Over 280 Ontario producers and suppliers of sand, gravel, and crushed stone products and services are represented by the Ontario Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (OSSGA). Founded in the late 1950s as the Aggregate Producers Association of Ontario, the non-profit is the trusted and undisputed voice within the aggregate industry to relevant stakeholders, including provincial authorities, municipal governments, conservation authorities, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), and the public.
“About 10 years ago, the association realized that many people don’t really understand what aggregates are. The name was changed from APAO to the Ontario Sand, Stone & Gravel Association, which was a great move because it helped people understand these are the fundamental building blocks of construction,” Sharon Armstrong, Vice President of Communications and Operations, tells Construction in Focus.
Aggregate is the gravel, sand, clay, limestone, dolostone, sandstone, marble, granite, crushed rock or other substances that are used in construction. It is the literal foundation of all building and many related industries. Still, many people don’t realize the importance of these crucial products and the necessity of the pits and quarries used to extract them.
“From roads to bridges to subways, it all starts with aggregate. And the aggregate story doesn’t end there—aggregate is used in glass, makeup, toothpaste, paint and water purification,” Armstrong adds.
Representing approximately 75 percent of the aggregate industry in the province, OSSGA is able to speak with authority for aggregate producers and educate the public by providing “gravel facts” and form active committees to carry out advocacy work at Queen’s Park and on various municipal councils. The association has a very active role in shaping the policies that will impact the aggregate industry.
Executive Director Norman Cheesman discusses the benefits of being a part of the OSSGA community. “Some of the benefits of membership are networking, collaboration on issues of common importance, and the ability to economize on training sessions or conferences,” he shares. “We have a good community of people who we communicate with regularly through various means.”
Moreover, members of OSSGA and their employees receive exclusive access to the association’s bi-weekly publication, Rock Talk. The e-newsletter keeps them updated on news, training opportunities, advocacy issues and regulatory changes within the industry.
Interestingly, one of the association’s focuses is promoting environmental sustainability, a key value within the aggregate industry. A unique feature of aggregates is that the sector centres around the knowledge that there is a limited supply of aggregate in the world and that aggregate sites are a temporary form of land use. “Granted, that temporary land use can be 50 to 100 years, but unlike most other industries, at the end of an aggregate’s pit or quarry lifecycle, it can actually be rehabilitated into a number of things,” Armstrong informs us.
Sustainability permeates each and every step of the business, from the time that a company establishes where to put a new aggregate site, all the way through its operations on that site, and finally, to how the site is rehabilitated. It can be returned to nature via the formation of a wetland, or be converted into an agricultural property or recreational facility that benefits the community long-term. In fact, the rehabilitation plan is part of the process to have a quarry approved in the first place.
Because the industry’s operations must be environmentally sustainable and comply with regulations, it is a necessity for businesses to respect the communities they are doing business in just to be permitted to operate – let alone to stay in business. A business’ environmental concerns may include being conscious of water, sand, and dust issues. OSSGA members accomplish this via various initiatives, including:
• Ensuring excess soil poses no risk to the environment and human health while contributing to a circular economy and waste-free Ontario
• Bioregional rehabilitation that is consistent with the surrounding landscape and provides opportunities for new/enhanced biodiversity, pollinator habitat, or endangered species habitat
• Decreased water usage through emerging technologies (such as high-pressure washing plants that significantly decrease water consumption) and advancements in water conservation (rainwater collection and diversion systems on site)
• Participation in Earth Day and community clean-up events
• Operational efficiencies that increase environmental performance and decrease waste
• Climate mitigation and adaptation by reducing emissions and carbon footprint (installation of electric vehicle charging stations, equipment and plant upgrades, using recycled materials)
• Spill prevention and response training
“Leading companies will have an environmental management system of checklists and protocols for every step of the operation. This is a priority for the industry,” emphasizes Cheesman.
OSSGA further demonstrates its commitment to the environment by providing industry awards to members who go above and beyond even the industry’s stringent standards. Established in 1975, its prestigious Bronze Plaque award program is given to sites that are truly outstanding examples of rehabilitated pits and quarries, such as RBG’s Rock Garden, Kerncliff Park in Burlington, and St. Mary’s Quarry.
Awards can also be given to members in areas such as rehabilitation, community awareness, environmental achievement, biodiversity, property enhancement (the look of the site in the community), and progressive rehabilitation (performed while aggregate is still being extracted in other parts of the quarry).
Through the organization of events such as the Environmental Management Workshop, Species at Risk Workshop or annual Rehabilitation Workshop and Tour, aggregate producers learn about environmental compliance and best management practices as well as new and innovative technologies that increase environmental performance and improve aggregate rehabilitation. Last fall, OSSGA also held an Indigenous Engagement Seminar at Casino Rama Resort in Orillia to help aggregate producers strengthen their relationships and consult productively with the First Nations communities in Ontario.
Other great resources provided by OSSGA are its Environmental Management Guide and Environmental Legal Register, which provide practical guidance and resources to assist members in maintaining and/or improving the environmental performance of their operation.
This 2018, OSSGA plans to add additional awards for its passionate members, who are excited by the prospect of receiving recognition for their creative efforts in a sector that is critical to so many related fields, yet remains misunderstood by much of the public.
“A lot of people don’t understand how aggregates affect their lives. You’re driving down the road on the way to work and not thinking about how many truckloads of aggregate it took to build that one-kilometre stretch of road. You go to the office, and don’t think about the fact that the paint on the wall has aggregate in it,” Armstrong remarks.
In order to address this, OSSGA began a “trucking campaign” in 2017, putting messages on about 20 Ontario trucks about the importance of aggregates. “We want to help the public understand the contribution the industry is making to the world we live in. By getting the message onto the vehicles—that we build schools, hospitals, and bridges—it is being seen by people. Frankly, it is a very low cost method of communicating the value of aggregate. It’s a way to enhance the importance of what the truck is carrying, and that what they are doing is something very important for the community, even though it may slow a driver down at a particular moment,” says Cheesman.
“Often, trucks are the focal point of some of the frustration with respect to aggregate. We thought, why not use the trucks as an educational opportunity to help people understand that in fact, they build our roads, schools, sewer systems, and subways,” adds Armstrong.
By the end of this year, OSSGA hopes to have its message on a total of 60 trucks.
Through its efforts, public perception of aggregate is beginning to change. The industry is gaining appreciation, not only for its economic importance, but also its environmental benefits. For example, while historically, residents in some Ontario communities have been resistant to the idea of a new quarry, the OSSGA’s “wetland study,” released in August of 2017, has helped raise awareness of the long-term environmental benefits aggregate sites can provide.
The study, “Wetland Rehabilitation: Surrendered Aggregate Sites in Ontario’s Provincial Plan Areas,” found that in 55 percent of sites observed throughout their rehabilitation process, they have actually produced new aquatic features in their communities—a significant find that impressed the Ministry of the Environment and other environmental stakeholders.
The wetland study looked at wetland features of former aggregate pits and quarries within the Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine, and the Niagara Escarpment Plan Areas, and found that 293 hectares of aquatic habitat features have been created through the rehabilitation of the sites.
To put this in a perspective all Canadians will appreciate, that is the equivalent of 1,849 NHL-sized hockey rinks. “In other words, these sites have added to the amount of wetlands in the natural habitat,” says Cheesman. “This got the attention of environmental groups.”
The results of the study showed that rehabilitation of licenced aggregate sites can provide ecological function and in some cases, be valued as provincially significant wetlands by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. However, OSSGA considers its impressive wetland study, completed via aerial photography, to still be in its first phase. As a follow up, OSSGA is planning to conduct “phase two” this spring via a field study that involves physically surveying these sites in depth, in order to document the effects on biodiversity and species preservation that these ponds and wetlands provide.
OSSGA has a busy year ahead. Its future plans not only include expanding upon the wetland study, truck campaign, and awards program, but also preparing for its annual conference, to be held this month at the Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, Ontario. The theme and title of the conference is “Mastering Our Message,” discussing how to reach the people of Ontario to allow them to gain an understanding of the impact of aggregates on their everyday life, both economically and environmentally. More information on the conference is available on the OSSGA website.
“We are going to continue our public education campaign,” says Armstrong.