Marketing for natural stone (3): the sector is once again in danger of losing touch with materials considered modern

In individual cases, construction projects were honored for their material recycling more than 10 years ago: one of the Tucker Awards of 2012 went to a new building of the <a href=""target="_blank">Bennington College in Vermont</a> for the facade cladding by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien architects using old marble pieces from abandoned quarries, material storage facilities or production waste.

When the talk turns to contemporary building materials in public, no one automatically thinks of stone

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As part of the Xiamen Stone Fair 2023, Peter Becker of gave a presentation on current marketing for natural stone. The target audience was the stone sector in China. In several articles, we publish some aspects.

Claude Gargi, editor-in-chief of the French natural stone trade magazine Pierre Actual, was the first to point out the problem: In his editorial in the April 2023 issue, he lamented that no one immediately thinks of natural stone when it comes to sustainable building materials.

It’s the same all over the world: natural stone, a material with an unsurpassed low carbon footprint, is already losing touch with what is considered contemporary.

The post-World War II decades may be repeating themselves.

That’s how it was at the UIA World Congress of Architects in Denmark’s capital Copenhagen in early June 2023: the central question at the international meeting of planners was how architecture can contribute to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the city, ideas on this were shown in various pavilions, and possibilities were discussed in lectures – natural stone appeared nowhere, at least not in the official program.

Communication is, therefore, necessary, and there is a whole range of possibilities for the sector in order not to completely fall behind: on the one hand, it is a matter of generally propagating stone as a modern building material, and on the other hand, of repeatedly demonstrating its strengths in terms of sustainability.

Speaking of modern building materials: in none of the natural stone awards worldwide is there a category or at least a special prize for innovative projects in which the material is taken beyond its usual limits. Not that such projects don’t exist – in fact, their number is large – but they disappear under the variety of submissions that are solely about the beauty of the stone or about more-is-better ideology.

However, the wood industry in particular is working on the field of innovations with great commitment. Currently, high-rise buildings with such constructions are a big topic.

Speaking of sustainability: the stone trade fairs are also not doing well when it comes to the ecological strength of their material. The following photo shows how the ceramics trade show Cersaie already dealt with the topic in 2021: on posters in the exhibition halls, figures were provided on how far the industry has come in saving energy and resources according to its presentation.

Cersaie 2021.Cersaie 2021.

We noted in our report at the time that given the ubiquitous greenwashing, also by the exhibitors, we wanted to believe at the end of our visit that there was nothing more sustainable than ceramics or cast stone.

Many companies in the stone sector, on the other hand, are exercising restraint here. After all, they have the rich and wealthy as their target group.

But it is precisely this group of buyers that is looking for materials with which luxury and consumption can be combined with environmental and climate awareness.

Speaking of facts about the carbon footprint: here the industry has already presented good work with its life cycle assessments and comparisons with other building materials.

However: we point out that companies in the steel industry, for example, have not only presented an EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) for product groups but for every single one of their products.

One thing to keep in mind: recycling must be a central theme of sustainability communication. It is easiest for consumers to understand because they can participate in it at any time, for example in the daily separation of household waste.

The central question here must be: what can be done with a natural stone product after its first life has expired? We are talking about examples of upcycling, that is, finding new uses for this high-value material. Crushed stone as downcycling is not enough.

Examples for stone upcycling and recycling can be found when searching our webpage with these terms .

Pierre Actual April 2023 (French)

World Congress of Architects

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(14.08.2023, USA: 08.14.2023)