Stone World

What effect will the building green industry have on natural stone?

December 1, 2005


by Dan Ouellette, Director of Sales
Luck Stone Corp. - Architectural Stone Division
Richmond, VA

The concept of “building green” is gaining momentum and becoming more widespread in the design and construction industries. Inevitably, building green - with its emphasis on the environmental impact of building residential, institutional and commercial structures - will have an effect on the stone industry. Will the effect be a positive one or a negative one? It all depends on how the stone industry reacts to the issue.

To understand the potential impact of building green, one must understand its concept. Building green is a methodical approach to the design, construction and operation of a building that uses more renewable resources, reduces the impact on natural resources, minimizes waste, creates a healthier indoor environment and increases energy efficiency. Why is this important? According to a 2002 report by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a growing nonprofit coalition of leading associations and companies in the building industry that promotes green buildings, there are more than 76 million residential buildings and nearly 5 million commercial buildings in the U.S. Even more staggering, by 2010, there will be an additional 38 million buildings constructed. Considering the amount of energy, electricity and natural resources needed to support this building boom, the design, construction and maintenance of these buildings will have a significant impact on the environment and natural resources. While green building has been around for some time and was once considered important only to environmentalists, increasing energy prices have caused many to think twice about environmental-friendly buildings and how to operate them more efficiently and economically.

One of the primary tenets of the building green movement is to conserve natural resources and promote the use of reclaimed and recycled materials. Stone is a natural resource, and its extraction, fabrication and transportation has an impact on the environment and landscape (see sidebar). If building green and its environmental benefits become more widely accepted, and the stone industry remains silent or neutral, substitute products such as manufactured or recycled materials may gain more widespread appeal with the build green movement.

Opportunities for stone

Remaining neutral on or cynical about the green building agenda could result in considerable missed opportunities. For the stone industry, neutrality may already be cause for concern; stone is not predominantly considered in green building and is not broadly viewed as a green building material. As a case in point, among the American Institute of Architects' 2003, 2004 and 2005 COTE Top Green Project Awards, the majority of the buildings do not show any significant amount of natural stone. Stone companies whose products and/or services are used on government-funded projects should note that government leaders, who have been early advocates of sustainable buildings, have initiated numerous policies and programs that support green building. In fact, the General Services Administration (GSA), which oversees 345 million square feet of federal workspace, insists that all new GSA building projects meet the criteria for basic LEED certification (the USBGC's rating standard for sustainable buildings). In addition, there are a growing number of local and regional jurisdictions that are investigating, supporting and incorporating green practices into their building guidelines and offering incentives to build green. Programs supported by the local municipalities - such as Scottsdale's Green Building Program, North Carolina HealthyBuilt Homes Program and Build San Antonio Green - offer various incentives to builders and homeowners who choose building green over traditional building methods.

How can the stone industry positively affect the building green industry?

Building green has other supporting objectives that make stone a logical choice and creates an opportunity for the stone industry. These objectives - increasing energy efficiency, improving indoor air quality, sourcing local materials and low life cycle costs - could help the industry promote the use of stone if it can provide evidence that its products meet these objectives. In addition, promoting the use of stone instead of other scarcer natural resources, like some woods, could help reduce the concern of the first objective.

Whether the building green movement will have a positive or negative effect on the use of natural stone depends on the stone industry's capacity and desire to educate architects, developers, builders and their clients on the benefits of incorporating stone into green buildings. The stone industry also has to support the promotion of stone by quantifying its environmental impact and life cycle costs through research and analysis.

In addition, the stone industry can help by doing the following:

• Get Involved: First and foremost, the stone industry can become more involved in the building green movement. While there are many groups promoting the use of green materials and green concepts, the fact is, they need support and guidance. The U.S. Green Building Council has over 40 local and regional chapters looking for help to create awareness of green products. Being involved means being aware. By getting involved, the stone industry can reap the benefit of a stronger voice and higher levels of commitment if they partner with building green associations to help educate the building industry about the numerous benefits of using stone in green applications.

• Educate: If the use of stone in green buildings is going to be promoted, it will be up to the local, regional and national leaders of the stone industry to educate and support architects, designers and builders about the economic benefit of natural stone and how it can be utilized in an environmentally responsible manner. Creating the educational oppor-tunities that aid the transfer of knowledge about natural stone from one industry to another will help people outside the stone industry understand and explore the connection between stone and green building design and construction.

• Support Research: In collaboration with build green associations, the stone industry should work with and support leading schools and universities interested in researching the economic and environmental impact of stone and building design. Opportunities abound for the stone industry to use and benefit from the significant number of outstanding scientific and educational institutions interested in and available to conduct sponsored research on the benefits of using stone in green building design. While natural stone has been used as a building material for thousands of years, much needs to be learned about its impact on the environment, how energy and air move through stone structures and how building occupants interact with stone.

There is a tremendous opportunity for the stone industry to strengthen its position as a provider of viable building and landscaping material for the building green movement. Can it be successful? It all depends. Many corporations, industries and organiza-tions at the national, state and local levels are developing programs to encourage and educate builders, developers and owners on the benefits of building green buildings. It is now the stone industry's turn to step up and embrace the opportunity to get involved in a growing industry and demonstrate the benefits of incorporating natural stone into green buildings.