The tiling sector is almost full to bursting with new products, all claiming to be the next big thing. However, there is one material that has stood the test of time and been a consistently popular choice with clients and specifiers alike throughout the different interior design trends, and that is natural stone.
Natural stone not only delivers attractive, durable projects, but it is also the original sustainable material choice for tiling projects.
As the industry has become increasingly aware that a ‘business as usual’ approach to the carbon impacts of design and construction is no longer an option, there is a fresh drive to consider and reduce the ‘whole-life carbon’ impacts of projects. To specify materials that can deliver both attractive and long-lasting projects.
In short, whole-life carbon includes both embodied carbon and operational (in-use) carbon. It includes material extraction or creation and transport as well as lifetime emissions from maintenance, repair, replacement, and disposal of the materials.
For clients looking to select materials that minimise carbon impact, natural stone is a fantastic choice delivering sustainability in both its extraction and whole-life value and ultimately, a more cost-effective solution.
There have been a number of studies comparing the whole-life carbon impact of different construction materials including natural stone. One of these research projects compared the life-cycle assessments of a range of different materials used for flooring.
Stone Outperforms Ceramic and Terrazzo
When comparing the global warming potential (GWP) of natural stone tiles with ceramic, parquet, large-format ceramics, PVC, laminate, and carpet alternatives, natural stone was the best performer by a clear margin.
The study carried out by the German Natural Stone Association found that, when comparing the global warming potential of coverings used for the highest performance floors, large-format ceramic tiles have a 74% higher global warming potential than natural stone tiles, and terrazzo a 24% higher result than its natural stone counterpart.
A+ Green Guide Rating
The Green Guide to Specification, which is part of BREEAM, sets out an A+ to E ranking system for the environmental performance of a material. The factors evaluated include climate change, mineral resource extraction, waste disposal, and fossil fuel depletion. In a case study project carried out by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), almost half of all natural stone related components achieve either A+ or A and the majority of the remainder score a C or above.
There is an increasing awareness among specifiers that materials must earn their place on a specification, and in light of the results shown, natural stone is most definitely justifying its inclusion.
While there are many tiling products marketed as stone-effect, they cannot emulate the sustainability credentials of natural stone. Natural stone is, by definition, a natural product, formed in the earth over many thousands of years, extracted, cut to size and transported to site, without excessive human intervention and invention.
One of the trends that we are seeing in the world of design at the moment is that of stone-effect products, particularly ceramic or porcelain tiles.
It is of course, as the cliché goes, a form of flattery to emulate, however, there is the danger of misinformation in the emulation.
As the trade association for the natural stone industry, we are passionate about both the material and the correct supply of that material. The CE Marking legislation enshrined in law the requirement for suppliers to provide their customers with the true name of the materials they are selling, not just a marketing name.
It’s this same concept of transparency, of knowing what the product is and what it isn’t, that drives our desire to ensure that specifiers know that stone-effect products are just that, an imitation, but not the real thing.
Many of the leading stone-effect products take advantage of the aesthetics of popular marbles, granites, limestones and slates, using prints and textures that give the appearance of a natural material. Where the veins, movement and unique tones in natural stone are formed by natural geological processes, a much more carbon-intensive process is required to artificially emulate them in man-made surfaces.
We would encourage the tiling industry to provide the correct information so that specifiers really understand the product and know the difference between a natural and a man-made material.
What does natural stone offer the customer?
Texture – From the fossils found in Portland stone to the natural, subtle layers of slate, texture is a strong selling point for using natural in interior spaces. The three-dimensional dynamic that a feature wall of unpolished, naturally textured stone can provide is stunning and definitely a trend on the increase. Unlike many other materials, the same piece of stone can be finished in various ways to provide the texture best suited to the application. Flamed, honed, blasted, sanded, polished and line textured are all finishes that can give the same piece of stone a very different visual impact.
Impact – The geological striations and natural colour streaks found in marble create a striking aesthetic utilised across the interiors world, from hotel lobbies and internal walls through to floors and countertops. In a market where individuality is key, the unique visuals that natural stone can create are striking, bringing a strong identity to interior spaces of all descriptions.
Durability – as a result of the geological processes and the thousands upon thousands of years of compression, natural stone is an incredibly hard-wearing material. You need only look at the centuries-old, limestone-clad buildings of London, granite paved streets of Aberdeen or the Clipsham-rich architecture of Oxford to see evidence of the longevity of this natural material. This longevity is also where natural stone holds its own in terms of value. While some stone-effect materials may initially appear to be cheaper, that is often not the case when the costing is based on price per year and ongoing maintenance where natural stone again scores highly.
So, we would encourage you to reconsider natural stone, with its durability and uniqueness, wide natural palette and value for money.
The question is simple: why settle for an imitation when the real deal has so much to offer in both design potential and value for money?
As the trade association for the natural stone sector, Stone Federation is ideally placed to help suppliers and clients explore the sustainability potential of natural stone and to deliver the technical and design expertise to take full advantage of its potential.