About a month ago, I was talking to a precast producer about his new environmental management system, and how it was impacting his operation. He said his costs had dropped slightly, his regulators and their inspections went a lot easier, and his employees seemed to actually understand and buy into the whole program. He's the first to say "I'm not perfect" but he's working on it.
It got me thinking... what would the ideal concrete plant (precast, ready mix, brick, etc.) be? What issues, environmental or otherwise, would they have to overcome?
Here's what I came up with:
- Location, location, location. The plant is located near the customer base it serves, minimizing the transport of the finished product to their customers, as well as the associated fuel use, traffic, and exhaust emissions. It's also located near public transportation, which many of the plant employees use.
- Materials & supply chain. The plant is close to their raw material sources. Cement kilns produce cement not too far away and sand and stone are produced nearby. Having several sources available, they've started using supply chain management to find like-minded suppliers for their materials.
- Carbon footprint reduction. The plant makes use of supplemental cementicious materials (SCMs) as much as possible in place of ordinary portland cement, thereby both reducing the greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint associated with cement, and also helping reduce the amount of waste the plant's area has to deal with. These materials include fly ash and slag, both of which also help to produce a superior product.
- Recycle water whenever possible. The generation of process water is kept to as little as possible - and all process water generated is recycled for further concrete production. There is no discharge of any process water from this plant at all.
- Stormwater harvesting. In order to reduce potable water use at the plant, stormwater capturing is used to collect this free source of clean water, which is then used for concrete production, truck washing, dust control, and green space watering. Some stormwater does runoff from the plant site, but a great stormwater plan ensures that the stormwater leaving the site has little impact on adjacent waterways.
- Keeping returned materials to a minimum. Due to careful sales and ordering practices, little returned concrete is generated. A strong QC program also ensures that few loads are rejected. What returned concrete there is goes to a concrete reclaimer which extracts the sand and stone in the concrete, and allows the process water and cement past to be recycled as part of new concrete production. There are no solid wastes generated at all.
- Green areas & open spaces. Plant siting and construction was done with the environment in mind. Green areas remain, providing some wildlife habitat, a buffer of thick screening vegetation was preserved along property lines reducing noise and visual impact, and as much pervious concrete on the plant site as possible was used.
- Knowledgeable staff members. The plant's company regularly incorporates environmental training, and involves all employees in the plant's environmental program. All participate. The plant also regularly perform environmental audits to determine their compliance level.
- An environmental management system. In order to manage their environmental program, this concrete plant uses an environmental management system, and as result this plant has received the NRMCA Green-Star and/or ISO 14001 EMS certifications.
- Water from concrete trucks minimized. The plant uses jobsite rinseoff techniques for all loads delivered, and doesn't waste time or resources rinsing at the site. These include chute washoff buckets on most of the trucks.
- Profitability. And best of all, customers of this plant enjoy this difference, as do employees, neighbors, and corporate stockholders. They realize that this plant is a partner in their environmental vision, and they are willing to pay a premium for this difference. This plant also does a great job at telling people about their environmental achievements and vision. And, that's right, they get more for their concrete over the competition, and have a healthier bottom line. They make more money than people who ignore this stuff.
Does this plant exist? Does this plant sound like yours, or are you at the other end of the spectrum from your plant?
I've yet to see this plant. I've been to a few that are trying their hardest to get there, but it's somewhat of a pipedream. I have been fortunate enough to see plants which incorporate many of these traits, although maybe not all of them, and they're usually more profitable, operate better, and generally seen as a well-respected, productive part of the local community. How about your plant? How many of these traits do you employ? All of them? Some of them? None of them?
If you aren't the ideal concrete plant, don't worry - you're not alone. But you need to know that the industry is heading in this direction. Maybe not towards perfection, but towards continuous improvement. Getting better all the time. Reducing environmental impacts. Becoming more sustainable.