It Ain’t Easy Being Green


January 1, 2009

Like cute, cuddly dogs maneuvering an agility course, aggregate producers must weave through myriad issues regarding sustainability.

by Bill Langer

I recently had coffee with a friend, Mike, who happens to be in the aggregate business. I am not sure why, but mid-way through our conversation we started talking about Lucy and Rosie, the dogs with me in the above photo. Mike was surprised to learn that they are trained athletes and have their master’s titles in American Kennel Club (AKC) canine agility, a sport that resembles running, jumping, and weaving through a dog obstacle course.

Cute cuddly dogs aren’t always what they appear to be!

The same can be said for sustainability. Sustainable aggregate resource management (SARM) has come of age. What once was shunned by industry is now being heralded as a cornerstone of good business practices. The cover story of Aggregates Manager (May 2008), “Going Green – The aggregates industry embraces sustainability,” illustrates the industry acceptance of sustainability.

Some countries, states, and provinces have adopted policy statements regarding SARM. Associations of aggregate producers, including the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association and the European Aggregates Association, have issued official statements endorsing SARM. Aggregate producers, especially large multi-national companies, have voluntarily created sustainability policy statements and annual sustainability reports, and made those documents available via the Internet. Some producers have embraced the principles of SARM even though they have not elaborated their policies using sustainability terminology.

A simple, concise definition of sustainability is: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. People have modified that definition to serve their own purposes to the extent that sometimes it is difficult to know what they mean when they use the term ‘sustainability.’ Nevertheless, over time the dozens of interpretations of sustainability have morphed into a term that puts a major emphasis on being environmentally friendly, or in today’s jargon, green.

Some of the early proponents of sustainability professed that in order to achieve sustainable development, the natural resources that one generation passes on to the next must be maintained or enhanced – cut down one tree; plant another.

That philosophy gets somewhat confusing when dealing with aggregate, which like all mineral resources, are ‘wasting assets.’ Eventually, individual aggregate deposits become depleted, pits and quarries close, new deposits are found, and new operations are opened. Aggregate resources are consumed and cannot be replaced. However, on a world-wide scale, the amount of aggregate resources is nearly infinite, and the concern over sustaining the resource is meaningless.

Given there is a vast world-wide supply of potential sources of aggregate, geology controls their occurrence, and they are not always where we need them. For example, sources of high quality gravel and rock for crushed stone are very limited in the Gulf Coastal Plain, the Colorado Plateau, and the Great Plains.

Even where sources of aggregate exist, quality (specifications), environmental issues, zoning, encroachment by incompatible land uses, land ownership, and citizen opposition limit production. It is not uncommon for producers to take 10 years to bring new supplies of aggregates on line. Aggregate is heavy and bulky, and transporting it 20 to 30 miles can double its price and increase traffic accidents, greenhouse gas emissions, and road and vehicle maintenance.

Sustainable aggregate resource management is an appropriate framework for addressing the complex issues associated with aggregate development. This column will work through the obstacles to SARM just like Lucy and Rosie jump, climb, tunnel, and weave through the obstacles on their agility courses.

If you have an interesting sustainability experience you would like to share (or if you like canine agility), please send me an e-mail (

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