01 Jun 2010
Green Dreams: Eco-Friendly Countertopsby Sarah AuerbachTopics:
It was 2005, and Miranda Magagnini (MBA ’90) had reached her breaking point. “Mommy, what’s wrong?” asked Dante, her then 11-year-old son.
She told him that starting her business, IceStone LLC, might have been a huge mistake. Two years earlier, she and her partner, Peter Strugatz, had purchased the assets of Great Harbor Design at public auction for $26,000. The former owner had invested $4 million in perfecting a durable building surface made from cement and recycled glass but had never commercialized it. Since then, Magagnini and Strugatz had worked tirelessly to bring the product to market, and yet they still discarded more than they successfully manufactured. Meanwhile, Magagnini had too little time for Dante and his five-year-old sister, Allie, and her mother was dying. Maybe it was time to give up on IceStone, she said.
Dante listened quietly. Then he said, “No, Mommy. What you’re doing is really important. I can get along. Don’t worry about me.”
When Magagnini tells this story, she tears up. What Dante called “really important” is the reason Magagnini invested in IceStone: She wanted to build a business that not only makes money but also nurtures its employees, builds community, and minimizes environmental impact.
Five years later, Magagnini and Strugatz are putting the finishing touches on IceStone’s most prestigious order to date: The Gates Foundation will install the company’s product throughout its Seattle headquarters. Other customers include NASA, the Ritz-Carlton, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Amazon, Disney’s Epcot theme park, and Google. IceStone has come a long way since Magagnini’s dark day, and not only by traditional measures of business success. The company has a triple bottom line philosophy, “people, planet, profits,” and is organized as a B Corporation, a new business structure that is legally required to consider social and environmental impacts.
At the day-lit IceStone plant in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, workers mix recycled ground and broken glass with cement, pour the mixture into molds, and bake it into slabs. Italian polishing machines grind the slabs to custom widths and polish them to a glossy finish. The slabs emerge from the process looking much like granite countertops.
But beautiful countertops are not Magagnini’s only concern. She and Strugatz also have made sustainability a core principle. They realized, for example, that they were shipping 15,000 sample swatches each month, only to have them discarded once customers picked colors. So instead, Magagnini assembled photos of IceStone surfaces into a fan book printed on corn-based biodegradable plastic. Now customers can narrow their options before IceStone sends out samples. For this and other environmental stewardship practices, IceStone has earned Cradle to Cradle Gold Certification, passing a set of stringent standards that ensure the product contains no hazards to humans or the environment.
Magagnini and Strugatz treat their workforce with the same care that they extend to environmental issues, holding open-book monthly staff meetings and naming an employee of the month. “People are definitely not cogs in the wheel here,” Magagnini says.
She describes the recession as feeling “like someone turned off the faucet” in construction. Still, Magagnini hopes IceStone can break even this year and turn a profit next year. The green building market is with her: McGraw-Hill Construction projects it will reach $96–$140 billion by 2013, up from $36–$49 billion in 2009.
Although Magagnini always knew she wanted to do something that her “children would be proud of,” she never imagined that it would involve manufacturing. At HBS, she earned a 3 in Production and Operations Management. Still, her creativity is evident in all of IceStone’s innovations, and her 3 in POM definitely hasn’t held her back. Her chief operations officer, a Six Sigma Black Belt, works continually to make every aspect of IceStone’s manufacturing process more efficient. “Now my classmates cheer me on for pursuing my vision,” she says.
They’re not her only cheerleaders. Magagnini says her husband was a terrific source of support, uncomplaining even when her entrepreneurial responsibilities lengthened her workdays and ate up her weekends. “I couldn’t have done it without him,” she says. Or, of course, without that best pep squad of all, her children.
Class of MBA 1990, Section B