Monthly Archives: July 2010

Check Footprint — and Writer’s Foot, Too

Spend more than a few minutes searching the ‘Net, and you’ll find plenty of people offering advice on choosing countertops from an ethical and sustainable standpoint.

And, after reading them, I’d be glad to give my own counsel: Go out and learn something about countertops and material origins. Please.

em hed shot 2 Granite and other stones don’t do well on the various grading scales of sustainability, due mainly to non-renewability of material, long lines of intercontinental transport and the perception that used stone materials head straight for the landfill.

So what’s on the correct list of materials? You’ll find a cornucopia of suggestions, although most center on quartz surfaces, cementious slabs and all sorts of products incorporating recycled items, including fly ash for concrete countertops.

Sure, in the sustainability game, stone has its drawbacks. But to hear some of the arguments against it, many of these ‘Net experts offer plenty of their own bias that I can only attribute to ignorance, stupidity or just plain talking out of their hats.

Yes, it’s going to take eons for the earth to replace the natural stone being quarried today. However, unlike fossil fuels, natural stone is being used, not consumed, and the known deposits of natural stone will likely meet world needs for more than a millennium (and whether we’ll need countertops then is anyone’s guess).

Natural stone is a material quarried and shipped worldwide. Much of the green grumbling comes from the carbon footprint, as in the amount of diesel fuel expended to quarry and ship. Nobody’s denying that stone requires energy to process and transport – but what about other hard surfaces?

It’s amazing how some online commentators name quartz as a green alternative without a) recognizing the heady energy needs of thermoforming the slabs, or b) realizing the transportation issues from the factory in offering up names like Caesarstone® (Israel), Silestone® (Spain) or Technistone® (Czech Republic). (Curiously, few mention Cambria in the same light, even though it’s U.S.-made)

And, to be fair, nobody seems to acknowledge the carbon footprint of recycled materials. It’s great that broken bottles or pre-consumer scrap isn’t going to landfills, but the reused materials still carries an environmental impact from initial manufacturing. If you’re going to howl about stone’s travel from quarry to kitchen, you need to acknowledge the process of obtaining and preparing recycled components.

It also seems like the online crowd can’t mention concrete countertops without chiming in about using fly ash (residue from coal combustion) as the wise green alternative to Portland cement. And, it’s a great idea, as long as you want concrete showing those dull flat grays of Brezhnev-era slapdash Soviet apartment blocks.

Go to the Concrete Countertop Institute, for example, and you’ll find other alternatives (such as metakaolin) to pare down the use of Portland cement and still offer better color maintenance. Finding this out might taken 10 minutes or so on the Web, but it’s a lot easier to use the green chic term of something like, well, fly ash.

There’s also plenty of life for stone in downcycling, or the continuing use of materials after the original job is done. Granite can be crushed to varying degrees for fill, outdoor decorative aggregate or tinting of mixed materials like concrete, or cut for custom tiles and pavers. That’s a larger afterlife than most green countertop materials – but the online consensus is that you either can have old tops cut for small end-table surfaces or just chucked in the dumpster.

Stone isn’t the perfect material in the sustainable market, although it’s gotten a bad rap from too many people who’d look very unhip if they didn’t take cheap potshots … and then froth over products and materials with unproven track records or not much more green credibility.

And the real losers? Try the consumers who find this stuff on the ‘Net and think they’re reading thought-out, in-depth advice. Poor folks. And, in the end, poor us, too.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online.

Get the best in insightful and informed coverage of the stone industry every month with Stone Business magazine. Sign up for a free subscription (or renew your current account) and don’t miss a single issue – just click here.

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StatWatch: Stone Imports, April 2010

A mainly positive report for the latest month available, especially with granite and marble. Travertine is a bit moribund, while slate and other calcareous still work out recovery strategies.

The following is taken from data collected by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission. All figures give are for April 2010 (change from April 2009 amounts in parentheses). “Worked” stone is material that’s been shorn from boulders and blocks, and then cut in standard dimensional measures (such as slabs and tiles) and polished.

Worked Granite Value
Total: $77.7 million (23.9%)
Sector leader: Brazil @ $30.6 million (69.0%)
Backfill: Granite continues its recovery from the first part of 2009 – one of the worst swoons ever. India shows a nice 37% gain from April 2009; China takes a small stumble down 11.7%, but its $16.2 million easily gives it second place in value among importers..

Worked Granite Volume
Total: 153,235 metric tons (48.25%)
Sector leader: Italy @ 41,833 metric tons (801.2%)
Backfill: Here’s where the news is either way too good to be relevant, or there’s a month’s aberration. Italy hasn’t seen total volumes like that since June 2008, and that month didn’t fit in with the rest of the year. Brazil slowed its flow to the United States, with its 37,916 metric tons showing a 17.4% drop from April 2009.

Worked Marble Value
Total: $15.5 million (4.7%)
Sector leader: Italy @ $6.6 million (2.4%)
Backfill: Italy continues to top the value charts as far as slab/tile marble, with China a distant second at $3.5 million. There’s plenty of reshuffling down the pack; Spain’s $1.7 million is more than double April 2009’s total, while Greece’s $474,726 is a 54.1% tumble.

Worked Marble Volume
Total: 113.964 metric tons (5.4%)
Sector leader: China @ 4,333 metric tons (10.7%)
Backfill: China remains the tonnage leader in worked marble, albeit in a somewhat sluggish month compared to earlier this year. Spain’s 2,044 metric tons is a peppy 113.4% ahead of April 2009; Greece took a 25.9% hit at 306 metric tons.

Travertine Value
Total: $19.2 million (-3.4%)
Sector leader: Turkey @ $12.2 million (no change)
Backfill: OK, Turkey’s totals didn’t match to the penny; this April’s tally is $2,000 less than the same month last year, but for trendwatchers it’s a tie. Major declines came with Italy (-19.5%) and China (-49.9%). Mideast exporters continue a yo-yo act from April 2009; the United Arab Emirates moved up 28.7%, while Israel sank by 87.8%.

Travertine Volume
Total: 40,398 metric tons (0.8%)
Sector leader: Turkey @ 32,786 metric tons (13.8%)
Backfill: Turkey picks up the slack in tonnage; it accounted for 4/5ths of all travertine coming through U.S. ports-of-entry in April 2010. Mexico sent 5,178 metric tons across the border, up 17.2% from April 2009. China’s 400 metric tons, meanwhile, exhibits a painful 84.8% plunge. 

Other Calcareous Value
Total: $7.8 million (-19.0%)
Sector leader: Italy @ $1.3 million (27.9%)
Backfill: Don’t flay Italy for the stone’s poor showing this April, as it shows continued improvement in 2010. China, France and Spain combine to make up $1.6 million of the $1.8 million decline in total other calcareous imports from April 2009.

Slate Value
Total: $4.3 million (-20.3%)
Sector leader: India @ $2.1 million (1.9%)
Backfill: Slate’s becoming less of a two-horse race as India pulls away, posting a small-but-something 1.9% gain from April 2009. China’s $1.5 million is a 37.6% drop from the previous April. Third-place Brazil dropped by 16.6%; its total slate value of $319,166 for the month shows the huge gap between the top two exporters and everyone else.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online.

Get the best in insightful and informed coverage of the stone industry every month with Stone Business magazine. Sign up for a free subscription (or renew your current account) and don’t miss a single issue – just click here.

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 them, either.