Environmental Defence and Holcim Canada have jointly established a not-for-profit organization called “SERA” (Socially and Environmentally Responsible Aggregates) that will create world-class voluntary certification standards for responsibly sourced sand, stone and gravel.
This is an unprecedented collaboration between Environmental Defence, an NGO with a long history of leadership on environmental issues including aggregate siting and Holcim Canada and its aggregate division Dufferin Aggregates, a leading aggregate company in Canada. This unlikely alliance is an enormous step towards resolving conflicts between industry, First Nations and community and environmental groups.
“Aggregate is an important resource that is vital for building the country’s infrastructure,” said Paul Ostrander, president and CEO, Holcim (Canada) Inc. “SERA will help the aggregate industry to meet the demand for aggregates while meeting community needs and demonstrating measurable efforts to address the social and environmental impacts of pits and quarries.”
In addition to the establishment of SERA, Holcim Canada and Environmental Defence also released a set of draft standards for socially and environmentally responsible aggregate siting, operation and use (see attached).
“SERA is the result of two years of hard work between Environmental Defence and Holcim Canada – it’s our best effort to define what leadership looks like for the aggregate industry,” said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director of Environmental Defence. “Moving forward, we realize that for SERA and these standards to succeed, we need the involvement and support of a broader group of industry, community and environmental groups, and First Nations organizations.”
The proposed SERA certification system builds on the experiences of other resource management standards, like Building Research Establishment (BRE) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and provides general Principles and specific Core Requirements that independent certifiers will use to assess an aggregate site’s success in meeting or exceeding best management environmental practices.
“Reducing the environmental footprint of construction materials is the next important step in sustainable construction,” says Thomas Mueller, president and CEO, Canada Green Building Council. “SERA sets a benchmark for how aggregates used in cement production are sourced in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way.”
The aim is that the Draft SERA Standards provide a clear and practical approach for responsibly sourced aggregates offering world-class practices for the siting, rehabilitation and operation of pits and quarries well above what is currently required of industry under Ontario statute. In addition, these standards will also outline responsible resource use and processing.
SERA’s goal is that the SERA Standards will have a transformative effect by contributing to the achievement of:
- A reliable long-term supply of aggregate materials that will be socially and environmentally responsibly sourced;
- Protection of our landscape’s most ecologically and hydrologically important natural areas;
- Meaningful engagement with local communities and First Nations groups before extraction is licensed and throughout the lifecyle of operations;
- A defined time limit for extraction and phase out plans that incorporate communities’ interests;
- The ability of government and private purchasers to leverage their buying power and request responsibly sourced aggregate materials to meet the requirements of new, green building standards and policies;
- A market-based tool for government regulators that recognizes sites that address the social, environmental and water expectations of the local community.
An independent consultant, BuildGreen Solutions, was engaged by SERA staff to conduct an online review of the Draft SERA Standards compared with international aggregate standards. BuildGreen Solutions’ research concluded that “following an exhaustive online review BuildGreen Solutions is confident to say that we could find nothing that came close to rivaling the draft SERA standards in terms of rigour or comprehensiveness related to aggregate extraction.”
Over the next 18 to 24 months the SERA Founding Board and Executive Director, Lorne Johnson, will be dedicated to engaging government, aggregate operators, environmental groups, municipalities, community groups and First Nations representatives to ensure that the final standards are protective of the natural environment, considerate of local communities and implementable by industry.
Johnson has been responsible for successfully coordinating the development of regional and national corporate social responsibility standards for Canada’s forest sector through the FSC and the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA).
“Our social legacy depends on reliable sources of aggregate materials for the roads, schools, hospitals and homes built each year. Just as FSC achieved for the forestry sector we need to be sure that the way we utilize our aggregate resources has a minimal impact on our natural environment and community,” says SERA Executive Director, Lorne Johnson. “For the first time in Ontario, SERA offers communities and operators a way to work together to deliver responsibly sourced aggregate materials.”
Environmental Defence and Holcim Canada are confident in the long-term environmental and economic benefits of SERA certification. Representatives from both organizations will serve on the SERA Founding Board and continue to provide input during the SERA Standards consultation process.
Environmental Defence intends to use the Standards as a key part of its decision making process, to determine whether specific aggregate sites should or should not be opposed and, therefore, where Environmental Defence will direct its resources.
Dufferin Aggregates, an aggregate division of Holcim Canada, intends to use the Draft Standards as guidance for its responsible practices. Its intent will be to SERA certify all of its aggregate operations.