Q&A Regarding Stone and Sustainability
“Green” is a buzzword associated with everything and anything that’s supposedly better for our environment. There is little disagreement that stone, in and of itself, is a natural material. It is, after all a natural element of the Earth, even in its final form. However, green refers to more than the natural stone material and its many characteristics that enhance its environmental profile (natural material, durable, recyclable, reusable, etc.). Green also encompasses the environmental performance of the companies that produce it - in our case, the stone industry itself. We are viewed by buyers (businesses, consumers) based on the choices we make to lessen the impact on the environment. Current perceptions of the stone industry include a dirty, unsophisticated operating environment, high energy consumption, high water consumption and high waste factors. It is our challenge to help our industry address these perceptions with hard data in a proactive way.
Isn’t “green” just marketing lingo?
Absolutely not. Green has become a concern of customers in all sectors, particularly in light of growing global concern about climate change. Unfortunately, as green marketing has grown, so has the confusion as to which products are really the best choices when it comes to sustainability and the environment. Statements or claims need to be genuine and substantiated by true science versus “green washing,” a term that refers to claims or statements made by companies and industries that are not supported by facts. The NSC is committed to providing the research and promotional support necessary to help those of us in the natural stone industry substantiate our claims about natural stone as a green product.
What is the ultimate goal of the NSC’s sustainability efforts?
Our goal is to support the stone industry’s efforts to increase the preference for and consumption of genuine stone by achieving the following:
• providing sound data and third-party verification supporting the sustainability of stone versus other building materials and characterizing stone as a natural choice in green building
• benchmarking the sustainability of the natural stone industry by identifying industry best practices, pointing out where improvement is needed, and communicating this information to the stone industry and other appropriate audiences in the green building industry
What do the NSC’s sustainability efforts mean to individual businesses?
As you are probably aware, we undertook a very large survey initiative in partnership with the University of Tennessee’s Center for Clean Products. The data we collected from individual businesses forms the foundation for establishing the baseline environmental footprint of the stone industry. By offering the facts about natural stone and environmental considerations, we hope to increase market demand, improve the perceptions about our companies and our industry and challenge our competitors with solid information.
Right now, as you read this, the design community is making product selection decisions and comparisons based on environmental and life-cycle impacts. There are many other industries such as carpet, concrete and wood that are already prepared to respond to the market with this information. We need to make sure that genuine stone is adequately represented.
Finally, the NSC’s sustainability efforts should help to educate the industry about the growing trend toward social responsibility and the importance of what we call the “triple bottom line,” which refers to key selection criteria - including financial, social and environmental measures.
What is the NSC doing with all of the surveys they collected earlier this year?
Since the University of Tennessee has received and analyzed all of the data collected earlier this year, they have started to produce several sets of information - life-cycle datasets, best practices, case studies and material fact sheets. If you haven’t been to www.GenuineStone.com lately to see all of the documents there, you should do that today. Anyone can access this information and each new piece as it is published.
Life-cycle datasets: To accurately assess the environmental profile of natural stone products, impacts over the entire life cycle of these products must be identified. Information characterizing stone fabrication was amassed through a rigorous survey of the industry, and life-cycle datasets have been established for granite, limestone and sandstone quarrying and processing operations. The datasets can be accessed through www.GenuineStone.com and downloaded from the University of Tennessee Center for Clean Products’ Web site: isse.utk.edu/ccp/projects/naturalstone/results_pubs.html.
Version two, which is projected to include additional sandstone data, a marble dataset, and begin to add specific transportation data, is currently in development.
Best practices: The NSC is committed to supporting sustainable initiatives and innovations at all levels of the production of Genuine Stone products. As such, best practices of the industry have been identified, and these guidance documents were created to provide assistance in implementing environmentally-preferable operations.
“Best Practice: Water Consumption, Treatment, and Reuse” (can be accessed at: isse.utk.edu/ccp/projects/naturalstone/BP1Water.pdf )
Best Practice: Site Maintenance and Quarry Closure (published November 2008)
Case Studies - Genuine Stone products inherently have some environmentally preferable characteristics. The case studies highlight these positive attributes of stone and its application as a green building product.
Case Study: Application of Green Building Certification Programs to Natural Stone (can be accessed at: isse.utk.edu/ccp/projects/naturalstone/CS_AppGBCert.pdf )
Case Study: Longevity of Stone Flooring and Associated Human Health and Environmental Impacts (published October 2008)
Material Fact Sheets - Designers are more frequently being asked to identify green building materials, but they do not always have the needed information. Using the life-cycle data, material fact sheets describing several stone types are being generated to provide useful information in this selection process, among other information. The one-page (double-sided) documents will summarize the current market for stone, regions of deposits worldwide, physical properties and applicable ASTM standards, as well as environmental data and human health considerations. Currently, we have fact sheets for granite, limestone, marble and sandstone.
Again, all of these documents and an overview of our current and future activity can be accessed right now at www.GenuineStone.com.
In these tough economic times, how will sustainability impact my bottom line?
With regard to sustainability, you are either in the game or you’re sitting on the sidelines. If you’re not on board with sustainable practices, you will surely see a negative impact on your bottom line because your competitors get it. I firmly believe that to be in the game going forward, we will all need to be involved, well-versed in the sustainability performance of our companies and working to improve the overall environmental footprint of our industry. If people believe that sustainability is a fad, they are mistaken.
What exactly is LEED?
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) - the nation’s leading coalition on sustainable building - established the LEED Green Building Rating System. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) is a third-party certification program and a benchmark for the design, construction and operation of green buildings.
LEED is the most widely used rating system for green building. This system defines standards for environmentally responsible, healthier and more profitable structures, and it awards points to new construction and major renovation projects in five categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality.
Is LEED certification more trouble than it’s worth?
Some believe the costs to file and become certified is cumbersome; however, the LEED guidelines have become the norm for green design standards or architects even for projects that do not seek certification. The actual LEED certification process helps gauge the level of authenticity. It’s a broadly accepted standard, and there is substance behind the claims. There are over 14,400 registered projects, and the number of certified projects is almost 2,000. LEED certification continues to grow exponentially since its inception. Many projects report cost savings (within three to five years) that offset the additional cost to become certified.
Do you think green building will become standard practice?
It really already has become the norm. With such an increased interest in protecting the environment, we rarely hear of design and construction projects that don’t have sustainable elements incorporated in them. Honestly, it isn’t an option to discard the green movement. Green building is in everyone’s best interests, including Genuine Stone. In fact, there are talks underway to globalize green building practices. LEED has been implemented in India and the United Arab Emirates. The United Kingdom has its own version - BREEAM - which is gaining acceptance across Europe. Green building is here to stay, and the stone industry should serve as part of the foundation.
What are some questions I might expect from architects and designers about natural stone’s sustainability?
This is an important question and underscores the importance of substantiated sustainability. The design community is highly informed and can discern fact from fiction. Some of the questions you might expect include:
• Where is the source of the material?
• Where is the stone processed or fabricated?
• What is the Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the product (in comparison with other competing products like concrete, brick, etc.) based on application/usage e.g., cladding, flooring?
• What is the life-cycle cost?
• Are there any chemicals or components on the final product?
• What is the VOC content?
• What process does the manufacturer have in place for waste reduction and recycling?
• How is the waste that is not re-used handled?
• What is the post-consumer recycled content? Post-industrial recycled content?
• What is the total energy consumed from cradle-to-gate (from extraction through processing)?
• What company programs are in place to reduce energy consumption and/or greenhouse gas emissions?
• Does any program exist to reuse or reclaim stone at the end of its lifetime?
• Are there any other initiatives to minimize the environmental impacts associated with natural stone from its extraction to its disposal?
• What steps has your company taken towards becoming socially (planned leadership, employee, community programs) and environmentally sustainable?
A good reference for where we believe the green movement is headed is Cascadia’s Living Building Challenge - www.cascadiagbc.org/lbc/resources1/materialsqnaire/building%20materials%20questionnaire . This not only asks questions about the material, but it also gets into your company’s social and environmental initiatives. Ultimately, that is how we believe companies will be evaluated in the future - the triple bottom line.
What are some ways you’ve implemented sustainable practices at Cold Spring Granite Co.?
We have done our best to be ahead of the curve. We began implementing lean practices in the late 1990s. Recently, we completed consolidation of several of our operations, which has reduced transportation costs, eliminated waste, updated/modernized stone processing, optimized energy efficiency and reduced water usage. We’ve seen an increase in energy efficiency by modernizing our equipment, and we’re proud that our water reclamation facility processes and re-uses over 95% of industrial water. Even our new headquarters building is LEED registered, pending certification. And it has all paid dividends. When visiting our facilities, architects and designers have frequently made comments about the approach we are taking. The truth of the matter is that we have been environmentally focused for a long time. My involvement in the NSC, and specifically as the chair of the sustainability committee, inspired me to form a sustainability committee within Cold Spring Granite Co. and take that commitment to another level.
What are the NSC’s plans for 2009?
We will continue to build our library of research-based documents and share them with the industry, including a comparative evaluation (Life-Cycle Assessment) of stone products versus other products in selected product classes to substantiate the benefits of stone in the marketplace. The NSC will be working to educate the industry and design community about the sustainability of Genuine Stone. The University of Tennessee will be presenting at the National AIA Convention in San Francisco this spring - using our industry as their case study for sustainability. We will also begin a road mapping process to chart key opportunities and challenges facing the natural stone industry in the immediate future with respect to sustainability. We want to stress that the success of the road map process relies on the active involvement of professionals and companies throughout our industry. If you would like to participate, or would simply like more details about the process as they become available, please contact us by phone, through the Genuine Stone Web site at www.GenuineStone.com, or notify Amanda McKenna at the University of Tennessee via e-mail at AMcKenna@utk.
I’m on board in theory, but what can I personally do to help move the sustainability agenda forward?
Get in the game. Get involved. Take advantage of educational opportunities. Visit the Genuine Stone Web site and read the research documents housed there. Share them with your colleagues and customers. Join us in the road mapping process. Take a hard look at your company’s sustainability practices, and make improvements wherever you can. Engage in conversation with others in the industry - at industry meetings or conferences, by phone or even E-mail. We are all in this together. Keep in mind the environmental slogan, “Think globally. Act locally.” It certainly fits.