Countertop Quandary

Natural stone is a sustainable choice for a countertop

A stone countertop is a natural choice, but is it a sustainable one?

Choosing countertops for our homes can be daunting or delightful, depending on who is doing the choosing. Some people are overwhelmed by the options in today’s marketplace, while others are thrilled that there are so many choices. For the environmentally conscious, it is good to know the facts about each material, but first you should determine your project goals. Are you striving for a healthier indoor environment, trying to reduce waste or your carbon footprint, or perhaps simply looking for a natural look or materials with authenticity and history?

Natural stone, one of the first building materials used for its strength and durability, has stood the test of time, as seen in long-standing structures from churches to federal buildings. As the sustainability movement has grown, however, the environmental impact of stone has undergone scrutiny because of the large amount of energy involved in extracting, manufacturing, and installing the material. The fuel burned to transport it long distances can by itself make it a not-so-green option. Eco-conscious consumers should therefore choose products that are locally sourced. Fortunately, living in New England makes that easy. (New Hampshire is the Granite State.)

Easy on the environment

From a health perspective, granite does not require any chemicals to produce and emits no harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Several years ago, there were concerns about granite emitting dangerous radon, but studies have indicated that there is no significant risk to consumers. Periodic sealing may be recommended, but many of the associated products contain harmful chemicals. It is better to choose a material such as Cambria, a quartz product, which is nonporous and does not need to be sealed. There are also certain granites that do not require sealing.

In terms of life cycle, natural stone is an optimal choice. Whether you select granite, quartzite, slate, limestone, or marble, natural stone will last as long as the aesthetic works for you. When you are ready for a change of decor, stone is recyclable and can be salvaged and repurposed.

Improved technology also has lessened the environmental impact of quarrying stone. In 2003, the Natural Stone Council, an industry association, established the Natural Stone Sustainability Standard, a voluntary guide to the production process that is in line with third-party certification programs such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

Stone countertop alternatives, pros and cons

A considerable number of solid-surface products have recently come on the market. Eco-friendly countertops made from recycled glass bottles and recycled paper aim to meet current environmental guidelines and third-party certifications. But each option raises questions: How safe is it? Where are the materials sourced? What by-products are used in its manufacture and maintenance? At the end of its useful life, will it sit in a landfill or pollute groundwater? Can it be recycled or repurposed?

All of these factors make stone a natural choice as a timeless and sustainable option that will provide both beauty and functionality for years to come.

Interested in learning more about green building trends? Read 5 Trends in Sustainable (and Practical) Home Building and Design for 2020.


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