When most people think of construction aggregates, they don't think of
sustainability. Construction aggregates, which consist of sand, gravel, crushed
stone and other particulate materials, are key components of concrete, one of
the basic building blocks of our nation's infrastructure.
Typically, aggregates come from quarries, many of them near major population
centers, which has prompted legal battles and legislative disputes between
environmentalists, local homeowners and quarry companies. Yet the reality
remains: Without these aggregates, the very foundation of our society would not
Angela Driscoll, manager of government affairs and sustainability for the
western division of Vulcan Materials Co., believes that aggregate production can
be sustainable. Vulcan
Materials Co. is the nation's largest producer of construction aggregates
and a leading producer of other construction materials such as asphalt, concrete
and cement. Since 2006, Driscoll has been working with Brian Anderson, director
of environmental management, to translate that belief into measurable results,
one building block at a time.
Tips to Become More Sustainable
Here are Driscoll's suggestions on how a company can become more sustainable:
- Go for the low-hanging fruit. Driscoll says her company started a
simple recycling program, replacing plastic trash cans with paper boxes to
encourage employees to recycle everything but their food waste (they had to
throw that out in the kitchen). Trash pickups went from five days per week
down to two days per week, saving the company an estimated $10,000 per year
- Look at what your competitors are doing. It's useful to look at
other companies' sustainability reports because that may trigger ideas for
your organization. Says Driscoll, "You don't have to reinvent the wheel."
- Take one step at a time. Look at where you're spending your
money. Where could you be more efficient and save dollars and cents? Says
Driscoll, "You don't have to implement all of the principles of global
reporting in one fell swoop. Pick a few and go from there."
"When we first started working on a sustainability implementation plan, the
whole concept was new to me," says Driscoll. "I read everything I could get my
hands on. I talked to whomever I could. I educated myself."
In this largely male-dominated industry, Driscoll has had to build a business
case for sustainability.
"We wrote an executive summary translating sustainability into financial
returns. Then we went to management with that, and they said, 'OK. Let's try
this.'" Working within the western division, which consists of California,
Arizona and New Mexico, Driscoll and her colleagues decided to break
sustainability into measurable components. "The first thing we did was compile a
couple of teams--engineering, safety, environmental, community outreach, legal,
operations--and said, 'This is what we need to do; how do we get to this place?'
We started looking at what we already had in place."
The company had a lean management plan. It was measuring
safety, absenteeism, greenhouse gas emissions, fuel consumption, electricity
use, land use, partners in education. "And that was the start of our
sustainability plan," Driscoll says. "We took those indicators and set metrics--baseline
measurements and target indicators--and then the managers in each department had
to approve them. They had ownership."
In 2008, Vulcan's western division published its first sustainability report,
"On the Path to Sustainability," which highlighted some of its successes.
According to the report, Vulcan operates the first combined asphalt and
aggregates facility in California to be certified as ISO
14001-compliant. The western division's aggregates facility in Corona,
Calif., also has utilized co-generation to produce electricity using its
downhill conveyor belts. In addition to substantial cost savings, that accounts
for an estimated 180,000 pounds of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions savings every
year. And Vulcan's Palomar Transit Mix facility in Escondido, Calif., recycles
leftover concrete, with a reduction of more than 18,000 pounds of GHGs over an
eight-month period. In addition, the company has developed a new asphalt
paving material, called WarmPave, that it claims reduces direct carbon dioxide
emissions by more than 30 percent and nitrogen oxides by 55 percent.
But for Driscoll, perhaps the greatest accomplishment is the buy-in she and
her colleagues have gotten from fellow employees and management alike. "The
plant in [Corona] saves thousands of dollars. Now other plant managers are
asking, 'How do I do that for my plant? How can I do something that saves
thousands of dollars?' It fosters friendly competition that will help them
overall in the bottom line."
Driscoll says she often focuses on efficiencies rather than sustainability.
"Sustainability is lean management with transparency . . . sometimes you have to
change your wording to get people on board."
Currently, she is working on the 2009 sustainability report, which she says
will include 11 new targets. "Sustainability helps us become better, makes us
reach a little bit higher, and helps us identify opportunities where we can
improve. You're always trying to improve your operations and improve your