A Green Business Network Member Spotlight
Meet the man behind Go Green Recycled Granite in Olathe, Kan., and a new member to the Green Business Network! We recently chatted with Joseph Ward, who co-owns the business with his wife, Mary Jo, to find out how their unique company began, how they use creativity to reuse waste, and what’s next for the company.
At the end of a quiet, mostly residential street in Olathe, Kan., Joseph Ward, along with his wife, Mary Jo, have made a business out of manufacturing scrap pieces of granite into split-faced tile and pavers. A showroom at the entrance to their manufacturing facility showcases the many ways their tile can be used indoors or outdoors– from covering fireplaces to tiling backsplashes, fire pits and more.
“We’re always thinking up new ways to use it,” Joe says.
He receives the scrap pieces of granite – material that would otherwise be destined for the landfill – from area countertop fabricators/installers. He gets nearly all of his granite material from two local businesses – RockTops and Midwest Marble & Granite. The arrangement works well on all sides. Joe receives his material at no cost, the fabricators save on disposal costs, and the environment wins, too.
Joe cites that as much as forty percent of all granite from countertop installations goes into the landfill.
“That’s not an exaggeration. Think about the cutouts they have to do for sinks and range tops, all the trimmings – the ‘oops’ mistakes where something was dropped – or maybe the slab had a fissure and broke easily. It quickly adds up, and I just think – this stuff was mined out of the earth, and now we’re going to throw nearly half of it away and cover it up in a landfill with trash?”
Go Green Recycled Granite is working to change that.
The birth of a business
Joe and Mary Jo Ward entered the tile and paver-making business in an unlikely way. (He’s a retired Army officer; she’s a full-time registered oncology nurse.)
Mary Jo first saw the tile made from scrap granite while helping her daughter remodel her kitchen.
“My stepdaughter Melanie in Indiana found it on Ebay; when she went to pick up some more, Mary Jo was with her, and that’s where Go Green Recycled Granite was born. She came home and was like ‘We can totally do this.’”
The two connected with the Recycled Granite Network and its founder, Julie Rizzo, who’s credited with the idea of giving scrap pieces of granite a second life in this way. Joe and Mary Jo quickly became members of the network, purchased the needed equipment and set up shop in their garage with a showroom in their basement.
“I was retired from the Army and have an MBA so I thought, ‘Great, I can put that to use now.’ And Mary Jo finds stress relief from nursing in DIY projects, so this kind of business was totally her thing.”
That was five years ago. They have since become part of a 21-member franchise across the country and operate out of a warehouse space adjacent to a tow service company. Word about their eco-friendly business is steadily growing. Go Green Recycled Granite was one of Johnson County Department of Health & Environment’s first R5 Certified Green Partners.
Joe often partners with his suppliers on projects for homeowners.
“If a homeowner is getting granite countertops installed and wants to do something extra, I’ll ask for their specific granite waste and use it in my project for them. So when they’re showing off their remodel, they can say to their friends ‘And see that tile over there? That would have been our trash waste from our countertops.’ That’s pretty cool.”
Thinking outside the box
Reuse doesn’t stop with their finished tile and paver products. When she’s not working as a nurse, Mary Jo designs unique gifts including cutting boards, cheese cutters, business card holders, holiday decorations and more from the larger pieces of scraps.
“Mary Jo has all the artistic talent. I just make big rocks smaller, and do all the ‘businessy’ stuff,” Joe says.
The remaining scraps are offered up to local artists, do-it-yourselfers, and gardeners for free.
“The smaller pieces make a surprisingly effective groundcover instead of mulch for keeping weeds out. The granite pieces start to interlock as they settle and it keeps weeds from growing. Plus the edges can be a bit jagged and sharp and keep critters out of your garden. They don’t want to go in there.”
Joe has also found a way to filter and reuse the water needed to operate his tile saw. The result?
“I use the same water over and over again for about 6 months.”
Joe stores the few hundred gallons of water in a large vat lined inside with a super sack, which collects the silt created from the cut tile but allows the water to pass through. A pump inside the vat but on the outside of the bag draws the clean water back through the saw.
And, his creativity doesn’t stop there. “I collect the silt and let it dry out for a while. Once it’s dry, it makes a great soil amendment that I offer up to friends or whoever wants it. It’s all-natural; it’s basically a bunch of minerals that you can put back into the soil.”
What’s on the horizon for Go Green Recycled Granite? Joe has his eye on two goals. First, he wants to change his business model to production only and sell his products directly to retailers. He currently has a pilot going at a Sutherlands in Liberty, Missouri.
Second, he wants to serve the special needs community by launching a Recycled Granite™ Green Abilities Program to create jobs for people with disabilities. Joe has a very personal connection behind this desire.
“When I was in college I worked in the NY State Parks, and we had an employee with Down’s Syndrome named Bobby. Bobby was the hardest worker; he would do whatever you asked of him. He was happy and loved working; he felt normal and needed. In 1986, my brother and my sister-In-law had my nephew and godson, William. William has Down’s Syndrome and is awesome. He participates in the Special Olympics in the equestrian events.”
When Joe and Mary Jo started Go Green Granite and were visiting with Rizzo, they learned that she had started working with a local special needs organization, the Greenabilities Program, in the Chicago suburbs. Seeing the joy that the young men and women had working brought back memories for Joe of Bobby and his nephew.
As business has grown, Joe has contacted two local organizations, Inclusion Connections and Johnson County Developmental Supports, to conduct work studies and determine what changes he needs to make to allow for special needs employment.
“They matter and can contribute, work, and have a sense of self-worth. They can assemble, create, operate machinery, and they are so happy doing it. You aren’t just getting a worker; you’re getting a source of joy and amazing hugs!”
Joe aims to have the program running by next summer and have employees splitting stone and assembling the different products they make from leftover granite.
Want to connect with Joe and Go Green Recycled Granite?
Visit their website here.