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2015 Eco-Leaders

Green Builder's 2015 Eco-Leaders

We salute their accomplishments and encourage others to follow their lead.

Schneider Electric

Ingersoll Rand

LG Electronics

Royal Philips

Ford Motor Company

Mohawk Industries



Fireclay Tile


Fireclay Tile

Posted by Green Builder Staff

Jul 2, 2015 12:13:56 PM

Fireclay Tile

Fireclay employs approximately 105 people: 85 tile makers and 20 in sales and administration.

PAUL BURNS GREW UP working in his uncle’s handmade tile factory in San Jose, CA. Later, he studied science at the University of California at Berkeley. Burns wanted to integrate his love of research when it came time to start his own business. Fireclay Tile opened its doors in 1986; today, the company is known for its innovative utilization of waste streams ranging from used TV monitors to outdated porcelain toilets.

Tile readily lends itself to incorporating recycled materials, says Burns.

“We use fossil fuels to fire tile, but the process is all natural—no chemicals or resins,” says Burns. “The firing process purifies the material and allows us to use things like used toilets.”

The company’s Bay Area location allows it to take advantage of local, reliable waste streams. The glass in Fireclay’s 100 percent recycled glass tiles comes from a variety of sources, including window and solar panel manufacturers. In 2014, the company began sourcing glass from used computer screens and TV monitors to produce its CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) tile. The tile uses glass from the front layer of the units, which avoids the toxic metals contained in cathode ray tubes.

The clay body in the company’s red clay tile products contains over 70 percent recycled content, including such materials as recycled glass bottles, porcelain from discarded bath fixtures and pre-consumer manufacturing waste such as granite dust.

A few years ago, as the California drought deepened, schools and other institutions started upgrading water-wasting toilets to more efficient models, generating a new source of material for Burns’ operation.

“I like the technical challenge of finding materials,” he says, but adds they can only be used if demand for recycled-content products matches the supply. “The most important part of recycling is buying and using recycled items,” he says.

Fireclay also demonstrates efficient manufacturing. The facility upgraded to modern European kilns, which Burns estimates save 60 to 70 percent of the energy used by the original kilns. The factory also reuses waste water and manufacturing scrap; in addition, Fireclay participates in the Carbon Fund to offset the energy spent shipping its products.

Burns stresses that one of the most sustainable aspects of his operation are its employees. These craftsmen and women, some of whom have been with Fireclay for 25 years, pass valuable skills to newer employees and help carry forward the tradition of tile-making.

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