The Original Green Material

A new standard for natural stone currently in the works looks to assure green-minded specifiers of stone’s sustainable bona fides.

The use of natural stone in a project conjures up many emotions in the end-user, ranging from a sense of timelessness to a deep connection to the natural beauty encountered on our planet. As the world’s oldest building material, stone’s permanence ties our present-day societies to past civilizations, and forms a solid foundation for future generations.

Increasingly, the use of natural stone is also eliciting questions among green-minded specifiers. Where does the stone come from? Who is extracting and processing it, and what processes are used? What does the quarry look like today and how will it look in the future?

In an effort to address these questions, the Natural Stone Council, formed in 2003 to unify the stone industry in promoting the value and use of genuine stone in all building applications, has collaborated with Ecoform, a technical analysis company that focuses on the environmental performance of companies and their products and processes, and NSF International to form a joint committee, with the goal of developing an American National Standard for the sustainable development of dimensional stone production.

Designated as NSC 373, the standard is intended to offer the following benefits to the stone industry, design trade and general public:

  • Establish a set of well-defined environmental and human health metrics recognized by the green building movement as indicators of leadership in sustainable performance. Specific areas addressed include water usage, recycling, run-off, dust control, as well as general quarry safety.
  • Provide an important opportunity to educate key members of the green building movement, government and environmental advocacy groups about the production of stone products, with the goal of solidifying stone’s place as the sustainable building material of prominence for the ages.
  • Create a mechanism that differentiates and rewards natural stone companies that demonstrate environmental leadership through commitment to sustainable operations and continued innovation, regardless of country of origin.
  • Proactively address potential stone-related environmental and human health concerns in a multi-stakeholder, science-based forum. It is the intention of the committee to address potential new issues as they are uncovered over the coming years and adapt the standard accordingly.
  • Harmonize national and international environmental requirements for stone quarrying and production. Via ongoing communication with other international bodies, the committee has sought to work collaboratively to create a standard that is in sync with and sympathetic to the international stone production industry.
  • Encourage transparent chain of custody reporting in support of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credits for locally produced material, and afford the end-user specific assurances as to where his or her material originated from and how it has been handled during the production cycle.
  • Create parity between stone and other competitive products covered by existing certification programs by highlighting the key benefits of natural stone, including low life-cycle cost, versatility and lack of off-gassing.

First convened in December of 2010, the joint committee hoped to have a standard in place within the next 12 to 18 months (drafting is expected to continue into 2012). The standard is intended to continually evolve, and will cover key topics in sustainability and stone production, such as:

  • Life-cycle considerations, including the extremely long life of natural stone. The standard will seek to emphasize that once natural stone’s intended use has been exhausted, it can be re-appropriated for a variety of secondary uses. It should never take up valuable landfill space.
  • Quarrying operations, including site management during quarry operations and future land reclamation practices once the quarry has been closed.
  • Stone processing, from both a primary and secondary standpoint, which includes the rough cutting of the blocks to the production of slabs, tile and cut-to-size works.
  • Stone waste management during quarrying and processing operations, with an emphasis on potential secondary uses, including the production of decorative stone mosaics or the grinding of waste to be used as an aggregate in various construction products.
  • Water usage and reclamation, with a focus on the recycling of process water and limiting run-off.
  • Transportation practices throughout the manufacturing and distribution chain to optimize efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.
  • The safe use and handling of any hazardous materials.
  • Energy usage and conservation practices.
  • Corporate governance of the stone-producing entity, including social aspects related to its workforce.
  • Human health and safety factors as they relate to stone quarrying and processing.

In September of 2011, the joint committee presented their work to an international delegation assembled at Marmomacc, the international fair of stone design and technology held in Verona, Italy, with the intention of soliciting feedback from the global stone community in order to create a more viable standard.

With the eventual implementation of this standard, the joint committee hopes to position genuine natural stone as a sustainable building material of choice by highlighting its longevity, versatility, aesthetic beauty and performance characteristics—attributes that have been prized since man’s very first buildings.


Joshua Levinson is president of Artistic Tile, where he oversees the technical and logistical operations of the company. Levinson is also a frequent presenter to the trade, and is an MIA Education Committee Chair, a voting member of the Joint Committee on Dimensional Stone and a NTCA Technical Committee Member, among other affiliations.