Vice President and General Manager for North American Operations, GSE
Chairman, GMA Executive Council
Geosynthetic Materials Association, a division of the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI)
Geosynthetics: How would you describe the status of the geosynthetics industry today?
Ernie English: I see a large market, a growing market but at a relatively modest rate. There are pockets of opportunities out there. One of our primary challenges with a mature market is that some of our products are commodity-like … Then there is the inevitable, steadily growing importation of offshore materials along with excess capacity throughout the market.
G: Pockets of opportunities?
EE: Yes, for example sustained federal funding for roads and bridges. One of the bright spots is the water management market—anything to do with water: conservation, reuse and recycling, stormwater management, wastewater treatment—that market just has to be a priority. I see that as one of the brightest opportunities for geosynthetics.
G: Tell us more about offshore challenges and opportunities.
EE: There are huge emerging markets—China, of course. The benefit for some geosynthetics manufacturers is that the standards they are using are Western, state-of-the-art standards. China is jumping right in at the top and using geosynthetics in their most advantageous ways.
And I also see India’s potential to follow right behind China in terms of enormous infrastructure development.
The challenge is for North American manufacturers to recognize and address these opportunities before too much local manufacturing capacity is added.
G: What about new products?
EE: That’s one of the disappointing aspects of our industry. We don’t feel the pull, the draw of new product demand. We don’t hear engineers say: “If we only had something that did this.” It is more common to hear: “These [products] have been used for a long time and they work. Just give me what I used last time.” That can be a roadblock to a vibrant, creative marketplace.
G: So we are seeing improvements, not new products?
EE: Subtle improvements. We need the specifying and designing community to try new things. Is there something better? Yes, using geosynthetic materials as replacements for all of the natural materials that we are extracting from the earth. That would create real market growth, not just [manufacturers] beating each other up trading market share.
For example, we can make a sound engineering argument for using geosynthetic materials over rock. When you use geosynthetics, you can be much more effective and consistent in areas such as installation and drainage and reinforcement.
G: Any other examples?
EE: Sure. Take some of the studies that GMA has done, for example, that show geosynthetics providing exceptional road stability and effective drainage.
One of the fundamentals of GMA is to educate people who are specifying and designing. [Geosynthetics] are a very viable alternative to make construction projects much more functional, higher-performing, and profitable.
Take landfills. The trend today is “steeper and deeper.” Geosynthetics provide the tools to do that.
Anything we can do collectively to get the word out, especially, let’s say, to the water industry, is in our long-term interest. That is exactly GMA’s mission.