GRANITEROCK, GOATS AND RED-LEGGED FROGS
Environmental article by Harold Hough
In an era where old, established companies seem to disappear with distressing regularity, there are some companies that have long histories. The family owned aggregate company Graniterock is one of them. This year it is celebrating its 110th birthday (it started business on Valentine’s Day 1900) and it remains committed to the basics of good customer service and environmental protection that has keep them in business in both good and bad times.
Although over a century old, Graniterock has maintained a reputation for being a forward thinking company. It has been consistently named by Fortune Magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work for, received the Clean Ocean Award from the City of Santa Cruz, and been named the Manufacturing Business of the Year by San Benito County Chamber of Commerce. They have also taken ideas from other industries to make the construction materials business more customer friendly.
Graniterock has thrived and survived in the environmentally tough California business environment by keeping a focus on environmental concerns. Graniterock created approximately 100 acres of set-asides and conservation areas in the Sandhills of Santa Cruz County for 4 endangered and 2 rare species, including a maintenance endowment in perpetuity. They also created approximately 111 acres of wetland and wildlife habitat in Santa Cruz County as part of the Habitat Conservation Plan on the Santa Cruz Sand Plant Property.
Graniterock’s environmental attitude also extends to mundane subjects like weed control. Why spray weeds when you can feed them to goats they figure. Graniterock recently rented a flock of 800 goats and sheep to clear an environmentally sensitive area where the company's quarry operation washes its rock.
A herd of 800 goats and sheep can clear over two acres a day. And, they can clear rocky and steep terrain and eat persistent plant species like pampas grass and coyote brush. Not only are goats and sheep an environmentally friendly choice for weed control, they also reduce the brush, fertilize the ground, and leave the area with more grasses and fewer weeds.
But, probably Graniterock’s most interesting contribution to environmental protection was protecting part of California’s Gold Rush legacy. When they reopened the 370 acre quarry near Wilder Ranch, there were two to four, red-legged frogs in each of the settling ponds. And, the frog was about to be listed as an endangered species.
You may not know much about the red-legged frog, but it has earned a spot in American literature thanks to Mark Twain, who wrote the story, “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Count.” It was one of these red-legged frogs that was the subject of the story.
The fact is that the last hundred years hadn’t been as good to the Red-Legged Frog as it had been to the Mark Twain story. Frog legs became a popular food in the 1890s and populations started to decline. As the native frog became harder to find, bullfrogs were introduced to keep miner’s palates satisfied. Unfortunately bullfrogs also thought red-legged frogs were tasty too, so populations took another nose dive. As a result, by 1996, the quarry was home to many bullfrogs and just a few red-legged frogs.
The first step to stabilizing the red-legged frog population and helping it to grow was to get rid of the bullfrogs. That included draining the settling ponds in the fall when the red-legged frogs were migrating to the damp woodlands, but the bull frogs needed them so their tadpoles could mature. They also culled the bullfrogs during the summer.
Another step was to eliminate telephone lines over the property because predatory birds would sit on the lines to catch sight of a frog. They also planted grasses along the banks of the ponds to hide the nesting frogs.
Ponds have also been built to meet the needs of the frog, including having deep areas and a shallow slope for the tadpoles. Some of these ponds have been set aside for perpetual conservation of the frog.
Frog preservation also extends to the employees, who have been trained in the handling of the endangered frogs and are authorized to touch the frog to protect them from danger. That allows them to check their heavy equipment every morning for wayward frogs.
The result has been dramatic. Where the red-legged frog population was once counted on one hand, there can now be as many as 60 in one settling pond. Today, environmental officials come from around the country to see how a mining company can help restore the population of an endangered species, while continuing to operate and make a profit.
Graniterock’s innovative thinking hasn’t been limited to protecting the red-legged frog or using goats for weed control. One of their core values is customer service excellence. Unlike many other businesses, they have also looked at other industries to see how they can improve their customer service.
In 1985, the company used the pizza industry to improve service delivery time. The company knew that the hidden costs associated with slow service could be improved. Since their product, concrete, was a perishable item, they brought in a local Domino’s Pizza owner to show how they could ensure on-time-delivery and keep the customers satisfied. The result was that the on time delivery record for the company went from 70% in 1988 to 93.5% in 1991. Since Domino’s standard for on-time delivery is 92% that meant that a Graniterock cement truck was more likely to be on time than your pizza.
Graniterock also borrowed an idea from the banking industry – the Automatic Teller Machine. Since construction takes place all times of the day and many contractors prefer delivery to take place at off hours to avoid traffic tie ups, Graniterock developed GraniteXpress, which allows construction trucks to pick up aggregate 24/7 from automated loading facilities without waiting as long. The result is shorter waits and savings of over $20 per trip.
Although the quarry business has trended towards mergers and consolidation over the last few years, Graniterock has shown through its environmental concern and innovation that family owned businesses still have a competitive place in the aggregate industry.