The Truth Behind the Sustainability of Natural Stone

These days, there is a greater demand than ever for eco-friendly and sustainable building materials in both commercial and residential construction. Developers, architects, and designers are constantly looking for sustainable yet beautiful and durable materials that they can incorporate into their projects.

For many interior and exterior applications, natural stone delivers on all fronts. Connecticut Stone‘s very own Tyra Dellacroce recently had the opportunity to serve as a panelist on sustainability for the Natural Stone Institute; what followed was an enlightening discussion on what makes natural stone eco-friendly compared to other materials and the ongoing efforts to improve best practices across the industry.

Why Does Sustainability Matter in Natural Stone?

Across the globe, there has been a more concentrated effort in nearly every industry to take better care of the planet. The natural stone industry is no exception here. Even though the fabrication of natural stone is already relatively sustainable, professionals working in the industry acknowledge and take their responsibility to protect the health of the planet and the people on it seriously.

As a result, natural stone industry leaders are constantly exploring options to reduce the amount of carbon produced during the manufacturing and fabrication processes while continuing to use human-safe and environmentally friendly materials.

What Makes Natural Stone Sustainable?

As Sarah Gregg of the Natural Stone Institute explains, one of the most wonderful things about natural stone is that “mother nature does most of the manufacturing for us.” Compared to other man-made materials, manufacturing natural stone is a rather eco-friendly process in a number of ways.

For starters, stone is a natural product of the Earth; it does not require other materials to create it. The same simply cannot be said of many other materials, where stones may be crushed and processed back together using glues and other materials that may not be 100% healthy or safe for the environment.

Likewise, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are often found in other building materials are not an issue with natural stone (unless sealers are used – and some even contain VOCs), so the overall impact on human health is much lower than many of the materials natural stone tends to compete with.

Even in the quarrying of natural stone, land impacts are minimal. Natural stone quarries, for example, last a long time — and hundreds of thousands of square feet of stone can be created from just one quarry.

Ongoing Sustainability Efforts in the Natural Stone Industry

Despite the inherently low environmental footprint of natural stone compared to many other materials, ongoing efforts to increase sustainability continue throughout the industry. Specifically, a number of ongoing studies are being done to quantify the embodied energy of natural stone and the effectiveness of various methods to reduce carbon output in the manufacturing and fabrication processes.

Throughout the industry, environmental product declarations (EPDs) and health product declarations (HPD) are also becoming widespread, providing greater transparency of the exact ingredients and environmental impacts found in any given stone. Likewise, many stone manufacturers now follow The Natural Stone Sustainability Standard, which aims to ensure responsible manufacturing of natural stone across the industry. More often, stone professionals are also increasingly being expected to provide transparency documentation.

Designers and architects are also continuing to push for sustainable designs by incorporating eco-friendly materials into their projects. Natural stone specifically offers versatile applications in:

  • Countertops
  • Flooring
  • Cladding
  • Paving
  • Structural designs

Stone is an excellent choice in biophilic design. Its beauty and natural aesthetic satisfy our innate human connection with nature which promotes wellness and reduces stress.

The Bottom Line on Sustainability in Natural Stone

While there is always room for improvement, the natural stone industry has come a long way and is taking proactive measures to reduce environmental impacts and improve the outlook for our planet’s future generations. From the implementation of The Natural Stone Sustainability Standard to more widespread use of EPDs and HPDs, true professionals are willing to go above and beyond to protect the planet.

For more information on sustainability in the natural stone industry, check out the Natural Stone Institute’s free webinar course on “Achieving Green Building Goals with Natural Stone.”

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