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As members of the Stone Federation, we are proud that they promote stone as a sustainable material. We caught up with Matt Robb to hear exactly how they are doing this.

What does sustainability mean when it comes to natural stone?

Sustainability means assessing the whole life cycle of a project. This includes the raw material extraction, production, distribution, use and end of life. From Stone Federation’s perspective, the fewer processes required to get the material from raw material to finished product, the better for the environment.

For natural stone the process is relatively simple: stone is quarried from the ground, cut into slabs or tiles, transported to site and installed. Once in place it will often last for decades, and in some cases, centuries. Thanks to this durability, there is also the potential for the creative re-use of many stones.

How important is sustainability to the Stone Federation?

Sustainability, and helping to deliver a more sustainable and carbon-responsible built environment is one of our top priorities. The natural stone sector is an industry extracting, working and selling arguably one of the most sustainable materials available. As the stone industry’s trade association we have a unique opportunity to educate and inspire architects, interior designers and clients about the sustainability benefits of choosing this fantastic, natural material.

What steps have you taken to ensure that you prioritise sustainability across the Federation?

Stone Federation member companies are obliged to sign up to the Stone Federation Sustainability Statement. This outlines some key steps that companies can make to ensure that their own businesses are addressing the issues of sustainability.

Later this year we are also launching the Stone Federation Responsible Sourcing Pledge. We will use this to address the issues of sustainability, ethical sourcing, environmental management and responsible supply chain management.

How does the sustainability of natural stone compare to porcelain and other man-made alternatives?

In 2018, a study compared the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of natural stone tiles with ceramic tiles, and natural stone was the best performer by a clear margin. The figures showed that natural stone has a 74% lower Global Warming Potential than large-format ceramic tiles and is 27% lower than terrazzo.

There is also a stark contrast in the number of steps required to create these man-made materials. This often involves higher emissions and environmental impact.

Finally, manufacturers of man-made stone and ceramic tiles use dyes and other chemicals to replicate the vein patterns found in natural stone. This means another layer of process that adds to the reduced sustainability benefits.

Is there any advice that you would give to someone looking to use natural stone who is conscious  about the environment?

We would always recommend starting by going to a Stone Federation member. As the industry’s official trade association, we have independently vetted each of these companies.

By choosing to use natural stone we believe that you’ve already made a sustainable choice. If you want to take it a step further you could also explore the stones that are available locally. The UK is home to hundreds of fantastic natural stones. From the well-known Cotswold and Portland limestones, Yorkstone and Welsh slate, to the lesser-known Derbyshire fossil limestones and Scottish schists. By reducing the number of miles your stone has travelled you are reducing your project’s impact on the environment.

Finally, by looking after your stone floor or worktop, you can ensure that it continues to look and perform at its best for many years.  This is another way of helping to live more sustainably with natural stone.

We’ve also been having some really interesting discussions with interior designers about how sustainable design involves designing for longevity. If you choose something that is ‘of-the-moment’, then you run the risk that you might go off it in 5 years. We would instead encourage you to think about designs that will stand the test of time. This will compliment the sustainable materials that you use.

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