Natural Stone, a Sustainable Material in Architectural and Design Projects

Widely recognized for its strength, durability, and longevity, natural stone imparts a timeless quality to the built environment

By JAMES A. HIEB, CAE

In recent years, advances in technology have resulted in the availability of a wealth of new materials for use in architectural and design projects. While these manmade products are both functional and aesthetically pleasing, many designers and building professionals are drawn to the organic and authentic properties of natural stone, choosing it as their preferred building material.

Created by the earth, natural stone is at once beautiful and “one-of-a-kind.” It is available in a virtually limitless range of textures, colors, shapes and patterns, and no two slabs or stones will ever be identical. Widely recognized for its strength, durability and longevity – consider the pyramids in Egypt and the Coliseum in Rome, for example – natural stone imparts a timeless quality to the built environment.

As stone processing methods have improved and prices have decreased, clapboard and brick exteriors have been supplanted by a variety of natural stone cladding options. Similarly, stone for use in interior applications such as countertops, backsplashes, showers surrounds and flooring has become more accessible, providing options for a broad range of budgets and design preferences.

A Natural Choice

To keep pace with the demand for natural stone in both residential and commercial building applications, stone suppliers are tempering their production with a new focus on sustainability. Stone is nature’s original “green” building material, and the industry is laying claim to the environmental benefits of its use in construction.

Because stone exists naturally, no energy or power is needed to create it. While energy is undoubtedly consumed during stone extraction and processing, the energy required is notably less than that used to produce many other building materials.

Moreover, natural stone is – for all practical purposes – a permanent building material. It requires replacement infrequently, if ever, and is 100 percent recyclable.

Following are some additional reasons why natural stone is a sustainable choice for building and design.

Stone is abundant. Natural stone can be found throughout the world, and only a small portion of the stone within the earth has been quarried. In the United States, quarries are located within 500 miles of most every major metropolitan area. Regionally manufactured and extracted materials reduce environmental impacts by reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses during transportation of the materials. Stone is durable and long-lasting.

Stone is one of the most durable naturally occurring materials available and is proven to stand the test of time – reducing the need for replacement over both the short and long term. In many cases, natural stone becomes even more beautiful as it ages, developing a unique patina that imbues it with distinctive character.

Stone is low maintenance. If cared for properly, natural stone will maintain its beauty and provide enjoyment for many years. A wide range of fabrication options and finishes can be applied to stone to enhance its performance, increase resistance to weather and wear and tear, and – in the case of flooring and outdoor surfaces – make it more slip resistant.

Stone is recyclable. Stone has the potential to serve many different uses and purposes over its lifetime. At the end of its useful life, it can be salvaged for use in other applications – for example, remnant slabs can be used for guestroom vanities or backsplashes, and flat stone fragments can be strategically laid to create a mosaic walkway.

Stone is quarried and manufactured sustainably. Ongoing advancements in technology, including more energy-efficient tools and machinery along with improved methods of quarrying, extraction and fabrication, have led to more options and reduced costs of stone products.

As the trend toward reducing waste, conserving resources, and sustainable design continues to gain momentum, natural stone is ready to answer the call.

James A. Hieb, CAE, is CEO of The Natural Stone Institute. He may be reached at www.usenaturalstone.com.

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