With the focus of the construction and design industries now firmly on a net zero carbon future, it’s time to reconsider stone as the original sustainable material, says The Stone Federation.

The tiling sector is almost full to bursting with new products, all claiming to be the next big thing. However, there is one material that has stood the test of time and been a consistently popular choice with clients and specifiers alike throughout the different interior design trends: natural stone.

Natural stone not only delivers attractive durable projects, it is also the original sustainable material choice for tiling projects.

As the industry has become increasingly aware that a business-as-usual approach to the carbon impacts of design and construction is no longer an option, there is a fresh drive to consider and reduce the whole-life carbon impacts of projects.

In short, whole-life carbon includes both embodied carbon and operational (in-use) carbon. It includes material extraction or creation and transport as well as lifetime emissions from maintenance, repair, replacement, and disposal of the materials.

For clients looking to select materials that minimise carbon impact, natural stone is a fantastic choice delivering sustainability in both its extraction and whole- life value, and ultimately a more cost-effective solution.

There have been a number of studies comparing the whole-life carbon impact of different construction materials including natural stone. One of these research projects compared the life-cycle assessments of a number of different materials used for flooring.

Stone Outperforms Ceramic and Terrazzo

When comparing the global warming potential (GWP) of natural stone tiles with ceramic, parquet, large-format ceramics, PVC, laminate and carpet alternatives, natural stone was the best performer by a clear margin.

The study carried out by the German Natural Stone Association found that, when comparing the global warming potential of coverings used for the highest performance floors, large-format ceramic tiles have a 74% higher Global Warming Potential than natural stone

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tiles and terrazzo a 24% higher result than its natural stone counterpart.

A+ Green Guide Rating

The Green Guide to Specification, which is part of BREEAM, sets out an A+ to E ranking system for the environmental performance of a material. The factors evaluated include climate change, mineral resource extraction, waste disposal, and fossil fuel depletion. In a case study project carried out by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), almost half of all natural stone related components achieve either A+ or A and the majority of the remainder score a C or above.

A Showcase Project

The RIBA Award-winning home and office of architect Amin Taha, 15 Clerkenwell Close, is a project that has garnered much press attention due in part to its boundary-pushing design. While the design was a major talking point, perhaps even more significant was the example it provided of the carbon benefits of using natural stone. By choosing stone, Taha reduced the embodied carbon of the structure by 90% and lowered costs by 25% compared to typical steel or concrete frames.

There is an increasing awareness among specifiers that materials must earn their place on a specification, and in light of the results shown, natural stone is most definitely justifying its inclusion.

While there are many tiling products marketed as a stone-effect option, they cannot emulate the sustainability credentials of natural stone. Natural stone is, by definition, a natural product, formed in the earth over many thousands of years.

As the trade association for the natural stone sector, Stone Federation is ideally placed to help suppliers and clients explore the sustainability potential of natural stone and to deliver the technical and design expertise to take full advantage of its potential.

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