Sustainability + stone: The equation works

This floor is from Coverings, Etc. and it’s made from 70% pre-consumer, natural stone  manufacturing waste.
When some read the details of the PROJECT: Green competition at Coverings this year, there’s bound to be one immediate reaction about including stone in an enviro-friendly contest: Are you nuts?
Natural stone, after all, is material that’s carved out of the ground, with a regeneration cycle of several million years (and that’s on the short side). Large pieces get hauled massive distances around the globe, only to be chopped smaller. There’s plenty of energy consumed in production and a pile of waste at the end of a project. Where’s the green in all of that?
Good points all – on the surface. When delving deeper into the subject, those arguments can be made, in whole or part, against virtually every other hard-surface product available in the industry. Even the trendiest material that tries to hit all the green buttons can have problems, particularly in the downcycle after use in countertops or flooring.
Stone, though, seems to take the brunt of green-based criticism… and, to be frank, ostracism. Countertop and flooring roundups tap on a couple of negative points — if stone is mentioned at all — before moving on to other materials of equally questionable value in sustainability. It’s odd to see articles that omit stone, in any shape or form, while touting pale green materials such as linoleum (without differentiating between linseed-oil-based products and polyvinyl chloride) and run-of-the-mill laminates.
That’s why Coverings is a vital event for architects, designers and builders to get a better feel of stone and its relationship to sustainability. In addition to the PROJECT: Green competition, the show gives an open stage in the marketplace of the tradeshow floor.
The trade exhibits continue to show new materials incorporating recycled stone; there are surfaces including pre-consumer waste in slab format, along with machinery to recut shop scraps and old countertops for tiling and flooring. Some of the quartz-surface producers are expanding their product lines to recycle their own in-house waste materials and post-consumer materials like recycled glass.
Coverings also provides a place to learn about sustainability efforts in the U.S. natural-stone industry, particularly through the efforts of the Natural Stone Council. In the past few years, there’s been a diligent effort to explore and enhance natural stone’s green attributes and establish a series of best practices for the production chain of U.S.-quarried stone.
And, yes, there are domestic stones available that qualify as regional materials (quarried within 500 miles of use) for the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® rating systems. It’s also another part of the industry where sustainability is playing a key role in production and quarrying.
More and more, it’s possible to go green with countertops and still make stone a viable choice. It’s anything but a crazy notion.

Emerson Schwartzkopf is editor/publisher of Stone Update, an online news service for the stone and hard-surfaces industry. He can be reached at [email protected].