Monthly Archives: July 2009

Transparent Sustainability

When it comes to the green market, stone often gets to take the hard route to a project, either in trying to meet arbitrary material specs or competing with products bearing some kind of Sustainability Seal of Approval.

The obstacles are often well-meaning in nature, although it’s also reminiscent of road paved with good intentions and its ultimate destination.

The toughest one, though, may be competing with a product that doesn’t exist, and may never see the side of a building anywhere in the world. It sounds absurd, but it’s true.

One of the green standards is the Cradle-to-CradleSM concept from McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC). The designation is for materials that can be recycled, in some fashion, again and again, creating a perpetual use.

Look under Building Exteriors at the MBDC site, and you’ll see something called Pierre de Roches® by Serrastone SA as the first Cradle-to-Cradle(SM) certified stone product. And it sounds impressive, until you realize:

* It’s not really stone as most in the industry perceive it;

* It’s not available for use; and

* It’s likely you’ll never see it.

To be fair, the designation shows an expiration date of August 2008. That’s appropriate, because the writing was already appearing on the wall for this exterior-siding product.

The product, from Limoges, France-based Serrastone did have some roots in the natural world. The process, developed after a decade-and-a-half of research, combined gypsum and waste-rock aggregates to form hardened building blocks; it did this with no cement or resin, but in a water-based mix subjected to high pressure. (Serrastone, incidentally, is not to be confused with Serra Stone, a Bethesda, Md.-based masonry contractor that’s been featured in Stone Business in the past)

Instead of shipping these blocks long distances, such as in overseas containers, plants could be set up worldwide to use local ingredients. The plan would be to sell the process to licensees, much like what’s done with other architectural building products.

The company attracted substantial attention and financing earlier in the decade. Two U.K. investment consortiums poured in the equivalent of $12 million of the total $22 million raised between 2003-2008 as Serrastone refined the process. And, the product received that Cradle-to-Cradle stamp as a notable green product.

Pierre de Roches got plenty of attention. What it didn’t deliver, though, was any output heading for the commercial market. Last fall, the company went out to investors, looking for one more round of financing to get it over the top.

The high-level British investors – the most-visible support for Serrastone – had seen enough. The consortiums not only balked at sending more money; they wrote off their previous holdings and walked away.

This spring, Serrastone went into some form of receivership. The details are a bit hazy, as the company dropped from view. Click on any link for Serrrastone at a variety of Websites, and you’ll get a note that a company selling network “blade” servers now controls the domain.

And yet, on several sites advising architects and contractors about green goods, you’ll find notations for Serrastone offering a sustainable stone building product. And – who knows – maybe we’ll see it someday.

Until then, though, be prepared to compete with a ghost. A green ghost.

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.”

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from any of them, either.

Bang-Up Time

If there’s anything that embodies the United States, it’s today. The problem is that many people seem to be celebrating the wrong holiday.

Since this is a day when everyone’s supposed to be doing something else than work, I’ll keep this short. My beef is that, with all the barbecues, parades, rodeos, baseball games and fireworks displays, people are going out and having a good time on the Fourth of July … and that’s not the holiday.

Today is Independence Day. And there’s a huge difference between a mark on the calendar and a day of significant meaning not only in this country, but worldwide.

What John Adams noted in a letter to his wife Abigail as the “Deliverance Day” – which, by the way, he thought would be July 2, when colonial representatives approved the Declaration of Independence – is a landmark event in the history of civilization. The concept of citizen and republic became real, as a group of somewhat genteel and landed colonists announced that, henceforth, the people would govern themselves.

They didn’t get it right the first time (the Declaration), the second (the Articles of Confederation) or, in a way, the third (the U.S. Constitution). We ended up fighting an internal bloody battle with the Civil War, and went through later years of strife in guaranteeing civil rights for all.

We’re still working on refining our democracy; we’ve also stepped off our shores to fight for its survival, and the rights of others to govern themselves. They’ve followed us and, with all hope, learned from our mistakes.

Unfortunately, we’ve tended to mask this sentiment, morphing Independence Day into a rather benign idea of the Fourth of July with some red, white and blue framing a day off for picnics. Some of this stems from an idea that the strong national sentiment is more jingoism and somehow denotes a blind ignorance wrapped in the flag; perhaps we need to downplay this into a nicer, gentler holiday.

This is a slander on the whole idea of Independence Day. Yes, things aren’t perfect, but the celebration isn’t one of being smug and boastful; it’s a pride in freedom that started here and carried throughout the world.

Independence Day is a celebration of freedom, not only for the United States but for others seeking the same idea of self-government. It’s a day to take stock and be proud of our accomplishments, and also reminds us that the job always remains unfinished.

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.”

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from any of them, either.