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Giving Stone the Green Seal of Approval

Holcim Initative in Canada a Roadmap for U.S.?

By Mark S. Kuhar

There is a move afoot to give Canadian gravel products “the green seal of approval.” In a move that will test the outer limits of the green-products concept, the Canadian unit of Holcim Ltd., the Swiss-based cement giant, and advocacy group Environmental Defence will announce a certification standard for aggregates, which they claim would be the toughest in the world.

The certification system is being patterned after the Forest Stewardship Council’s approach to giving lumber a green seal of approval if it comes from woodlands meeting stringent environmental conditions.

Years of Negotiation
It usually takes years of costly negotiation before provincial regulators or municipalities will issue approvals, if they do so at all, largely owing to the opposition of NIMBY groups over dust, noise and truck traffic. In the past year, Ontario regulators have rejected two proposed quarries, one in the Caledon area on the outskirts of Toronto and another near Guelph, according to Martin Mittelstaedt, Canada’s Globe and Mail.

“We see this as shifting away from the combative nature of where the industry is with various stakeholders,” said Bill Galloway, senior vice-president at Holcim (Canada) Inc., of the certification approach. Galloway is convinced it’s possible, if quarries are placed in areas where the potential for environmental harm is minimized and operating practices avoid affecting neighboring land owners. “I definitely believe that you can be green,” Galloway said. Among the requirements for green gravel, the certification standard would:

  • Place environmentally sensitive areas off-limits for quarries.
  • Force companies to establish new conservation zones up to three times the size of their pits as offsets.
  • Cut greenhouse-gas emissions.
  • Increase the amount of recycled aggregates used to cut the need for virgin rocks.

Above and Beyond
These requirements go well beyond current regulatory standards. Having quarries certified under the proposed standard will lead to “measurably greener aggregates, aggregate that is mined with much less of an impact on the landscape,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence. He said the stipulation for companies to establish conservation reserves up to three times the size of the area they mine “is a huge step forward.”

In the U.S. market, the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) has issued Environmental Guiding Principles. While not a formal seal of approval, plants operating in compliance to these principles can offer evidence to local communities that their products indeed are produced according to a set of standards.

The members of NSSGA recognize that the Earth's resources, upon which all life depends, are finite, and that wise environmental stewardship is necessary today to preserve the potential for a quality life for future generations. To that end, NSSGA:

  • Encourages its members to meet all established environmental regulatory requirements, and where possible to do better than the law and regulations require.
  • Believes that environmental laws and regulations should be based on sound scientific, engineering and medical research and on established scientific, engineering and
  • medical principles. To this end, NSSGA will work with lawmakers and regulators and make available the expertise of its member, staff and research facilities to help in shaping the nation's environmental policies.
  • Encourages its members to adopt and implement an Environmental Management System (EMS) program to meet its environmental requirements and improve its overall performance. An EMS is a continual cycle of planning, implementing, reviewing and improving the actions that an organization takes to meet its environmental goals.
  • Encourages its members to strive for excellence in environmental affairs and to provide leadership by example by demonstrating environmental stewardship in all aspects of their operations.
  • Encourages its members to contribute to environmental enhancement by implementing programs such as landscaping and wildlife habitat development.
  • Encourages its members to work with community leaders and citizens groups in developing plans for appropriate uses of the land in the community interest, once mining operations have been completed.
  • Encourages its members to participate in communicating to the public the importance to society of an environmentally responsible aggregate industry, and in educating the youth of our country in the wisdom of responsible environmental stewardship in a business setting.
  • Believes that wise environmental stewardship is good business, and good for business.