Single Ply Industry Resilience and Future Sustainability

As we reflect on the second year of recovery following the 2020 pandemic and subsequent material shortages that affected the world, the Single Ply Roofing Industry in North America, has demonstrated strong and impressive resiliency. Consider the industry’s growth and increased output at an unprecedented rate in the past few years. Collectively we now protect over 50 billion square feet of the nation’s critical and commercial infrastructure from the elements. Moreover, our industry is poised to serve as a superb platform for sustainability, with an opportunity to significantly impact the nation’s energy use.

Industry Resilience
Like most industries, roofing faced a significant shortage of workers following the onset of the pandemic, which continued into 2022. As widely documented by the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), not only, were roofing contractors faced with significant deficits of skilled and unskilled labor necessary to install roofing materials, but most key roofing component manufacturers shared similar difficulties in finding enough labor to produce the materials required to support the unprecedented market demand. While this improved somewhat in 2022, it has not erased the deficit from the past few years.

As supply chain shortages eased a bit in 2022, providing the much-needed raw materials to manufacturing companies for increased output to meet demand, labor shortages in the manufacturing and transportation sectors continued to negatively impact our industry. For some context as to why many single-ply companies were forced to do more with less labor, one need not look much farther than the November 2022 Bureau of Labor Statistics results on labor participation rates showing the employment population ratio remaining 1.3 percentage points below the February 2020 values.

On top of labor shortages and supply chain issues, demand for single-ply roofing materials and related components reached all-time highs. SPRI members reported a double digit increase in total square foot shipments in 2022 over the pre-pandemic trailing 12 months, which clearly demonstrated the resiliency of single-ply manufacturing despite significant challenges during the last three years. SPRI members can be proud to have collectively kept projects moving by supplying roofers with the materials necessary to protect more people where they work and live during this recovery.

Roofing as a Sustainability Platform
Looking forward, SPRI members have a great opportunity to help the commercial roofing industry to become a significant sustainability platform for reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Commercial and non-residential buildings account for more than 70% of electricity use and 29% of natural gas consumption in the United States. Collectively they contribute nearly 40% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. To help reduce carbon emission and lower building energy use, the White House announced in January 2022 the formation of the National Building Performance Standards Coalition, a group of more than 30 state and local governments. Members of the coalition have committed to designing and implementing building performance policies and programs in their jurisdictions by Earth Day 2024.

Additionally, energy codes have set minimum insulation requirements for new and re-roofing projects. Since the roof is typically the largest single surface of a commercial building, roofing insulation is a critical element of a building’s performance. As such, roofing work has a direct impact on building performance standards, and usually provides opportunities for energy upgrades by increasing insulation to meet energy code, which in turn helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The potential savings from additional roofing insulation are significant. According to one study conducted by Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA), upgrading roof insulation on existing commercial buildings would save an estimated $65 billion in energy costs over a 30-year period, and eliminate nearly 338 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. The estimated energy costs savings just for stand-alone retail stores would be over $16.5 billion. Regardless of your opinion on why the climate is changing, it is difficult to argue in this time of rising costs and energy use, that reducing consumption, costs, and emissions is the wrong thing to do.

One thing is very clear, when it comes to sustainability, the commercial roofing industry and SPRI members collectively have a huge opportunity to substantially help reduce energy use, which will also have a positive impact on our environment through significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Our future looks bright indeed. We continue to see great things on the horizon for our industry, and the potential impact we can all have on our environment and in protecting critical infrastructure and commercial building investment across the country. I hope you all have a very happy, safe, and productive 2023.