Posted 10.15.08


“This summit showed me that Fairmount’s really dedicated to what they say they believe in,” Brian Kelsey, a Fairmount Minerals employee, said at the end of the three-day company-wide Appreciative Inquiry (A.I.) summit held October 13 to 15 in Minneapolis.  Kelsey started working for Fairmount Minerals just one-and-a-half months before the summit at the sand company’s facility in Roff, Oklahoma, where sand is coated with silica resin before distribution to customers.  At the beginning of the event, he said he was happy to be working for Fairmount because of the family-benefits package and pay.  By the end, he said he had a new appreciation of Fairmount and a new understanding of what sustainability is and how it can work for business.

The Fairmount Minerals Sustainable Development Appreciative Inquiry Summit included two-thirds of the Fairmount Minerals full-time workforce plus stakeholders such as customers, board members, suppliers, and representatives from the collaborative nonprofits United Way and Aqua Clara.

David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management facilitated the summit, which followed the A.I. methodology that he co-developed at Case twenty years ago and has been championing ever since, from Fairmount, based in Chardon, Ohio, to the United Nations in New York, South Africa, and hundreds of places in between.

Cooperrider highlighted some of his past experiences with A.I. to introduce the method at the opening of the summit and to engage Fairmount’s stakeholders in the possibilities of A.I.  Many attendees, however, were no strangers to the process: this was Fairmount’s second A.I. summit—the first was held in 2005.

The first day of this 2008 summit then saw the stakeholders in dialogue about the strengths of Fairmount—discovering a system’s strengths and recognizing that powerful core is the first step in A.I.  From there, stakeholders were able to develop their dreams for Fairmount in A.I.’s second step.  “Let’s assume that tonight we each fall into a sound sleep,” Cooperrider said to the attendees.  “It’s a great sleep and it lasts for 12 years.  As you wake up and see the future Fairmount you most want, what does it look like?”

With Fairmount’s strengths in mind, tables of eight people set to work and began to dream up ideas for the future.  Teams then presented their ideas to the whole summit.  Stakeholders took the stage to tell their hopes and visions via skits that were both content-rich and entertaining: one group presented its concrete goals while parodying the Vice Presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, as the candidates consistently agreed with each other that, yes, Fairmount’s accomplishments were exemplary.

The third day of the summit built on strengths as stakeholders formed breakout groups to design projects that would help Fairmount meet some of the dreams of the stakeholders—this is the third step in the A.I. process.  Projects were organized into 15 breakout groups that were largely based on focus areas developed by previous A.I. work at Fairmount, though some groups—such as the Water group—came out of discussions that had taken place earlier at this summit. (See chart below for more details.)

Each group returned to the whole and presented its key ideas.  The Site Reclamation team, for one, integrated Fairmount’s current sustainability vision into its prototype.  People, Planet and Prosperity (or the three Ps) is the rallying cry of Fairmount’s award-winning sustainability effort, and the Site Reclamation team noted that reclaiming mined areas can incorporate all three aspects: sites can be developed into community outreach facilities for exercise and education, could contain wind and solar energy to create power for locals or Fairmount operations, and could be used to create value through sustainable agricultural or residential endeavors.

The summit, many workers said, was enjoyable because it gave them a chance to engage with people from other plants and people who work completely different jobs.  Though days one and three of the summit were dedicated to the A.I. process, day two let stakeholders partake in community service at a park in Menomonie, Wisconsin, the home of the newest Fairmount Minerals facility in the US.  Hundreds of workers put in a full-days’ work fixing up baseball fields, painting, and clearing out brush from lakeside woods.  A tour of the new Menomonie plant and its LEED-certified building completed day two’s work, which many found refreshing not only because of the service component, but because, like A.I., it brought them together with Fairmount members they otherwise would not have met and started a process of sharing strengths in-between plants and up-and-down the corporate structure.

This type of learning and sharing continued immediately after the summit.  Bert Reed, from Mesick, Michigan, works several different jobs at surface mining facilities in Michigan, and even before the summit ended, arranged for a detour on his team’s bus home from Minneapolis. He said he was interested in seeing how the Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, facility works, since it’s an underground operation, but would not have had the chance to find out if he had not been able to talk on-level with the managers in charge of the trip schedule.  “If you have the opportunity to attend one of these,” Reed said, “do it, because you get to meet a lot of people and learn a lot of new things.”

Key group initiatives prototyped at the Summit:

  • Communications: online directory of employees, blog
  • CSR: Community centers at all plant locations, job shadowing opportunities, disaster preparedness plans
  • Water: a system to clean and recycle all water in homes
  • Recover, Recycle, Reuse: Eliminate palate usage, incentive programs
  • Health and Wellness: breaks rooms with Wii and other activities, walking trails near work for breaks
  • Eco-Efficiency: ways to create energy from vibrations
  • Best Practices: a computerized maintenance management system
  • Safety: monitors to track individuals’ exposure to dust levels, gas levels, and a monitor to track movement
  • Sustainable Supply Chain: Allign with one supplier for efficiency
  • Transportation: GPS locater system for real-time inventory location
  • Quest: community environmental education programs
  • Environmental Responsible Products and Processes: Product manufacturing efficiency, capture and retain energy
  • Business development: nanotechnology battery, value-added applications of sand, Innovation Center, Pilot Plant
  • Fairmount Minerals University
  • Site Reclamation: created Lands of Legacy that consider People, Planet, and Prosperity

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