United Nations approves 2022 as the International Year of Glass – An Update from Professor Alicia Durán, Chair of IYOG2022

United Nations approves 2022 as the International Year of Glass – An Update from Professor Alicia Durán, Chair of IYOG2022

Alicia Durán

The International Commission on Glass (ICG), the Community of Glass Associations (CGA) and ICOM-Glass are promoting 2022 as the United Nations International Year of Glass to underline its scientific, economic and cultural roles and celebrate several anniversaries. The Opening Ceremony of IYOG2022 will be celebrated on 10-11 February 2022 in Geneva in the Human Rights Room of the Palace of Nations. The first meeting of the International Council of IYOG was held on 16 June and now national/regional Steering Committees are being formed to coordinate the activities.

Human civilization is built on many things, one being ‘Glass’. Beyond its commonplace roles, glass in various guises is driving many cutting-edge sectors. Some even suggest that we now live in ‘The Glass Age’.

History is replete with milestones where glass has transformed our world: 3500 years of glass beads and jewellery; exquisite Egyptian containers for expensive perfumes; ossuaries holding the bones and treasured possessions of loved ones; as BC became, AD glass-blowing yielded intricate objects suitable for collecting and as diplomatic gifts; etc. In the last millennium, glass windows have flooded sacred buildings with light, decorated goblets have celebrated dynasties, and mosque lamps have signalled a patron’s generosity. Today, glass fills our architectural skyline, solar panels and wind turbines with glass reinforced blades dominate the renewable energy market, and glass is integrated into the fine arts.

Glass optical fibre preform

Over many centuries, scientific endeavour has relied on glass. Galileo with his telescope opened our eyes to the wonders of the cosmos; microscopes let us see cells, microbes, and blood, and understand diseases; light bulbs enabled reading and night-working; glass valves ushered in electronics; and now optical fibres are the hidden network behind the world-wide web. Glass is the sustainable tool supporting our developed society. Appropriately, ancient writers equated the glassblower’s breath with the wisdom of the philosopher Seneca.

Milestones to be celebrated in 2022 include:

  • 670th anniversary of the first depiction of eyeglasses in a painting;
  • 200 years of Fresnel Lenses in coastal lighthouses;
  • 100 years since glass was discovered in King Tutankhamun’s Tomb;
  • 100 years of the German Society of Glass Technology (DGG);
  • 70th anniversary of the Pilkington patent for Float Glass;
  • 60 years of the Studio Glass Movement;
  • 45th anniversary of Anderson, Mott and Van Vleck’s Nobel prize (glassy materials).

Our vision of a United Nations International Year of Glass (IYOG2022) is to celebrate the past, present, and future of this transformative material, and specifically to:

  • Demonstrate its role throughout recorded history in advancing civilization;
  • Organise international glass science and art festivals, with workshops to excite and inform the public of this rich history, and highlight links between glass, art and culture;
  • Hold an inaugural Conference in Geneva, Switzerland; a mid-year International Congress on Glass in Berlin, Germany; and a World congress/exhibition on glass art and history (including a worldwide glass technology event in China and a Congress in Egypt);
  • Stimulate research on glass amongst organisations in education, industry, research and the public domain, including museums, to address the great challenges the world faces; achieving sustainable and equitable growth; and improving the quality of life everywhere;
  • Build worldwide alliances focused on science and engineering for young people, while addressing gender balance and the needs of developing countries/emerging economies.


Glass and UN Developmental Goals

UN GOAL 3 (Good Health and Well-being): Biocompatible and bioactive glasses have been universally transformative for patients. Specialty glasses can bond broken bones without rejection. Deep, persistent wounds, especially in diabetic patients, are hard to treat but new glasses show a remarkable restorative capacity. Porous hollow glass microspheres (HGMs) can encapsulate fragile drugs but reject undesired biological agents; for example, radioactive yttrium-90 delivered in HMGs has treated liver cancer. Chemically inert glass vials, cartridges, syringes and ampoules are paramount to prevent interaction with their contents, particularly active formulations. The EpiPen® auto-injector cartridge for treating severe allergic reactions has at its heart chemically strengthened glass; millions have been fabricated, with no known failures. Glasses have multiple roles in orthodontics and toothpaste. In so many ways glasses can ensure our good health and well-being.

UN GOAL 4 (Quality Education): A quality education underpins sustainable development. An inclusive education provides the tools to create innovative solutions to the world’s pressing problems. A well-rounded education offers insights into how society copes with change.

Education is at the heart of the International Commission on Glass (ICG), which links experts in science, technology, art, history and education. In the last decade, the ICG has organized more than 20 schools in Europe, China, India, North America and South America. The book Teaching Glass Better celebrated 10 years of ICG Summer Schools, summarising content and capturing their historical development. Sharing staff across schools has propagated best practice.

The admin structures for IYOG will focus on a 50:50 balance of women and men

The ICG Youth Outreach Committee arranges mentors and events to attract and retain future talent. New university glass-art programs are transforming craftspeople into sculptors. Education is vital for younger students and technicians too, and programs exist, for example in Brazil and India. Education can teach sustainable development and how to achieve it. ICG actors represent many international teaching organisations and our IYOG goals are to share aspirations, stimulate fresh ideas and seed new courses.

UN GOAL 5 (Gender Equality): While the world has progressed towards gender equality and women’s empowerment under the Millennium Development Goals, women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence. Gender equality is a fundamental human right, and a foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. It is a must in IYOG activities, to be achieved by recruiting top glass-women for committees, for plenary and invited talks, as well as CEO and Management-Board-level positions. The IYOG board will propose and support committees chaired by women, and each committee should be balanced whether organising a congress or smaller event. Educating companies and institutions in managing diversity, making it an engine for innovation and creativity, is the best route to a brighter future. Gender matters. Women are half of the world and must become half of the glass world.

UN GOAL 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation): Clean, accessible water for all is everyone’s aspiration. Sufficient fresh water exists, but damaging economics or poor infrastructure mean millions die annually from diseases linked to inadequate supplies, sanitation and hygiene. Similar issues impact adversely on food security, life choices and educational opportunities. In the last century billions have experienced an unprecedented rise in living standards, but many still live in poverty with little access to clean water.

Surface and groundwater contamination come from industrial discharges, excess use of agrochemicals and domestic waste landfill. Wastewater treatment uses processes which can be mimicked by glass. Porous filters made from foam glasses or phase-separated glasses can aid sanitization (and purify air, another global issue). Photocatalytic degradation of toxic organic compounds can restore drinking water; and sunlight, shining on coated glass immersed in solutions of organic pollutants, can oxidize many into non-toxic products. The best results combine porous glass filters with titania-coated glass, offering a cost-effective approach for developing countries.

UN GOAL 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy): Energy is central to most of the challenges and opportunities the world faces. Universal access to energy, increased energy efficiency and greater use of renewable energy are crucial to building more sustainable and inclusive communities, but increasing demand means new ways to generate energy renewably and efficient energy storage are also needed. Solar energy is the main carbon-neutral source available. Sunlight striking the Earth hourly provides more energy than society consumes annually but renewable energy represents just 17% (2018) of global consumption.

Solar energy can be harvested via photovoltaic cells, solar thermal energy generation and photo-bioreactors; glass has a role in each. Photovoltaics need a glass protective cover to ensure long-term functionality. The cell’s energy conversion efficiency increases the more transparent the glass, the better it traps light, and if it has anti-reflective coatings. Solar thermal devices use glass mirrors to reflect the sun’s rays onto a glass tube and heat a fluid inside, which powers an electric generator. In photo-bioreactors, microorganisms such as green algae are grown inside engineered glass tubes and convert solar into chemical energy by photosynthesis.

Turbine blades made from fiberglass-reinforced composites convert wind to electricity. Efficiency increases with longer blades; stronger composites allow larger, more efficient and reliable wind turbines to be built. Both depend on glass design. New glasses are also improving solid-state batteries. Nuclear power is another low-carbon energy source but generates radioactive waste requiring geological timescales to decay. Long-term immobilisation in a glassy matrix is possible; new glasses can encapsulate large quantities of waste and be sufficiently durable for storage.

Glass may have a role in hydrogen-powered transport, where hydrogen storage is a challenge. Hollow glass microspheres, 1 to 100 μm in size, can trap hydrogen. Rapid release is possible, by photo-induced outgassing using an infrared lamp.

UN GOAL 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure): Investments in infrastructure – such as communication technology – are crucial to sustainable development and can enhance social cohesion. Low-loss glass optical fibres were the precursor to the Internet and the catalyst to a paradigm shift in global communications. They are indispensable in our knowledge-based society. Now the need to send more data further is driving product development; on the horizon are photonic crystal fibres and communication via quantum-entangled photons.

Glass fibre optics play a vital role in communications

Photonics is broader than fibres alone and encompasses diverse applications. Glass components include spherical lenses, prisms, beam splitters and more. Similarly, the optical communications industry addresses and filters its information streams using optical circuitry fabricated wholly or partly in glass.

Recent advances include wireless signals carried over a fibreoptic cable to give wireless access, such as 5G or Wi-Fi simultaneously from the same antenna. Fibre lasers exploit the unique characteristics of rare earth doped glass and are now standard for numerous applications. Their use in clinical surgery and therapy is expanding. They are facilitating study of nonlinear optical phenomena.

LED sources, based on the light emission from crystalline semiconductors, require a phosphor, often a doped glass, to produce white light. One – dimensional photonic structure, which can manipulate light, are made by depositing glass layers with different refractive indices. 2D and 3D photonic crystals require self-assembling glass nanoparticles. They are attracting significant interest as sensors.

Television began with glass cathode ray tubes and moved to flat panel displays. As resolution improves and pixel size shrinks, the deposition of thin-film-display electronics requires glass substrates with greater dimensional stability. Ultra-thin glasses are being developed for bendable, even foldable displays. Integrated optical circuits in films deposited on ultra-thin glasses may lead to breakthroughs similar to those in flexible electronics. Glasses to visualize information through augmented and virtual reality devices offer another display technology revolution.

Glasses have revolutionized data storage. Phase-change memories support rewritable data storage by toggling local regions between glassy and crystalline states. Magnetic memory disks use high-strength, high-stiffness glass substrates for faster reading and higher-densities. Another option with exceptionally high storage capacity may be glass holographic memories.

Among new processing techniques, sol-gel technology is important and has evolved steadily over 50 years. It is a low temperature, energy-saving, low-cost technology, suitable for glassy coatings and membranes. It offers mechanical and corrosion protection; anti-reflectivity; hydrophobicity; photocatalytic self-cleaning; plus optical and optoelectronic functions such as filters, switches, waveguides and integrated optical circuits used in solar cells, solid-state lighting and communications.

UN GOAL 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities): Cities are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity, social development and more. At their best, cities have enabled social and economic advances. However, by 2030 cities will house 5 billion people and will need efficient management. Issues include congestion, underfunded services, shortages of adequate housing, solid waste management, declining infrastructure and air pollution.

Glass has many roles in transportation, for example glazing gives unimpaired vision and contributes to safety and security, as well as style and comfort. Chemically strengthened glasses are essential for airplane-cockpit windshields. Other innovative designs offer thermal comfort; improve fuel efficiency by reducing weight; and integrate display features which expand entertainment and connectivity options.

Soon buildings may be energy-neutral or even contribute to the energy grid. Contemporary residential and commercial designs often use larger windows with more energyefficient glazing, based on coatings and new double/triple glazing formats, while also increasing UV protection.

Glass bottles are easily recycled many times and are often also re-used

A TNO study quantified the energy-saving potential of new glazing systems across the EU Member States. TNO showed that high-performance glazing could reduce energy consumption by 30%, equivalent to an annual CO2 emissions reduction of 94 million tons in 2030. The contribution of glazing is potentially even higher and the EU aims by 2050 to be the first climate neutral economy. More savings are possible with switchable/electrochromic glazing, glazing-integrated photovoltaics and other novel technologies.

Glass containers can lessen solid urban waste (SUW). The “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” philosophy is vital to a sustainable lifestyle and waste management. 60% of SUW is packaging, mostly single use, often non-renewable materials or ones in short supply. ‘Reduce’ means using easily maintained, durable goods; glass kitchenware is in this category. Some hotels and restaurants use returnable glass bottles for ‘Reuse’ and glass jars are often reused in kitchens for storage. Single-use containers are preferred by supermarkets, leading to the third R, ‘recycling’, the transformation of an object into a raw material and back. Glass is the only recyclable container in the strict meaning of the concept: one glass bottle produces another glass bottle, forming a perfect “circular economy”. Glass containers are the only ones with the GRASS and Food Safety stamp in Europe and the US.

From greener transport to efficient buildings, from containers respecting the 3R rule to PV panels, glass uses natural resources more efficiently, causes less pollution and enhances citizens’ lives.

Culture is an essential element of city life, enhancing the well-being of its inhabitants. Museums play a strategic role. They preserve and exhibit the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity for scholarship and enjoyment. Art, science, archaeology, history and social sciences meet and intersect in museums with glass collections. Glass objects spanning history, works of art and glass for everyday use are displayed with specialized glassware for industry and science. They describe raw materials and production methods, telling the stories of those who created and used them. Glass museums, particularly ones with hot and cold workshops, can promote lifelong learning through programs for young and old (Goal 4).

UN GOAL 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production): Sustainable consumption and production means “doing more and better with less”. It embeds resource- and energy-efficiency throughout the entire life cycle; infrastructure, supply chains and basic services; green and decent jobs; and a better quality of life for all.

The glass industry has a long history of energy conservation. Electric melting and hydrogenbased technologies offer a sustainable future

Many glass firms are addressing environmental challenges and ICG organises international bench-marking exercises to stimulate improvement. Glass is innately environmentally friendly. Most glasses are made from safe, readily available raw materials. Recycling rates are high and industry actively seeks more energy efficient melting technologies and alternative glass compositions to reduce its carbon footprint. It has a rich history of responding to challenge, a valuable example and resource for the future.

Educating consumers on sustainable consumption and lifestyles depends on distributing information through standards, labels and advertising. The concept of a “circular economy” needs to be understood so all can commit to the challenges of global change; ways to maintain lifestyle without damaging the planet need explaining. Many organisations already do this and an IYOG can help to spread best practice.

UN GOAL 13 (Climate Action): Climate change is affecting every country on every continent, disrupting national economies and affecting lives, costing people, communities and even entire countries.

The energy efficiency of glass melting has increased substantially by using post-consumer waste glasses and reducing the weight of manufactured products. Affordable, scalable pathways to decarbonization are under development. Glass windows admit light into homes and offices while providing protection from harsh weather. Double-glazed units often had argon between the panes to reduce heat loss but vacuum insulated glazing is a more effective new technology. Laminated glasses improve acoustic damping to reduce “noise pollution”. Architects are using more glass for its functionalities and appealing aesthetics.

Many glass artefacts assist in combating climate change. Energy-saving glass products – low-emissivity double glazing, mineral wool and foam glass for insulation, PV cells and glass fibre for wind turbines and lighter vehicles – compensate several times over during their service life for the energy used in their production. For example, replacing single with double-glazed windows can yield a five-month energy payback.

UN GOAL 14 (Life below Water): The world’s oceans and rivers – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable. Careful management is vital for a sustainable future but plastic waste is polluting them. Its ingestion by various marine animals causes health problems for humans consuming seafood, including immune disorders, birth defects, and various cancers. Glass packaging is infinitely recyclable and a safe, clean alternative based on natural and abundant materials.

UN GOAL 17 (Partnerships to Achieve the Goal): A successful sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society built on principles and values, a shared vision and goals with people and the planet at the centre; partnerships are needed at global, regional, national and local levels. An IYOG will underline the many and varied roles of glass and stimulate, mobilise and redirect such partnerships to unlock their resources and deliver sustainable development.


With its unparalleled versatility and technical capabilities, glass has fostered numerous cultural and scientific advancements. Its history is shared with the evolution of humankind. Its future will contribute to the challenges of a sustainable and fairer society. For an IYOG we will:

  • Weave together the multicoloured threads of technology, social history and art through educational programs and museum exhibitions.
  • Promote networking among glass associations; universities, colleges and schools; R&D centres; industry, including producers and suppliers; museums; and civil society.
  • Mobilise governments, industry, academia and cultural centres to collaborate in the initiative and promote a multitude of activities.
  • Activate support for a UN IYOG by showing that glass is worth celebrating. Let’s raise a glass to that!