Shortly after World War II, optimism that resulted from economic prosperity permeated American society. Business was booming. After being stifled by the sacrifices necessary for the “war effort,” consumption of goods and services reached levels that many had never seen before. While not everyone shared in this “embarrassment of riches,” the number of middle-income families was growing rapidly, and this group purchased and used a lot of “stuff.”
In the meantime, some social scientists noticed a big change in the way the streets in mainstream America looked. There was trash everywhere.
In 1953, business, governmental, and philanthropic leaders, along with average Americans, launched an effort that would become the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign. Anyone tossing trash out the window of vehicles earned the shameful moniker of being a “litterbug.” The relatively new, and wildly popular medium of television, was the perfect channel for encouraging kids and adults to do the right (environmental) thing. Even small children could quote themes of the public service announcements:
Give a hoot. Don’t pollute.
Every litter bit hurts.
People start pollution. People can stop it.
Spring forward a couple of generations, and it is interesting to note that the grandchildren of these early “eco-pioneers” - now business and governmental leaders themselves - are leading the charge to embrace environmental protection. The contemporary term is “sustainability” and it is much bigger than just another buzzword. It has become one of the driving forces for almost every industry, including construction.
For more than 130 years, Acme Brick has been recognized as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of nature’s most iconic building material, and it is appropriate that the company has an expert on sustainability as a part of its senior leadership team.
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Meet Mary Ann Keon - Tireless Advocate for Sustainability
As Director of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) for Acme Brick, Mary Ann Keon brings more than 20 years’ experience in the development and implementation of complex EH&S and sustainability programs for global operations. Her resume details her broad experience in management system development, compliance and due-diligence auditing, regulatory permitting and negotiation and contaminated site investigation and remediation. Keon is a passionate leader who uses a collaborative approach to achieve superior results and innovative solutions.
In other words, she is the perfect person to lead Acme Brick’s efforts to improve sustainability in its manufacturing facilities, distribution locations, and community involvement efforts. She is also a frequent contributor to construction industry groups. Recently, she presented Acme’s perspective on sustainability to the National Brick Research Center’s Annual Brick Forum held at Clemson University.
Sustainability Is About Balance
Words like “sustainability” tend to experience some “definition creep.” While there is always nuance in any societal concept, it is important to start with a firm foundation for this word. According to Mary Ann, sustainability is where people (social responsibility), planet (stewardship of the environment) and profit (building economic value) overlap.
“Sustainability is about balance,” she said. “In business, the concept involves balancing the need for economic growth with environmental protection and social equity. This final category - social equity - is a broad definition that includes improvements that are made to better our workforce and to engage with the communities that we serve.
“In my presentation to this group, I outlined projects in our plants and sales offices that reduced our environmental footprint, improved the health and safety of our workers, and had a positive economic benefit. Acme also contributes to our communities through monetary donations and participation in various causes.” she said.
“Sustainability is important to our company for several reasons, each of which has a positive economic benefit. First, it impacts employee engagement - attracting and retaining talent. It also differentiates Acme from many of our competitors. Third, it drives innovation across the company. Finally, it meets our objective of being a responsible corporate citizen.”
Recycling and Scrubbing
In her presentation to this group of about 400 brick industry leaders, Keon highlighted two eco-friendly, sustainable projects that Acme Brick has instituted.
“Acme initiated a company-wide recycling initiative in 2020. While progress has been slower than I had hoped, we have had many locations that have managed to recycle over 50% of their waste and, as a result, reduce their waste bill. The recycling initiative has also fostered more reuse of some of our “wastes” including damaged (and therefore unsellable) brick and wood pallets.
“At our plants, we have air pollution control devices called ‘scrubbers,’ that use hydrated lime as the medium for removing toxic gasses. The ‘spent’ lime from the scrubber must be removed and replaced with fresh lime. With some due diligence, we are looking at possible reuse alternatives that will reduce costs and the amount of lime that is sent to landfills.”
Giving Back to the Acme Communities
Since its earliest days, the communities in which Acme Brick has plants and sales offices have always been important to the success of the company. Building a sustainable company involves nurturing its employees, the communities where they live, and the philanthropic organizations that improve their quality of life.
Keon highlighted some of the contributions Acme has made in this area. “We seek to strengthen our communities and to contribute to a higher quality of life in the form of money, time or products,” she said. “This philosophy engages our associates and leaders across the company and enables them to see the results of their efforts.”
As noted in the 2021 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, Acme Brick Company and its associates gave more than $61,000 in monetary donations, contributed almost 200 tracked hours of service and provided more than $21,000 in product donations of brick, concrete block, flooring and a wide array of other products to those in need. This combined effort benefited more than 50 non-profit organizations.
Happy Birthday to Acme Brick! The company celebrated 132 years in business on April 17, 2023.
Acme Brick is a company built on the ultimate sustainable building product: brick. For more than a century, the company has pioneered technological and human resources to support its people and the environment in which they live. If this is the type of company you might be proud to work for, contact us and let’s talk.