A Mosaic of Leadership

Q&A with Bill Griese, 2024 Board Chair of ASTM International
David Walsh

The only thing Bill Griese likes talking about more than Clemson University football and his beloved Tigers is ceramic tile – most of the time at least. And with 2023 being something of a down year for football in Death Valley, South Carolina, tile takes up more of the conversation than usual these days.

“It’s not far-fetched to believe that each and every person in the world touches tile at least once every day,” says Griese, who is the deputy executive director of the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), where he has worked since he was a student intern in 2005. “And the ceramic tile industry and ASTM have been working together to develop standards that create a safer environment, a more sustainable environment, and a higher quality environment.”

“We often talk about fashion and high-end interior design, but to most people, tile serves a functional role in their homes, in their businesses, with their families, friends, and colleagues. Standards for tile make life cleaner and safer and help improve quality of life, essentially.”

READ MORE: Gloss and Grout: Standards for Ceramic Tile

Griese joined ASTM International in 2007 and served three consecutive terms as chair of the committee on ceramic whitewares and related products (C21). He has also been chair of ASTM’s Committee on Technical Committee Operations. He currently serves as the ceramic tile subcommittee (C21.06) chair, and he is also a member of the committees on sustainability (E60) and manufactured masonry units (C15). In 2013, he received the J.A. Thomas President’s Leadership Award for his contributions on behalf of C21, and in 2018, Griese received the Award of Merit from C21.

Standardization News recently caught up with Bill at a tile-manufacturing facility in Crossville, Tennessee, where he talked about his background, passion for standards, and the future.

Q. Tell us a little about your work with the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and how you became involved in the area of ceramics 
and tile.

A. I became involved in TCNA as an engineering intern while I was attending Clemson University and in fact, TCNA has a very special relationship with Clemson. Our headquarters and state-of-the-art testing and research facility, International Product Assurance (IPA) Laboratories, are both located in the Clemson University Advanced Materials Research Park. Like so many other engineers in college, I had to declare a specialty. And I was always fascinated with materials and what made things what they are. So around the same time, I was introduced to TCNA as a summer job, with an opportunity to work in the lab and get my hands on products – and learn the material properties of these products. And so it was quite a good opportunity and good timing for me, and it’s turned into the career I have today.

We see new technologies like 3D printing and other decorating techniques that are additive in nature impacting the ceramic tile market today. What are the biggest technological advances you see coming to your industry – and what role will standards play in their adoption?

There is so much more to ceramic tile today than what the average person might associate with kitchens and baths. Ceramic tile comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, textures, finishes, and applications ranging from floors, walls, countertops, to cladding, pavers, and more.

Advancements in decoration technology have led to the ability of manufacturers to create surfaces that are virtually indistinguishable from wood, stone, fabrics, and many other finishes. Tiles can be made in virtually any size – as small as mosaic, as big as five feet by ten feet, as thin as two-and-a-half to three millimeters, and as thick as three centimeters.

Design capabilities are limitless on the interior or exterior, in horizontal or vertical applications, even on the cladding of buildings and in pavers on decks. With high-definition and 3D decoration that can be baked into the surfaces of ceramic tiles, you can get the durability and longevity that consumers have come to expect of ceramic and porcelain.

The field of antimicrobials is another rapidly emerging technology in the tile industry. This has been in development for a while, but we really started to see the benefits of this during the pandemic. In fact, IPA Laboratories played an integral role in defining tests for the antiviral properties of some of these technologies, which help with grouts, as well as with preventing disease spreading from interior surfaces.

Regarding standards, they are critical to the ceramic tile industry. It’s how we define our products. It’s how we specify our products. It’s how we establish the expectations of quality and performance that consumers have come to expect for many years.

"It's not far-fetched to believe that each and every person in the world touches tile at least once a day."

ASTM is home to some of the most fundamental standards defining our industry, such as decorative wear and water absorption. But even with these fundamental standards, with recent advancements in additive manufacturing and 3D decorating, we see ASTM as the perfect synergistic vehicle to advance new standards-development efforts along with the standards of old.

Q. Sustainability is a big priority in many industries today. How is the field of ceramics and ceramic tiles working to become more sustainable?

Stringent standards for sustainability performance are very important to the ceramic-tile industry. We have the foremost standard and certification program in our industry, called “Green Squared” for the sustainability performance of tile and tile-related installation materials. We are also very involved in environmental transparency through our industry-wide environmental product declarations for tile, grout, and mortar. And we’re involved in material ingredient transparency with the first-ever, industry-wide material ingredient guide, which facilitates transparency and consistency in how manufacturers are reporting their ingredient information across the industry.

But today, perhaps the most critical topic we are addressing is that of embodied carbon. It’s no secret there are a lot of pressures both at the public level and in the private sector for manufacturers to better report the embodied carbon in their products. And for us, this means much more than the carbon emitted from the manufacturer. As an industry, we have the responsibility to report the cradle-to-grave impact of embodied carbon. That means the carbon emitted during manufacturing, the carbon emitted while installing, and the carbon emitted while disposing. This entire carbon footprint needs to be accounted for if we’re going to discuss future replacements throughout the life of a building and the need for a product to fulfill its function.

With this in mind, TCNA and its members remain very active in sustainability standardization.

And as an organization, ASTM has provided the ceramic tile industry with an ideal platform to advance our sustainability mission, to develop standards, to grow our network, and we look forward to expanded sustainability efforts in 2024 and beyond.

Q. What is the most rewarding part of working in your field? What are some of the challenges you face both personally and as an organization?

A. Each and every day I have the privilege of collaborating with some of the best and brightest in my industry, and it’s because of ASTM that I’ve been afforded this opportunity. 

We all appreciate the impact tile has on society—on our physical safety, as well as our psyche. Throughout history, ceramic tiles have provided a perfect union of art and architecture. The richness of tile adorns our greatest buildings and iconic structures. This is why I find the development of standards so rewarding. The purpose of standards is ultimately to protect consumers. And consumer protection involves the protection of much more than a consumer’s health, more than a consumer’s right to a clean, healthy environment. It’s also a protection of their investment. When you invest in a product, you anticipate that product is going to last and serve the function that you expected when you first purchased it.

And as we move forward with a new generation of leadership and standards developers, we have the challenge to maintain the continuity and to build consensus as the variety of stakeholders continues to evolve.

Q. You’ve been with ASTM for more than 15 years now. What changes have you seen in this time, and what impact has ASTM had on your career?

A. I’ve been involved with ASTM since 2007, and in these 15 years, even though a lot has changed, so much has remained the same – with the operation, the organization, the staff, the process. It’s really been this steadfast approach to building consensus and convening stakeholders that has benefited all of us involved in the process. 

And even as we evolve the ways we communicate, the ways we collaborate, and the ways standards are developed, this steadfast approach will be critical in maintaining the integrity of the standards-development process moving forward.

I remember being involved with ASTM even back to the time I was a student at Clemson University. I was familiar with ASTM standards, but when I first joined ASTM and went to my first meeting, I was immediately amazed that I was able to sit at the same table, first and foremost with my peers and colleagues, but also with owners, senior executives, senior scientists, and research experts, all at the same table.

Ultimately, I was able to consider these individuals my peers, too. I can’t think of any other setting so early in your career where you’re provided this access to that level or caliber of people.

This year will be one of change for ASTM, as we say farewell to long-time president Kathie Morgan and welcome a new president. As chair for this eventful time, what are your thoughts on Kathie’s time with ASTM and the year ahead?

2024 is a significant year in the history of ASTM. We celebrate the achievements of our outgoing President Kathie Morgan, and we wish her the very best in her retirement. We transition into the next era of leadership as we welcome a new president, and it is especially heartwarming for me to be by Kathie’s side as board chair at this time.

For most of my career with ASTM, I’ve known Kathie and have been inspired by her passion for standards development, her love for this organization and its people, and her servant leadership. I do not take lightly my responsibility and the responsibility of our board to instill in our next leader these values and our common vision for the trajectory of ASTM as we navigate this transition. 

However, on a personal level, I can say that the thing I’m going to miss most about Kathie is hearing her contagious laugh as she’s coming down the hallway. Everyone knows that laugh!

Q. What advice would you give to a student or early career professional considering joining ASTM?

A. To any student considering getting involved in ASTM, take it from me: ASTM has given me far more than I could ever repay. When I look back on my career thus far with ASTM, I realize how lucky I was to be able to sit at the table with industry experts, all of whom I consider my peers. So, quite simply, just get involved. There are so many entry points, whether it’s through the Emerging Professionals program, whether it’s joining one of the student chapters, or whether it’s just going to your first committee week. There’s no reason you should not do it. It’s given me so much in my career, and it’s something you should consider.

You’ll get the benefit of working with industry colleagues toward common standardization goals. But more importantly to me, I’m able to look back and realize it’s ASTM where I met some of my closest friends. ■

Industry Sectors

Issue Month
Issue Year