Editor’s Note: “Precaster’s Perspective” offers a precast concrete manufacturer’s point of view on an issue of concern to the industry. Precast Inc. magazine welcomes reader comments. Please forward comments and/or suggestions for future topics to the editor at [email protected], or simply comment below at the end of this post.
Tiffany M. Ward, LEED AP BD+C, earned her BE from Vanderbilt University in chemical engineering and began her career with Hanson Pipe & Precast as a technical resource engineer. Currently the sustainability manager for Hanson Building Products, Ward serves on the NPCA Sustainability Committee and ASTM E60 committee on sustainability.
Cyndi Glascock has worked at Gainey’s Concrete Products since graduating from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2002 with a degree in industrial technology design. Currently she is leading Gainey’s new Heavy Precast division as a technical salesperson and promoting the company as the marketing manager through advertising, website design and literature development.
Patrick C. Rodgers, who has worked in the precast industry since age 15, is sales and marketing director for Contractors Precast Corp. located in Davidsonville, Md. He earned a business degree with emphasis in marketing from West Virginia Wesleyan College and has been with Contractors Precast Corp. for 12 years. He has served in a variety of capacities with the National Precast Concrete Association and the Precast Concrete Association of Virginia.
Since the Clean Water Act of 1972, environmental jargon has become part of everyday vernacular in the construction industry. Some commonly heard words are: green; renewable; global warming; recycling; and carbon footprint. Most are self-explanatory but there is one important term that is easily misconstrued: sustainability.
What is sustainability and what does it mean for the precast industry? NPCA’s director of sustainability, Kyle Kerstiens, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, invited NPCA members Tiffany Ward of Hanson Building Products, Cyndi Glascock of Gainey’s Concrete Products and Patrick Rodgers of Contractors Precast Corp. to share their thoughts on what sustainability means to the
Q. When you hear the word “sustainability” what first comes to mind? How do you define sustainability?
A. Glascock: It always brings to mind my children and their future. Sustainability means living and working in a manner that does the least harm to the earth my children will inherit. As a precaster, it means choosing and enacting manufacturing and operating processes that protect our natural resources and minimize our footprint on the environment.
A. Ward: The first thing that comes to mind is: infinitely beneficial. To me, sustainability goes beyond our daily concerns to long-range thinking about carbon emissions, recycled content and water reuse. In precast manufacturing, this means designing products that are not only beneficial today – through utilizing benign materials and energy-efficient processes – but also beneficial to our past and future. It means we consider long-standing waste products from coal-fired energy plants – the fly ash typically sent to landfills – and reuse it to create a more beneficial concrete product with a service life of 100 years.
A. Rodgers: My view of sustainability has definitely changed over the past several years. When I first heard it used in a discussion, I had a negative reaction. Over time, however, my view changed dramatically and now sustainability means survival for our future generations.
Q. How do you view the importance of sustainable practices to the precast concrete industry?
A. Rodgers: Let’s be honest – the general perception of the concrete and precast industry has been a negative one with images of cement plants that billow pollution from their stacks. With the sustainability movement, our industry is finally being shown in a more positive light; concrete is now acknowledged as the green product that it has always been. We have a long road to travel to shake off all the false images associated with concrete, but sustainability is our lifeline to transform these long-held perceptions for the better.
When consumers have a positive perception of your product, it will sell. When we look at pollution reduction to our surface and ground waters and conservation of materials and resources, we can see precast concrete as the preferred sustainable solution. Precast protects the environment through long service life, non-toxic components and recyclable materials. We must be viewed as a green product, in my opinion, for in fact precast is one of the ultimate green products. With so many new green markets opening up to precast products, our ability to capitalize on sustainable practices is unlimited in terms of market growth and ultimately, more profitability.
A. Ward: Sustainable practices are extremely important in the precast concrete industry. It’s impossible to have a truly sustainable project without looking at the sustainability of each material used in that project. Although we use a very energy-intensive raw material in our products – cement, for which we are often wrongly judged – we are actively including
industrial by-products destined for the landfill by substituting fly ash to displace some of our cement usage. What’s more, our products can last 100 or more years (unlike our competition) and then be repurposed and reused. With the inherent, truly sustainable properties of precast, we can benefit our industry by encouraging our customers to design sustainable projects and to look at the true sustainability of the products they specify and the impact those products will have on the future.
A. Glascock: Even though precast is inherently more green than our competitive products, we should push our sustainable practices to attain the cutting edge of this green movement. Whether you wholeheartedly agree with sustainability or think it is an unnecessary phase our country is going through, all precasters should beware of the impact sustainability has on their bottom line. Not only can sustainable practices ultimately save the company money by minimizing energy and material consumption, these practices give precasters a competitive advantage on projects with LEED goals.
Q. How does sustainability relate to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)?
A. Ward: Sustainability and LEED are often used interchangeably, but this is incorrect and this is especially problematic for materials manufacturers. The USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) LEED rating system aims to place credits on sustainable practices ranging from energy and water use efficiencies to indoor air quality and sustainable material selection. As a result, the rise in the use of the LEED rating system has caused an increase in the number of newly designed “sustainable products” in our market. This emphasis on products with “eco-” or “bio-” in their names has clouded the definition of “truly sustainable”: a product or structure that is capable of lasting forever with little to no adverse impact on the environment.
A. Glascock: Sustainability relates to LEED directly because the purpose of building green with LEED credit is to build with minimal adverse impacts to our environment. LEED project credits are earned by employing sustainable building practices, which means that the building products supplied are also manufactured locally with green processes.
A. Rodgers: The sad fact is that LEED design and sustainable products are not always the cheapest option. We live in a society where economics is the driving force behind design and product choices. For us to sustain the current rate of natural resource usage, we must adopt proven sustainable building practices. LEED provides owners with a concise framework for
identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building construction, operations and maintenance solutions. A better question might be: How does precast as a sustainable product relate to LEED? Sustainability directly correlates with usage of precast concrete products in relationship to LEED. LEED-designed buildings work throughout the building’s service life – from design and construction to operations and maintenance. LEED’s main purpose in relation to precast is for our construction products to have minimum impact on our natural resources by assuring the smallest footprint through sustainable material selection, manufacturing, shipping and installation.
Q. What experience does your company have working on LEED projects?
A. Rodgers: We are situated inside the metropolitan region of Washington, D.C., and one of our market segments directly relates to federal building and military projects that require LEED initiatives. We see an increase in LEED projects for many of the local counties, cities and state agencies. Our staff is familiar with LEED requisites and the growing opportunities available for LEED projects. Consequently, we are now trying to adapt many of our existing product lines to increase their LEED point eligibility, especially in underground water retention structures.
A. Ward: Hanson Building Products has contributed products to over 200 LEED projects since 2009 in all business divisions. We are continually working with our customers to develop new sustainable solutions for their needs and provide them with efficient and timely information relating to the products purchased from Hanson.
A. Glascock: We have directly worked on one LEED Silver project, and it is that project that has led to our company’s increased involvement in sustainable design. After maneuvering the difficult minefield of paperwork, we can see how complicated it is for the average precaster (without extensive resources) to adequately respond to LEED requirements. Just
educating yourself on the new terminology is an undertaking, much less fully comprehending regional and recyclable percentages and required documentation. This is why it is vital for our association to provide resources to precasters – like NPCA’s LEED calculator – to help move all its members to the front of this sustainability movement.
Q. What sustainable production practices have you adopted and why?
A. Glascock: At Gainey’s Concrete Products, we:
1. Recycle our used clean Styrofoam by sending it back to the manufacturer on dead-head loads.
2. Minimize our dependence on Styrofoam by ordering more hole formers for standard sizes.
3. Filter our wash water as the first step to one day being able to reuse it.
4. Recycle reinforcing steel.
5. Reuse the unprinted sides of paper.
A. Rodgers: Contractors Precast owner Aurelia Hamel and general manger Stephen Rodgers have since day one had sustainable practices integrated into our operation and been adamant about its use. They have always felt that being environmentally friendly is important to being a good neighbor and being a responsible steward of the land. The main key for us is cleanliness that has the added benefit of increasing productivity and profitability.
Water is one of the biggest areas where we practice sustainability. Wastewater from cleanup operations is collected and impurities are clarified in a three-bay separation system. The water then is reused in various plant applications, mostly in dust control. Rain runoff is not permitted to leave the property by using a series of earthen berms in addition to a 25-acre natural buffer. Roof water is collected and stored in tanks for use in concrete production.
All waste concrete and old unused products (from plan changes after production) are crushed and screened on site and sold to local contractors. All scrap steel rebar and metal is sold to a local recycler.
We watch the use of different products in pre- and postproduction. We instill our employees with environmental awareness and train in proper product application and cleanup procedures. We use a water-based exterior coating for our manholes and, whenever possible, have selected environmentally friendly choices for the majority of our coating products.