The Trials of Sustainability

Therese Dunphy

July 1, 2009

Agility and adaptability are the keys to succeeding in sustainability initiatives.

by Bill Langer, USGS


While waiting for Rosie’s next run at an American Kennel Club (AKC) agility trial, I watched the other dogs running the courses and thought about what goes into a successful trial. 

“Agility trials are just like sustainable aggregate resource management (SARM),” I said to my wife, Pam. “The dogs are the stars of agility, and aggregate producers are the stars of sustainability. But there is more to agility than dogs, and more to SARM than producers.”

Pam’s response: “Billy! Stop with the rock stuff! Aren’t you supposed to be walking the course?”

I dashed to the ring where about 50 other people and I maneuvered through the course giving commands to our imaginary dogs. What works for one dog may not work for another, so we each did things differently. Likewise for SARM — there are general principles, but each aggregate producer can approach sustainability as preferences and conditions permit.

At the pre-trial briefing that morning, the judge told us to treat our dogs kindly or she would “excuse” us from the course. Ditto for aggregate producers, who are expected to exercise “corporate social responsibility” when addressing environmental, economic, and societal issues.

The trial followed AKC rules designed to facilitate a successful trial. Similarly, federal, state, and local governments should develop the policies, regulatory framework, and economic incentives that provide the climate for successful SARM, not encumber it.

Crowds of people, many of whom had never seen agility before, attended the trial. They took it upon themselves to learn what was going on, and soon the crowd went “Aaaaww” when a dog goofed up (it probably was the handler’s mistake) or “Yaaaaaaay” when one successfully completed the course. Likewise, governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as the public, have a responsibility to become informed about the need for aggregate and about resource management issues.

To the uninformed, agility looks pretty easy. Some spectators said their dogs were well trained, and asked how to enter a trial. I suggested they might want to get some formal agility training before entering a trial. Although undertaking SARM does not require formal training, it might be helpful to take advantage of the available resources. (For a few hundred thousand examples, try Googling some or all of the following words: construction materials, aggregate, and/or sustainability).

Even though my main objective at the trial was to run with Rosie, many other participants and I helped build the courses, re-set knocked-over bars, record the judge’s signals on the score sheet when mistakes were made (Aaaaww), and so forth. In the same way, all the stakeholders in SARM have a responsibility to constructively contribute to a process that addresses not only their own objectives, but those of a wide range of other stakeholders.

Rosie and I ran clean (made no mistakes) and ran fast (finished under the prescribed time).Voila! Rosie earned a green “Q” (qualifying score) ribbon. Yaaaaay! The other competitors were happy for us and gave us pointers to help us do even better next time. Apparently, many aggregate producers also like to share their success stories with others; just look at their Web sites.

Agility trials are attended by like-minded folks, and usually go well. Unfortunately, SARM brings together people with diverse interests, and the public, government, or aggregate producers may not live up to their responsibilities. Nevertheless, there are those in the aggregate industry that operate in a sustainable manner despite a lack of cooperation.

To them I say, “Run clean and run fast.”

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