Sustaining Message

A ramped-up emphasis on concrete as a vital component in environmentally sustainable construction plus enhanced research into promising industry innovations,

Tom Kuennen

A ramped-up emphasis on concrete as a vital component in environmentally sustainable construction Û plus enhanced research into promising industry innovations, like nanotechnology Û will consolidate ready mixed's position as the go-to building material during the current recession, and beyond.

That's the plan of 2010 National Ready Mixed Concrete Association Chairman Tim Becken, senior vice president of operations, Cemstone Products Co., Mendota Heights, Minn. Installed at the NRMCA Annual Convention in March, he succeeds Henry Batten of Concrete Supply Co., Charlotte, N.C.

Becken also received NRMCA's Joseph E. Carpenter Award for his lifetime commitment to improving ready-mixed concrete operations. The honor provides formal recognition of his standing among Carpenter Award recipients, singled out for exceptional ready-mixed concrete industry contributions in the areas of operations, safety, or environmental compliance.

Researching and promoting concrete's environmental sustainability in 2010 is a number-one priority for the chairman and NRMCA, Becken emphasizes. There are two pieces to the puzzle, he explains. Number one, you have an internal sustainability element, meaning the environmental systems you are putting in place at your production facilities; and, number two, you have an external challenge to promote concrete itself as an environmentally sustainable material.

INTERNAL ÎSUSTAINABLEÌ OPERATIONS

NRMCA's approach to operations sustainability encompasses several paths. The association is a great resource for both the Îhow-tos,Ì and also for setting standards, like our NRMCA Green-Star program, which recognizes environmental performance and sustainability of operations, Becken tells Concrete Products. For example, we have a new concrete plant sustainability guideline on the way this year.

The NRMCA Green-Star program entails plant-specific certification, using an environmental-management system based on a model of continual improvement, and offers recognition of achievers in environmentally sustainable ready mixed plants. It was created in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency's Region III Green Highways Partnership.

Our NRMCA Green-Star program, sustainability initiatives, and environmental education courses set NRMCA apart, Becken affirms. Because of NRMCA, this generation and future generations of ready mixed producers are poised to respond to our customers' and communities' growing desire for environmentally friendly building materials. Now, we need to expand our sustainability outreach, take advantage of emerging technologies, and communicate the benefits of concrete construction to the design/build/living community.

To that end, in early 2010, NRMCA hosted a delegation of Chinese concrete officials, who sought to learn more about their U.S. counterparts' efforts in training and educating ready-mixed concrete personnel. The visit included reciprocal presentations, as well as tours of (1) NRMCA's Research Laboratory in College Park, Md., and (2) a Green-Star-certified operation, conducted by producer member Aggregate Industries at its Bladensburg, Md., plant.

Proof that Becken's company, Cemstone, practices what it preaches, the producer in early 2010 upgraded 21 of its fleet mixer trucks as a participant in the Minnesota Environmental Initiative and its Project Green Fleet program. The vehicles were retrofitted with diesel oxidation catalysts or diesel multi-stage filters expected to reduce engine emissions by up to 50 percent.

The Project Green Fleet program provides vital assistance to reduce the emissions of our concrete mixer truck fleet, Becken observes. Whether it's habitat restoration at our mining operations or the use of industrial by-products in our concrete, we understand that developing sustainable practices throughout our company is good for the air we breathe as well as our bottom line.

THE EXTERNAL CHALLENGE

The second puzzle piece extends NRMCA's mission scope beyond plant operations to promotion of concrete as an environmentally sustainable material. This external promotion constitutes a great opportunity, Becken says. Concrete truly is a sustainable material, and NRMCA's job is to prove that scientifically and then promote such evidence in the marketplace.

Accordingly, NRMCA continues to participate in the new Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative (JSI), as a charter member with the American Concrete Institute and Portland Cement Association (PCA) since the group's 2009 launch. Dedicated to aligning sustainable development activities within the industry and promoting concrete's sustainable attributes as a building material, the coalition of 26 concrete associations rolled out its 2010 goals and initiatives to coincide with World of Concrete earlier this year [see Concrete Products, March 2010, page 13].

Besides mapping research and development programs of member organizations to identify synergies and gaps, Concrete JSI's 2010 agenda includes industrywide distribution of a Toolkit, comprising nine free downloadable PowerPoint presentations that discuss eight social values of concrete as defined by the alliance. Modules include an introduction followed by sections addressing concrete's resource efficiency, safety/protection benefits, financial advantages, and operational continuity, longevity and durability, recycling of industrial by-products, design aesthetics, and social connectivity, i.e., its role in transportation infrastructure. The presentations are available at Concrete JSI's new web site, www.sustainableconcrete.org.

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The significance of concrete's environmental sustainability prompted scheduling of the 2010 Concrete Sustainability Conference to better define ready mixed's green attributes for a national audience. Scheduled April 13-15 in Tempe, with cosponsors NRMCA and Arizona State University's School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, the conference was to feature 50-plus national experts in the field of sustainable construction.

NEW SUSTAINABILITY RESEARCH HUB

A major driving force will be the Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSH), a research center established in October at Massachusetts Institute of Technology by the Ready Mixed Concrete (RMC) Research & Education Foundation in collaboration with PCA. The MIT research Û along with other research under way Û truly is the scientific proving ground, so to speak, for the sustainability of concrete, Becken tells Concrete Products. The entire industry will pool resources at the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub to conduct high-technology research at a national level, but with benefits going all the way down to individual companies. That's one of the benefits of belonging to a national association Û and of the association partnering with other groups to conduct the research.

CSH was established with the goal of accelerating emergence of breakthroughs in concrete science and engineering, as well as transferring that science into practice. Sponsored research funding in the amount of $10 million will be provided during the next five years. Further, researchers from MIT's School of Engineering, School of Architecture and Planning, and Sloan School of Management are expected to participate in CSH research activities.

Initially, CSH research will be organized around three focus areas, i.e., concrete materials science, building technology, and econometrics of sustainable development. Now under way are the first two projects: Green Concrete Science and The Edge of Concrete: A Life-Cycle Investigation of Concrete and Concrete Structures.

Through work being funded by the RMC Research & Education Foundation at MIT, we can see the future unfolding, Becken asserts. For example, nanotechnology research will help us understand the ÎDNAÌ of concrete and how we can make it an even more sustainable and durable product. Life-cycle research on concrete structures will provide us more definitive tools to use with specifiers and architects. NRMCA must stand ready to use the emerging research to its full potential in our promotion and advocacy efforts.

Ongoing MIT research on sustainability is an excellent example of how long-term strategic partnerships enhance the NRMCA, Becken adds. Our valuable partnerships with the RMC Research & Education Foundation, PCA, American Concrete Pavement Association, and American Concrete Institute, to name a few, expand our knowledge base.

MORE GREEN OUTREACH

NRMCA is further advancing its sustainability outreach effort via educational webinars. Among courses included in an ambitious online curriculum, two titles target green topics: Pervious Concrete: A Stormwater Solution and Building Green with Concrete emphasize low-impact development, high-performance concrete building systems, pervious concrete pavement systems, and project specifications that optimize recycled content and durability. A third, Design of Concrete Pavements, addresses latest developments in designing, specifying, and building concrete streets and parking lots.

Additionally, in March, the RMC Research & Education Foundation released a report, Effect of Pavement Type on Fuel Consumption and Emissions in City Driving, demonstrating lower fuel-consumption and emissions rates for vehicles driven on concrete pavements. The study, performed at the University of Texas at Arlington, compared fuel consumption and total CO2 emissions among motor vehicles traveling on asphalt and concrete pavements in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

The final report also includes Roadway Fuel Consumption and Emissions Calculator, a spreadsheet tool that allows estimation of fuel consumption and emissions savings or costs based on user-specified project conditions. The report and tool may be downloaded at www.rmc-foundation.org.

LOOKING OUT FOR DRIVERS

On the labor front, NRMCA actively lobbied the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in February for changes in U.S. federal Hours of Services regulations for truck drivers. Contending that significant differences exist between long-haul commercial truck drivers and short-haul mixer truck operators, the association recommends that regulations take into account such distinctions in their respective job duties.

NRMCA advocates retention of the current rule with a modest amendment to one provision for drivers of ready mixed trucks. Accordingly, the group aims to preserve Hours of Service driving hours, while the logbook exemption for short-haul drivers is modified. Since the average ready mixed concrete delivery is only 14 miles from a plant, and drivers typically only spend four to six hours driving per day, NRMCA is asking FMCSA to increase from 12 to 14 the number of on-duty hours without logging within the exemption to remain consistent with the 14 hours of drivers' on-duty time.

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When a mixer driver is stuck on the job site due to scheduling difficulties from the pour and passes the 12th hour on duty, the driver will have to return and retroactively log time for potentially the previous seven days, notes NRMCA government affairs director Kevin Walgenbach. This is extremely time-consuming for the driver and company, as well as contrary to the spirit of the short-haul logbook exemption.

NRMCA is also looking out for drivers in other ways. In March, it introduced new safety materials entitled Highway Work Zone Safety for the Ready Mixed Concrete Industry. The CD-based PowerPoint presentation and instructor notes are designed to teach mixer drivers the importance of safety in highway work zones.

HOMEBUILDING A TARGET

To ensure solid positioning once the economy improves, NRMCA is targeting the important home-building sector, as well as continued marketing directed at national corporate accounts. Working with the PCA, we will expand our promotion efforts to encompass the residential construction market, Becken says. Our team of national resource directors is making contact with the nation's home builders. We will address streets and local roads with our partner ACPA.

These efforts unfold against a brutal construction market, but NRMCA offerings can help its members survive, Becken affirms. These are difficult times, he tells Concrete Products. In our industry, it's a depression more than a recession. We're going to have to band together to promote our product and weather this downturn. Now, more than ever, we need to work together and utilize our associations to positively impact our businesses. That's the only way we will survive this economy.