For most organisations, the journey towards sustainability is exactly that – a journey. But for some, sustainability is their core purpose, the problem that their products are designed to fix – and for a select few, it’s a problem they managed to solve on their first attempt.
In 1963, a Dutch shipbuilder, Cornelis Verolme, sailed into New York harbour and had an epiphany. The shoreline was filled with glass-fronted buildings, as far as the eye could see and, on such a hot, sunny day, Cornelis pondered the energy consumption involved in keeping these buildings cool. On his return to the Netherlands, he immediately set to work inventing the world’s first fabric metallising machine and Verosol was born.
Here, Verosol’s National Operations Manager, Anthony Adamo, reveals the advantages – and challenges – of being an industry innovator and what’s next for the global leader in solar control fabrics.
Leading the charge
It’s fair to say that Verosol’s founder was a true innovator. Not only was Verolme the first to come up with the idea of creating a metallised fabric specifically to significantly reduce solar light, heat and UV radiation entering buildings, but he used diving technology – a hyperbaric chamber – in order to invent the metallising machine. “He was an exceptionally intelligent man who had the foresight to see the potential of metallised fabric, even before energy efficiency was a major concern”, reveals Adamo. “That core value has permeated throughout our organisation, over the decades, and we see providing energy efficient cooling solutions as our priority. That has been, and remains, our company vision. Supporting sustainable practices is why our business exists”.
Since the launch of Verosol’s first metallised fabric, the company has honed and refined its original invention while its competitors have failed to come close. Verosol’s newest product release is its most exciting to date –202 SilverScreen Performance, a fabric that boasts an unparalleled solar reflectance of 85%, the lowest-E (emissivity) rating and a much-coveted Greenguard Gold certification. “We’ve managed to get to where we are today by always focusing on our original vision and trying to deliver the absolute best solution to customers”, explains Adamo. “We all speak very passionately about our products because we know they’re the best and that, if every customer understood the energy-saving potential of our fabrics then they would only choose us”.
Cutting through the greenwash
Unfortunately, solving a major energy efficiency issue is only half the battle and educating customers has been Verosol’s toughest challenge – especially in a market where greenwashing is rife.
“When you’re the market leader, it’s natural for competitors to try to copy your products”, Adamo reveals. “The problem comes when those products look the same but are fundamentally inferior and completely mislead and misinform customers about what they’re buying. We’ve seen fabrics with a foil backing that looks similar to our fabrics but doesn’t provide any of the reflective qualities – or customers being encouraged to select shutters that completely block out the sun, like a prison cell. Customers are bombarded with options and very few answer the genuine question of how to significantly reduce heat, light and radiation while still providing a view and that all-important connection to the environment”.
Scientists of the soft furnishings industry
The heart of Verosol’s challenge lies in its reputation as a technical, rather than a decorative, solution. “We’re known as the scientists of soft furnishings – and it’s true”, Adamo laughs “We invest heavily in research and development, with design teams, lab teams, scientists and specialist machine operators. The problem is that, while that often makes us the product of choice for commercial projects with high green rating goals, it often means we’re overlooked in the residential market where people consider blinds as a purely decorative decision”.
Despite the challenges of greenwashing, Verosol is very much staying true to its core values of innovation and continuous improvement. “We feel that motorisation, sensor technology and automation are the next big opportunities for us” Adamo reveals. “We can use this technology to create smarter buildings that can react to heat and light to offer optimum solar reflectiveness. Buildings that can manage their own cooling – we’re really excited about the potential”.
The next steps
While the organisation has been working steadfastly to improve its product performance, it’s already focused on the next steps towards sustainability. While its products are inherently sustainable in their ability to reduce the carbon emissions created by excessive air conditioning, its new focus is to maintain its product performance while removing any harmful materials or processes from its supply chain.
“We’ve reached the absolute peak in performance, so now we’re focused on how we can do that while sourcing more sustainable yarn for our fabrics. We already invest in various sustainable initiatives and adhere to strict European standards, for our dye baths and minimising the use of toxic or non-degradable materials, but we want to make big changes, not marginal gains. We’ve been experimenting with aerospace design and even using glass instead of PVC, so for us it’s just a matter of continuously experimenting and pushing the boundaries to find the absolute best solution”, Adamo explains.
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