Vermont Manufacturer Introduces Low Carbon Building Material to US

Glavel offers glass foam gravel made from recycled glass. This fall, the company is expected to open a manufacturing facility in Essex. Photos by Erica Houskeeper
Made from recycled glass, Glavel will begin making foam glass gravel at its plant in Essex this fall.

by Kelly Notterman “The built environment is responsible for almost 40% of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Rob Conboy, Founder and CEO of Glavel. “There is the energy we use to heat and cool buildings, which most people understand, but the materials used in construction also have a big impact. “

Specifically, building industry professionals now consider embedded carbon – a term that refers to the carbon dioxide emissions from materials throughout the manufacturing and construction process – to understand the true carbon footprint of a business. ‘a building. This includes emissions from the transport of heavy materials, such as stone, and whether the materials are derived or made with petroleum, for example.

Glavel offers a low carbon alternative to the crushed stone and foam board typically used under the slab of a building to provide drainage and insulation, namely foam glass gravel made from recycled glass.

“Our product does not require virgin glass or petroleum products,” said Conboy, “and it is ultra-light, which reduces transportation emissions.”

Also known as cellular glass, foam glass gravel is a lightweight aggregate made from recycled glass that has been used in Europe for over 25 years. “It’s a proven product,” Conboy said. “It’s better for the environment, cost effective and streamlines logistics on a job site by combining drainage and insulation properties in one product. “

Rob Conboy, Founder and CEO (front left) and Glavel’s COO Ken Mincar (back) reflects with Sales Manager Alexandra Carroll and Tor Dworshak, a member of the sales and marketing staff.

More than a story of upcycling.

When Ardaugh, one of the leading glass recycling plants in the United States, closed without notice in 2018, Conboy saw an opportunity to create a new market for recycled glass. “It sent shockwaves through the recycling chain,” he said. “Everyone was asking us what we were going to do with all our glass recycling? “

Conboy founded Glavel and began importing foam glass gravel from Europe. His plan was to bring the product to the United States, build up a customer base, and eventually open a domestic manufacturing facility, all while helping to solve the country’s glass recycling problem. “At first I thought Glavel would be an upcycling story,” Conboy said.

In the years that followed, however, the construction industry began to move aggressively towards low carbon materials, creating another strong selling point for foam glass gravel. The Institute of Architects is now calling for “building transparency” that takes into account the incorporated carbon used in building materials and the impact of these materials on the environment and climate change.

Recognizing the opportunity, Conboy and his team decided to make the jump to domestic manufacture as soon as possible. In need of working capital, Conboy approached the Flexible capital fund (Flex Fund) at the end of 2020 to facilitate the transition from an import company to a manufacturer. The Flex Fund has worked with Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) of Maine, a Community development financial institution (CDFI) similar to the Flex Fund, to complete a financing package of $ 400,000 using royalty financing (also called revenue-based financing).

“CEI and the Flex Fund are mission aligned and we’ve worked together before, but this was the first royalty funding they had done,” said Janice St. Onge, President of the Flex Fund. “CEI was more comfortable with us as a lead investor and willing to take the risk with Glavel. Together, our organizations can support Glavel far beyond the borders of Vermont.

The company’s planned opening of a manufacturing facility in Essex, Vermont this fall cannot come soon enough. This month the International Panel on Climate Change issued their strongest warning yet about a worsening climate emergency, with some of the changes already underway being considered “irreversible” for centuries to come. Despite the dire warnings in the report, Conboy is optimistic that companies like Glavel can be part of the solution.

“We have the technology today to make significant progress on climate change,” he said. “While innovation is important, the road to getting us out of the climate change problem is paved with known technologies that exist today. We just need to evolve these solutions.

Manufacturing aligned with social and environmental values.

This is exactly what they do, Conboy and his team are committed to evolving in line with the company’s values ​​and mission, which are particularly evident in the company’s commitment to clean energy and its hiring policy.

The process of making foam glass gravel involves slowly moving glass powder through a 1600 ° F oven to create pumice, an energy-intensive process. Conboy made a commitment early on to power manufacturing with all renewables, a promise he works with Green Mountain Power and Renewable energy Encore, another Flex Fund holding company, to deliver.

But Conboy doesn’t stop at recycling and clean energy. Influenced from the start by his work with progressive companies such as Seventh Generation and environmental justice leaders like Van Jones, Conboy is adamant that “we cannot solve environmental problems unless we also tackle the problems. of social justice ”.

To this end, Glavel has partnered with Fields of work, a Vermont staffing agency that provides a second chance for people in prison or recovering from addiction, and will activate this partnership this year as it begins staffing the new plant. “Giving people a second chance through employment is how we start to break the cycle of incarceration,” said Conboy. Additionally, as he builds his team and governance structure, Conboy is committed to ensuring his team is diverse and inclusive, understanding the value that a wide range of perspectives brings to a business. .

“We believe in environmental stewardship, social justice and a clean energy future,” said Conboy. “As a business owner, I have the opportunity and the responsibility to be true to these values ​​and ideals, and to integrate them into all aspects of the business. “

About the Flexible Capital Fund

The Flexible Capital Fund, L3C is a Community development financial institution (CDFI) and an impact investment fund that provides flexible risk capital in the form of subordinated debt, income-based financing (also known as royalty financing) and alternative equity structures, to Vermont’s growing businesses and the region’s food systems, forest products, and cleantech sectors.

Kelly Notterman is the Director of Communications for the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.

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