization program has $394 million to be spent in the next couple years. Owners who are not low-income have the opportunity to purchase insulation for their attics and receive a 30 percent tax credit. All buildings need a 30 to 50 percent insulation increase, depending on when they were built, O’Brien-Bernini said.
“Then you can offset 28 percent of the foreign fuel that we import today,” O’Brien-Bernini said. “That’s the opportunity in this. That all directly translates to greenhouse gas. We talk about 40 percent of the energy in the states; it’s about 43 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States come from operating buildings — that’s more than transportation, more than industry.”
From T-Town to global
Owens Corning began in Toledo in 1938. It invented several products, such as fiberglass insulation, reinforcements and shingles, Thaman said.
Half of its revenue comes from the United States where its most significant businesses are insulation, roofing and composites, Thaman said. The rest of its revenue comes from outside of the United States; specifically, China, Mexico and Canada, where its composites business reaches “the four corners of the globe.”
“Owens Corning has been around for 70 years, and I think we’re very proud of our history,” he said. “In that history, we’ve been a part of the Fortune 500 since the Fortune 500 was established. We’ve been through world wars and a whole lot of ups and downs in the economy.”
Today, its inventive spirit is geared toward new, efficient products and green ways to manufacture. It also produces a fiberglass material that is used in the blades of wind mills, said Scott Deitz, vice president, corporate media and investor relations.
“If the idea of green existed in 1938, we probably would have had something on the order of ‘we’re green’ in 1938 because it’s now one of our premier products lines, and we’ve been making tremendous improvements,” O’Brien-Bernini said.
“This isn’t a topic just for today, just for 2008 or 2009,” Deitz said. “We often say, ‘A generation from today, our children, our grandchildren might be talking about the fact that the decisions we made today around energy efficiency were really the decisions of our lifetime.’”