Roberto L. Nicolia is the 2010-11 Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute Chairman
For years, the bread and butter of companies manufacturing and installing segmental concrete pavement systems has been the residential market. But in 2010-2013 strategic planning meetings held in 2008, the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI) acknowledged that in order to survive the current economic climate—a downturn greatly fueled by residential contraction—expansion into commercial, institutional, municipal and industrial markets was crucial to survival.
With increased emphasis on commercial and continued support of residential markets where possible, ICPI members realigned to current market conditions and have weathered the financial downturn better than other concrete-based industries. As ICPI Chairman Roberto Nicolia, President & CEO, Nicolock Paving Stones, states in the Institute's most recent annual report, "Our industry's share of commercial and municipal markets has not varied much since 2004. The industry must refocus on [these] markets in order to gain wider acceptance of interlocking concrete pavements among cities, counties, states and provinces, and consultants who service these entities."
In the midst of his second year of a two-year term, Nicolia sees training more sales people who understand how design professionals and specifiers work as key to achieving this goal. To this end, ICPI has committed to increasing its industry's annual sales in institutional, commercial and industrial from 21 to 50 percent in the commercial market over the next eight years, with the help of a knowledgeable sales force using a consistent industry message.
Work also continues on influencing governments at all levels to incorporate permeable interlocking concrete pavements in municipal ordinances and design guides. ICPI is developing tools for members to better address this market where stormwater runoff has been legislated into existence.
"Too many times, we're considered just a decorative product; we're not. We're a pavement system, and the advantages that we have far exceed many other pavement systems. We're aesthetically pleasing, flexible—and we don't have half the problems of other pavement systems. I think the future of our industry is permeable pavements, including asphalt, concrete and especially pavers."
In addition to addressing short-term industry goals, ICPI also came up with a list of Key Performance Indicators that its members committed to reaching by 2019. These include increasing square footage of product per capita from 2.1 to 4.0; having all North American civil engineering and landscape architecture university programs include pavers as a viable pavement choice; changing government specifications to accept segmental concrete pavements as a viable alternative to asphalt; and doubling the number of active certified concrete paver installers from 13,700 to 27,400.
Adjusting the vision
Changing the focus of an entire industry is no easy task, but Nicolia indicated that the process of looking beyond residential business was organized and orchestrated by ICPI member companies. "We revisited out strategic plan, redeveloped the goals, and created a new direction," he explains. "We divided implementation of our plan among our committees—technical, construction, marketing, goverment relations. Then we developed on action plan from that, and we assigned each action to our committee chair, who in turn conveys those actions to and gathers input from our general membership.
"We're on target with our objectives, and we believe we can add 2,000 new installers per year by adding to the classes that we host," Nicolia says. "How we're ramping up the number of installers is by educating the contractors in our industry in the need for ICPI-certified installers. By promoting our systems and what our pavement is and other alternative uses for these products, that will create a higher demand for qualified installers, thus installers will want to take our classes to get certified. We're self-generating the need. We're not actively soliciting installers to get certified, but we are educating the marketplace. If you are a homeowner or a specifier, you want someone who understands our systems."
Nicolia says another key to gaining ground in the commercial construction arena is training the industry's sales force to go after such work. "With a lot of commercial projects, you have to get specified. So, a lot of this is going to rely on educating engineers and architects on how our systems work, our life-cycle costs and the advantages of them," he explains. "For example, a big issue now is stormwater management. We've almost doubled the sales of permeable pavers in our commercial markets by explaining to the engineers and municipalities how important stormwater management is. Many towns are flooding, the drainage systems are under-designed for the current runoff, so they're looking for alternate methods to handle these water problems.
"We have our sales team out there explaining how permeable actually works and how we can manage their stormwater at a relatively low cost. It's a long process that doesn't happen overnight. Across the country, a lot of the individual producers are having lunch box presentations with local engineers and governments. ICPI is investing its resources and money in curricula and studies, including one at the University of New Hampshire, where a big permeable study is under way involving freeze-thaw cycles." Similar research is under way by the EPA in Edison, N.J., as well as by the Toronto and Regional Conservation Authority in Ontario.
Educating the sales teams of ICPI's member companies is as important to expanding the organization's vision as getting engineers and architects to begin specifying its products. According to Nicolia, the Institute is holding a series of webinars designed to teach sales people how to host presentations for design professionals. "It's important that we educate our sales personnel on the technical aspects of how to sell to municipal and commercial applications and why it's important that they buy these products for their applications," he says. "We want to convey the same message throughout the country, and not have one sales person give one presentation while another one gives a different type of presentation. If we can sing the same tune, our message will be very clear, and we can get out there effectively with the same message. Engineers want specific information, and we have to be sure these sales people have the tools to provide them with that information. Organizing these courses is an ongoing process and they get better and better each time, and the number of attendees gets higher as the need grows and the number of producers grows."
Within the North American design and construction community, a means for addressing sustainability or ‘green building’ is through Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1998. The paving systems represented by ICPI are positioned to yield lower environmental impacts and more favorable life cycle assessments (LCA) than conventional pavements. Studies in the United States and overseas completed in 2010 provide the rationale for earning LEED credits with segmental concrete pavements. Moving forward, ICPI will be incorporating these studies into Tech Specs (or technical bulletins) and continuing education programs for members and design professionals.
Using lighter-colored ICPs can result in a cooler pavement surface and a lower heat island effect. Pavers can be manufactured in practically any color and often with Solar Reflective Index values greater than 29. This feature makes ICPs eligible for credits under the Sustainable Sites category of the LEED program. Light colored ICPs also can be used in rooftop applications, lowering the heat island effect as well. The use of ICPs in commercial, institutional and municipal applications can result in cooler surfaces, reducing the need for air conditioning and saving energy. Another sustainable feature that can be incorporated into ICPs is the use of titanium dioxide in the pavers. Also known as photocatalytic cement, it reduces NOx air pollutants on warm sun-lit days, thereby reducing smog.
"A number of producers are using the reflectivity of the pavers to reduce the heat they are throwing off. We're using recycled products in concrete pavers as well," Nicolia states. "We're constantly trying to stay green, in particular trying to reduce the amount of cement being used in our products by increasing fly ash and other recycled products. Another sustainable aspect of pavers involves utility repairs, which requires asphalt to be broken up and disposed of. With ICPs, the pavers and base materials are removed, the utility work performed, then the original base and pavers are re-installed. There is no need for material disposal or replacing with new material."
While Nicolia fully endorses green construction and ICPI's participation in it, he admits that he'd like to see the practice moving quicker. "I don't believe certain towns have embraced it as much as producers have," he confesses. "As an industry, we could do so much more on 'green,' but I think there's still a bit of resistance from the towns. They sing the tune but they don't really embrace it like they should. You're asking developers to spend more money, but if the towns aren't giving you reasons to make it happen, real incentives, it's hard to get the developer to do it."
In addition, ICPI has contributed to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) permeable pavements technical committee, which is developing a document on permeable pavements that will guide civil engineers. Due later this year, the report will receive wide distribution among ASCE members and have a significant influence on design decisions for sustainable paving.
The Institute is also working with certification and testing standards agencies ASTM International and CSA, as well as ASCE to fine tune product specifications and hopefully open up the possibility of getting more commercial acceptance. "If specifications are not right or too broad, we like to see them tightened up; that's better for the industry. Our in-house engineers are working with ASTM and ASCE to move things forward," Nicolia clarifies, adding that a big 2010 accomplishment has been creating a national ASCE structural design standard for ICPs.
ICPI will continue working with the Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative (CJSI), a cooperative effort among nearly all the major concrete industry organizations to advance a collective vision for a sustainable future with concrete structures. ICPI provides advocacy, technical and educational resources as appropriate to enhance the use and convey the benefits of concrete structures to others. Resulting from this joint initiative was the inclusion of interlocking concrete pavement and permeable interlocking concrete pavement in two publications—Sustainable Concrete Guide Strategies and Examples and the Sustainable Concrete Guide–Applications.
With ICPI fast approaching its 20th anniversary and having accomplished a great deal of growth in a relatively short time, it seems possible that the staff could be poised for some expansion in the coming years. "We are a membership-driven association and our membership is very active; we have a tremendous number of volunteers who participate in task groups and special committees," Nicolia explains. "So the membership works very closely with the staff. The only thing we have that we would like to expand on is hiring regional engineers, maybe four to six to go out and visit different local government agencies to promote our products in way that is not leaning toward any one producer.
"Our association has growth as well. Right now, our membership is at a 3.5 percent increase over last year. We're not growing as fast as prior years, but we are still growing, even with this down economy. At least we aren't seeing a negative trend. If you look at it a little further back, from 2009 to 2010, we had a 9 percent increase. We're at 1,029 members today."
Educating policy makers
ICPI has implemented political persuasion that previously did not exist. Through the Government Relations Committee and Government Relations counsel, ICPI identifies opportunities to educate policy makers about the concrete paver industry’s commitment to improving the environment and supporting the economy.
In 2010, ICPI supported HR2569, the Green Transportation Infrastructure Research and Technology Transfer Act, and HR4202, the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2009. ICPI is branding paver technology as “green” to policy makers on Capitol Hill, the Environmental Protection Agency, and federal agencies that purchase pavements. In addition, there continues to be expanded efforts to fund sustainable construction technologies and practices, as well as projects that mitigate stormwater runoff and pollution. ICPI made sure certain language favorable to the industry was included in the bill including a key term—permeable pavement technology.
Start spreading the news
Nicolia calls attention to a more user-friendly www.icpi.org, which was launched in 2010 to help promote the industry to design professionals and to enhance member benefits. Highlights included graphic and functional updates, such as a new search engine for locating members and certified installers, and member-branded Tech Specs.
In addition to the ICPI site, an updated site was created for Hardscape North America (www.HardscapeNA.com) that promotes the Hardscape North America trade show. The 2010 event took place in late October in Louisville, Ky., and attracted more than 1,300 hardscape contractor and distributor attendees as part of the 15,000 hardscape and landscape professionals, including 113 hardscape exhibitors within a larger show of 500 exhibitors. (HNA was co-located with the GIE+ Expo.) The show returns to Louisville at the Kentucky Exposition Center, Oct. 27–29, 2011.
ICPI also produces The Paver Express, a weekly e-newsletter sent to members to inform them of industry activities. To reach field sales representatives, ICPI’s newsletter, The Prospector delivers industry information and is focused on educating salespeople on commercial sales and how to utilize ICPI member resources to increase market share. During 2010, ICPI conducted quarterly webinars directed at field salespeople to increase product knowledge.
Published quarterly, the ICPI’s flagship publication, Interlocking Concrete Pavement magazine, reached more than 40,000 design professionals, contractors and other industry allies. Among the magazine's 2010 stories were the EPA’s evaluation of permeable pavements in a 110-car parking lot in Edison, N.J., and a Chicago park’s use of coated PICP to help improve the air quality. Contractors Focus articles covered geotextiles in interlocking concrete pavement and PICP construction tips. An Engineers View story on the new ASCE Design Standard for Interlocking Concrete Pavements informed readers of the first national design standard for interlocking concrete pavements. The magazine profiled paver projects, including 1 million square feet of pavers along Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard and the ICPI and ICPI Foundation funded PICP research at the University of New Hampshire.