Michels: Certified Sustainable

The Importance of Certifying to the Sustainability Standard: Why Michels Certified

This interview was originally published in Natural Stone Institute‘s Cutting Edge Newsletter

A conversation with Michael Schumacher, LEED AP, Regional Business Development Manager for Michels.

Please tell us a bit about your company and why you felt it was important to earn this certification.

Michels is one of the largest, most diversified utility contractors in North America. As part of the markets we cover, we own and operate over 100 natural stone quarries. This material includes high-density limestone, granite, rhyolite, and quartzite. Products range from crushed materials to monument stone. Safety & Environment and Sustainable Operations are core values at Michels. These govern how we manage and operate our business units. The NSC 373 certification is in alignment with how we conduct our business and our commitment to preserving the environment. Michels is proud to offer natural stone products to the market that were harvested and fabricated in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.

What have you found most surprising about the process of certifying to the NSC 373 standard?

The data collection and the reporting on said data. Certain elements of the reporting are very straightforward—electric bills, fuel purchases, etc. However, breaking this down by consumption per hour per machine, estimated water usage, and other items can be difficult to pinpoint. We had to work with multiple staff members and come up with our own formulas for calculating certain usages, checking them against annual consumption and then clearly articulating our findings to the NSF. The chemical reporting gave us some difficulty, though we were fortunate that we only had to report a handful of items as we do not use epoxies, resins, or other chemicals of concern. Reporting of our air emissions was easy with the provided EPA calculator, but it did include a good amount of math in the beginning stages in order to get the usage amounts correct.

What do you feel will be the biggest benefit to your company in securing certification to the sustainability standard?

Abiding by the requirements of the standard will push us to challenge the efficiency of our operations. In doing so, we can continually improve by exploring new ways to reduce our carbon footprint, increase our annual material yield, and better service our clients.

How has this process helped your company’s bottom line?

Michels has experienced fiscal benefits in the way of reduced operating costs. These savings are invested back into our staff, equipment, and facilities. Based upon initiatives that were implemented many years ago, we were not able to experience dramatic cost savings. We have noticed some incremental improvements in water efficiency, electrical consumption, and fuel usage.

What would you like to communicate to the design community about this standard?

Lack of product transparency and “greenwashing” confuse the process of properly specifying the right products for the built environment. Third-party verifications are the only way to ensure that a manufacturer is abiding by their sustainable claims. Declare labels and Environmental Product Declarations are good for illustrating what is in a product, though they do not necessarily guarantee that the product contains environmentally friendly content or that it was produced in a sustainable manner.

How long did it take your company to complete the standard certification?

Pursuit of certification was ongoing for a few years. Once we dedicated a team to getting this completed, we achieved our Gold certification in 8-10 months. This is inclusive of the waiting time to schedule site visits, findings reporting, exchange with the NSF, and the official granting of the certification.

What was the biggest challenge for your company in completing the certification and how did you overcome it?

Based upon the size of Michels and our overlapping groups, it was sometimes challenging to source certain bills and reporting from our various locations. This meant that we had to engage with multiple individuals and departments to get the documentation we needed. While not an impossible task, it did prolong the time it took to be certified. As we went through the process, we identified key individuals who could be champions of certain portions of the standard and educated them on what needed to be tracked in the future. This may have included entering information in the data tables monthly or scanning and saving relevant tracking information into the project folder.

Four Michels quarries are currently certified: Fond du Lac, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin Red, and Wausau Red. Learn more about Michels at www.michels.us. To learn more about the NSC 373 standard, visit www.naturalstonecouncil.org.