“There is nothing new under the sun,” Epstein assures, and from the range of her travels, she seems to have seen a lot. However, as CEO and lead designer for Artistic Tile, Epstein has created thousands of new, inspired designs that are gracing homes, businesses, and showrooms across North America, and are setting an ecofriendly example for the future.
With a background in design and business, Epstein’s own success story began when a cabinet manufacturer rejected her designs for her son’s bedroom. “He hated it,” she says, and soon after he hired her. Epstein “fell in love” with kitchen and bathroom design, and eventually launched Artistic Tile in 1987.
The rest is history— but not in the most conventional form of the expression. Epstein compares the history of ancient ruins to the stone she uses today in production of beautiful, luxury tiles. Epstein designs for permanence, inspired by the stones that still support ancient structures, such as the Roman Coliseum, that remained after civilizations ended. As she says, “stone is used forever.” This “build for life” mentality, Epstein believes, is the epitome of environmental responsibility.
Green is a “growing force,” Epstein says, which didn’t become as mainstream until two or three years ago, despite her own long-term awareness of environmental issues. “I’m from the hippie generation,” she explains.
While it is very expensive to get the title for a green business certification, such as LEED, Artistic Tile aims to meet environmentally-responsible standards in manufacturing, cleanliness, shipping, and packaging. Stone is a natural material and the “greenest,” according to Epstein. Some variations of it, such as the company’s Wallace Creek, quarried in Canada, and Danby Imperial, quarried in Vermont, meet LEED standards as both locations are within 500 miles of Artistic Tile’s flagship showroom in New York City.
However, over the past 36 months, some significant changes have taken place inside the company’s 110,000-square-foot distribution center in Secaucus, NJ, to allow for environmental initiatives that are exclusive to Artistic Tile. They range from a massive rainwater collection, water recycling system, and recycled packaging materials to super-efficient lightbulbs.
Among the roaring machinery on one side of the production workroom at the Secaucus site sit two massive barrels. Opposite, are careful workmen who are responsible for cutting and polishing slabs of stone. Gerard Esmail, vice president of operations, explains that one barrel contains water that is clean and the other, slurry. He then points out the drains on the floor, which pitch together and collect water into a vat,12-feet deep, 16-feet high and 25-feet long, underneath the floor on which he stands. Sitting right outside the walls of the factory is also a 2,700-gallon rainwater barrel. With the help of a vinyl roof designed by Esmail, the barrel can collect up to 2,000 gallons per rainfall.
Water is essential in the tile industry, he explains, because it provides constant lubrication and prevents fire sparking from the powerful blades used to cut the tiles. One of the most substantial ways to make an environmental impact, especially for this company, was to recycle the some 60,000 gallons of water that are used each day.
Not only recycled, this unique water filtration system is designed to separate and compress particles in the water into solid slabs that are disposed in a clean fill dump for “quick and responsible removal,” Esmail says. All remaining water is sanitized through the use of ozone. The result is crystal clear, as Esmail proudly displays in a freshly-filled bottle from one of the filter’s valves.
Esmail and Larry Epstein, Nancy Epstein’s husband who is a well-known name in the swimming pool chemical industry, designed the filtration system. Esmail says that the benefit is a healthy product uncontaminated by any bacteria. With very rigid demands for quality control, he says, the company dedicates ample time to ensure all areas of design, production, and distribution are up to their standards—from the intricate inspection of all materials brought into the facility, daily cleaning for dust and dirt removal, and the use of Eco Box, recycled cardboard shipping materials, and BioBubble, a biodegradable bubble wrap.
Another part of Artistic Tile’s green overhaul includes a conversion to energy-efficient light sources. Esmail says that just he received a delivery of T8 florescent light bulbs. Twice as bright as the ones they replaced, the T8s are so bright that it’s difficult to look directly at them. The ceiling fixtures that once contained six bulbs will now only require one. With a rebate provided by New Jersey Smartstart, Esmail says that the lights will cost a third of the actual price. “We will save $20,000 in energy,” he adds.
While the changes at the distribution center have only been in effect for under two years, the push to go green required significant time and research, Esmail says, and more plans are currently in process. Motion detector lights are to be installed by the slowest-moving machine so as to conserve energy. And although extremely expensive, Esmail says that it may be possible to run solar energy in the future just for the lights of the building. In order to lighten their energy strain on their community, the entire distribution center has also agreed to go off the grid and run strictly on their generator if the surrounding town is ever in danger of a blackout or brownout, usually common in the summer. “If you’re not committed it won’t work,” Esmail simply states.
The latest news is that Artistic Tile has joined with SmartWay Transport Partnership to provide environmentally efficient transportation of their materials and products. In collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency and the freight industry, SmartWay plans to reduce by 33 million to 66 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and up to 200,000 tons of nitrogen oxide per year by 2012 by improving environmental performance, according to Richard Johnson, vice president of public relations.
Passionate people and beautiful, natural products are what make Artistic Tile unique, Epstein says. But she doesn’t believe it’s her environmental perspective that turns her customers on to the vast array of beautiful tiles she designs. “Customers do not care,” she admits, adding that disposable incomes are at a low due to recent economic struggles, and she has lost 50 percent of business. “The only way to build desire,” particularly of green products, she says, “is through promotion.”
Artistic Tile, Epstein says, provides a complete experience for its customers, many of whom are thrilled with the idea of creating a design unique to their home. Epstein has built a staff of highly educated designers and sales associates, and believes all employees must truly know and care about the products. “[We] really have to educate about the quality of the brand,” she says, mentioning that design schools often do not provide courses on tile, stone, and permanent fixtures of the home. Epstein emphasizes that when it comes to design, longevity is key. And with Artistic Tile’s newest initiatives, this company can surely look forward to a lasting, green future.
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