Looking Beyond Energy Efficiency

John G. Swanson
June 1, 2009
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Management

Nothing feels better to me than the beginning of summer. And from an industry perspective, it’s great to see things warming up a bit. With the spring came news that workers were returning to window and door plants, and I suspect many distributors and dealers brought back employees as business picked up in the office and in the field.

Whether you attribute the increase in activity to normal industry business cycles, the stimulus tax credits or “glimmers of hope” in the economy, I suspect you feel better about things than you did in January. I certainly do.

Still, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. We’re not going back to 2005 conditions anytime soon. And we may not be completely out of the woods. We continue to see a trickle of plant closings and the shutdown of distribution locations. And while a recent survey of Blue Chip economists foresees an official end to the recession in the second half of this year, that forecast is tempered by predictions from the same group that overall unemployment will continue to rise into next year.

Many executives I’ve talked to over the past year have talked about being in “survival mode” at their companies. It may be too early to abandon that mindset completely, but it probably isn’t too early to start thinking about what’s next. Perhaps, many window and door companies are already there.

Talking to equipment suppliers for the article on page XX of this issue, they suggested it may be happening. After a drawn-out period where most companies showed little interest in investing in window and door plants, manufacturers are starting to talk to them again about machinery needs going forward.

The “what’s next” most agree on is stronger energy performance requirements. We have the 30/30 requirements already set in place for tax credits, more stringent Energy Star standards going in effect in 2010 and a set of even stricter Energy Star numbers coming down the pike. Related to these developments, we see green building becoming more main stream and potential stimulus spending on energy efficient building projects that will drive demand for these higher performing products. Also on the horizon is a new energy bill, which could generate new requirements and/or opportunities for the industry.

Depending on how you view these developments, they either represent massive change or the continuation of a long-term industry trend. Every company in this industry, I suspect, will head down this path.

Such an approach is probably essential. I would even urge companies to try and stay ahead of the curve in fact. Still, the fact that “everybody” is going to move in this direction, I can’t help but ask, “what else?” What will the real movers and shakers be doing in addition to beefing up the energy efficiency of their product lines or maximizing their high performance sales? What will differentiate companies to make them the industry leaders of 2015 or 2020?

As executives take cautious steps out of "survival mode" into "strategic planning," I would put that question in front of them. I’m not smart enough to know the answer, but as I watch what I hope is the beginning of a new growth curve, I know I’ll be looking beyond energy efficiency. I do know an Energy Star label on a product will not be enough to set anyone apart.