No longer just a buzzword, sustainability is a trend that will help provide the aggregates industry with the social license it needs to operate.
Sustainability — a concept many previously believed to be a cause de jour — has grown deep roots in the culture of the global population. From movies featuring former vice presidents to television commercials for household products, environmental issues also play an increasingly important role in the American conscience. For aggregates producers, it elevates the significance of environmental stewardship not only during the mining phase, but also life-cycle planning from design through final use of their sites.
“Sustainability is not a catchword anymore. It really is a value. Sustainability means that we care about people, we care about our environment, and we care about making products that help build America’s economy,” says Joy Wilson, president and CEO of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) in a new toolkit on sustainability within the aggregates industry. “It’s the three circles of environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and economic investment that, together, combine to allow our industry help our communities achieve a sustainable future.”
Best practices — not only in mining but also in community relations — go to the core of communicating how environmental, safety, and health initiatives being used in the aggregate industry ensure a supply of construction materials for economic development, but in a way that minimizes its impact on future generations.
“We are only going to be allowed to continue to operate at the good graces of the community,” says Louis Griesemer, president of Springfield Underground, Inc., and immediate past chairman of NSSGA. “If we don’t have their support, we might be able to continue to mine for some time or operate our operations in existing locations, but they will look very adversely at us during any kind of expansion or opening of new sites.”
Mindful of the importance of maintaining their social license to operate, many aggregate companies include sustainability and sustainable development among their core values.
Vulcan Materials Co.
Birmingham, Ala.-based Vulcan Materials Co. has demonstrated its commitment to environmental, safety, health, and sustainability issues through numerous initiatives, including several significant announcements so far this year.
In January, Vulcan joined the Global Environmental Management Initiatives (GEMI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization of companies dedicated to fostering global environmental, health, and safety excellence through the sharing of tools and information. It also promotes a worldwide business ethic in these areas through example and leadership. Companies belonging to GEMI include 3M, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., DuPont, Eastman Kodak Co., The Coca-Cola Co., Perdue Farms, and The Procter & Gamble Co., among others.
“Given the constantly changing regulatory environment and challenges facing the industry, our safety, health, and environmental programs must continue to improve for the company to maintain its leadership position,” says Brad Rosenwald, Vulcan’s corporate vice president of safety, health, and environment. “Membership and participation in an organization of GEMI’s caliber is a cornerstone in helping our company achieve our goal of continual improvement.”
In February, the California Climate Action Registry, following certification of its 2006 inventory report of greenhouse gas emissions, designated Vulcan’s Western Division as a Climate Action Leader. That report is a single part of a larger initiative in the division to address the challenges of climate change.
The Western Division is also looking for ways to quantify the steps it has taken to reduce greenhouse gases at its facilities. One example of these efforts is the design and construction of a downhill conveyor at its newest aggregates site in Corona, Calif. The conveyor generates electricity as it carries aggregate to the processing plant below. According to Brian Anderson, the Western Division’s director, environmental management, regulatory affairs, and sustainable development, the electricity created by the plant’s downhill conveyor will result in more than 180,000 pounds of greenhouse gas savings annually. “This project is a testament to Vulcan’s commitment to the environment, and a wonderful example of a sustainable practice that directly benefits the community by providing a material that is in severe shortage throughout the state,” Anderson says.
In Orange County, Calif., Vulcan has also partnered on a trial project with West MeadVaco and Western Emulsions to pave a service road in Irvine Regional Park with warm-mix asphalt, a paving technology used in Europe for several years, but just being tested in the United States. Warm-mix asphalt requires less heat for its use and can be poured in colder weather. Benefits include the potential for energy savings, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and an extended paving system that could expedite construction projects.