Monthly Archives: April 2009

What Is This Stuff?

Fair warning: There’s going to be one article in the April issue of Stone Business that many fabricators will hate. And, as editor, I don’t mind if you do.

“The Green Option” is a fire-starter because it’s not about stone at all, or at least quarried stone. The article, by Contributing Editor K. Schipper, looks at a variety of products that fabricate like stone (with one exception), but aren’t anything like the quarried slabs that fueled the countertop boom of the early 2000s.

It’s already tough enough to survive as a stone shop in today’s economy, a fabricator may well ask, so why are we giving this kind of exposure to products that aren’t really, well, stone? The answer’s simple: It’s tough to survive as a stone shop in today’s economy.

The demand for products like Icestone® or Vetrazzo® or Urbanslabs™ comes from customers seeking sustainable-design (i.e., green) components for their homes or businesses. These aren’t the people you can steer to a nice Brazilian granite; they want something that they feel is eco-friendly.

Notice that I’ve excluded one word in describing these alternative surfaces and their appeal: natural. While stone is one of the two earth-grown things you can use for a countertop (wood is the other), it may not rank high in today’s green measurements.

Factor in the amount of energy used to quarry, cut, polish, truck to a port, sail across an ocean (or two), truck from port, and delivery to the dock at a fabricator; there’s a lot of coal and diesel burned to make all that happen. (Most of these green calculations aren’t figuring in the waste factor from quarry to countertop, either.)

The “greener” slabs also burn up their share of fuel and wattage in production and transportation. For the most part, though, these products are U.S.-made — with a smaller carbon footprint — and sometimes are produced within 500 miles of the point of installation, which scores well with the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® sustainability rankings.

Most of the products don’t attempt to mimic the look of natural stone, and the cementious nature of construction can lead to some fabrication headaches. (Major hint: be very, very careful with water.) The products are also a bit pricey, and margins won’t likely be as bit as with a nice slab of Santa Cecilia.

The green products, however, appeal to consumers who won’t flinch at a slightly higher cost to get an eco-friendly product. It enables fabricators to start a niche business in the green market. It’s not going to be huge, but anything bringing in any kind of a profit in today’s times is welcome.

Of course, there’s that one exception to the fabricates-like-stone model: surfaces made with recycled paper. That one may be a bit too much for stone shops to swallow, but if the customer wants it ….

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

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