Stone World

Working to Promote the Environmental Benefits of Natural Stone

April 2, 2008
The Natural Stone Council (NSC) believes that the use of Genuine Stone® may have a positive effect on the overall health of our communities and the world by reducing the current environmental impacts of construction and building. Recently, a new Georgia Public Health Laboratory (GPHL) was built in Waycross, GA, and features an exterior facade made of Rubble Stone -- comprised of granite pieces that included scrap material and byproducts from other stoneworking processes. The building is an example of ways that building with natural stone can be environmentally friendly.


Perhaps no one knows better than you that the use of natural stone has skyrocketed in the last decade, particularly for interiors. Stone is being used in ways it never has before, largely due to advancements in technology that allow for variations in fabrication. Additionally, the cost of Genuine Stone® such as marble and granite has come down as a percentage of building costs. To specify stone for a project means to choose a naturally beautiful, unique and durable material.

We do not need to look beyond our own national monuments to comprehend that natural stone stands the test of time. However, despite stone's exceptional durability and unparalleled aesthetics, its impact on the environment is still in question. As such, the Natural Stone Council (NSC) is diligently working to define our place in green building as defined by the American Institute of Architects (AIA): "Reducing building impacts on human health and environment through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance and removal -- the complete building life cycle."

According to recent data, buildings -- and not cars like many might think -- are the largest source of both energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in America as well as around the planet. The NSC believes that the use of Genuine Stone® may have a positive effect on the overall health of our communities and the world by reducing the current environmental impacts of construction and building. The design of more energy-efficient buildings is a crucial step in addressing the dangers to our environment, and we firmly believe that eco-friendly design and construction will become the norm in the next decade.

To that end, the stone industry wants to be on the front end of the green movement. We feel it is one of the most important things we can do for the betterment of our industry. Therefore, the NSC's Committee on Sustainability has partnered with the University of Tennessee's Center for Clean Products to test the environmental impacts and benefits of building with natural stone. Currently, the only Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) points that stone will generate is for local sourcing. The opportunity exists for stone to garner LEED credits in material reuse, building reuse, low VOC and innovation credit as well, which is why more needs to be done to promote natural stone as a sustainable building material.

However, we do not simply want to jump on the green bandwagon. We have heard from many of our design and architectural colleagues that they are skeptical about materials being labeled "green" -- particularly without any supporting data, known as "green washing." That is the last thing the NSC wants to do.

The NSC has recently completed a sweeping survey of the industry to benchmark where we are and how far we need to go with regard to sustainability. The information we gathered from stone quarries and fabricators will help establish the baseline environmental footprint of the stone industry and form the building blocks for creating life-cycle data and developing life-cycle assessments of Genuine Stone compared to other building materials. This is a massive effort given the breadth of our industry and the few standardized practices that currently exist. Moreover, existing life-cycle assessments of natural stone products are not available or are inadequate based on old data. Our goal is to position stone as the preferred sustainable material within the design/build community. We hope to do this by helping designers evaluate materials for building projects with hard data. Some of the data will be used to populate the tools that are currently being used and some will be used to directly compare Genuine Stone to other building materials, allowing the most informed, data-driven decisions to be made.

Genuine Stone offers many attractive, environmentally friendly benefits, such as durability, ease of care and maintenance, recyclability and an enduring life cycle. Because stone is such an important material in a number of key building product classes, it is crucial for the natural stone industry to be able to characterize the life-cycle impacts of its products in order to meet the evolving demands of the green building marketplace. Our hope is that once the facts about Genuine Stone are documented and presented, designers, architects, homeowners and retailers will increasingly specify natural stone for their projects in support of green building.

The concept of "green building" may be relatively new, but Genuine Stone and its long history as a durable and environmentally responsible building material is not. Genuine Stone is formed naturally -- an integral part of the planet with no additives required. It is used in many forms, and it is the basis for innumerable products and projects. Some of the great "Wonders of the World" -- Stonehenge, the [Roman] Colosseum, the Great Wall, etc. -- are made of stone and stand as a testament to its beauty, durability and character. Stone has been an integral element of building design and construction for as long as we have documented history. In fact, for more than 2,000 years, stone born from Mother Earth has enabled us to erect our temples, cathedrals, monuments, museums and homes. And now, in important ways, Mother Earth is reminding us that our choices have environmental consequences. Let us be thoughtful and choose wisely.