Markets: Committing to the do’s and don’ts for the stone branch

(November 2010) In politics a well known saying states that „people get the government they deserve“. In Economics this wisdom permutes to „he who does not participate in setting up norms harms himself“. We point this out as the process is beginning to role in the USA encompassing not only energy consumption in queries and transportation and distance from quarry to manufacturing site to building site. The norms will also define rules for „social sustainability“ and „human health“, as was expounded at the presentation of the program at this year’s Marmomacc.

In a nutshell this means that self-imposed standards, to which US stone branch will adhere voluntarily, will take a clear position on child labour and human health aspects. And that’s not all: the aim is to set down these rules in a format that can be adopted as global ISO-norms. This was one of the reasons prompting the US-initiators to seek international participation.

Invitations were initiated by the US-American Natural Stone Council (NSC), engaging in Green-Image-Lobbying in the USA. Also part of the group were the Marble Institute of America (MIA), the European joint-venture Euroroc and Italian Exhibition Authority Veronafiere whose representatives were quick to state that Marmomacc wishes to support the process of establishing standards: „The meeting could be conceived as a regular part of the fair, held annually.“

30 interested parties joined in the initial effort. Impetus was given already last year coming from the American fraction. Back then, as this time, discussions were strongly practice-oriented – the US representatives having come prepared with a presentation and completed concept.

The efforts boil down to setting up standards for consumer protection, an important aspect for consumer-happy middle-class. Consumers and builders alike are increasingly keen on using ecologically and politically „correct“ building materials. News reports on child labour in mining or harmful emissions from foreign granite quickly disquiet consumers.

In defining minimum standards in sustainability, a seal of approval could be issued for eligible producers.

Note that it is not the aim to classify or grade stone or create competition but rather to „produce stone in a more preferable manner “, according to the organizers. In other words, the meeting’s aim is to set down the do’s and don’ts in production and manufacture of stone.

It is the US-American initiators’ declared aim to involve other countries in the process. The development work of standards was assigned to Jack Geibig of the US-based Ecoform who made a name for himself as Director of the Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies of the University of Tennessee.

But external trade representatives head two important boards, namely the Core Committee, backing up and supervising Ecoform’s work, and the Group of Stakeholders whose job it is to approve criteria suggestions.

The National Sanitary Foundation (NSF) is also participating – having been accredited with the wording of the standards by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Still to be developed: procedures for oversight and approval of stone producers and dealers. The seal itself is also still in the developmental phase.

Total costs of 400,000 US-$ are estimated to be required in setting up the standards and approval procedure over a period of 18 to 21 months beginning in October 2010.

Thus far, the financing is secure from the US side. „But for the ensuing steps, the Natural Stone Council will require funding from around the world“, according to Gary Distelhorst of MIA who voiced the appeal: „Help develop a standard, which you, too, can use in your daily work.“

But: is this not merely an effort to shield the US-American and European markets from Asian competition?

Though the question may be justified, it demonstrates that he who poses it is not truly familiar with the West where the consumer has a strong voice – true especially for the middle-class-consumer, who provides the major share of turn-over in the branch. They want politically correct products.

That may sound like lip-service elsewhere and indeed there is a portion of lip-service included. But what the consumer wants is what the initiators pledge to provide in applying political pressure and through lobby work.

In other words: if the branch does not set up it’s own standards, including social standards, voluntarily, it will sooner or later be subject to imposed standards, which will also apply to imported goods. „The branch must take a position and influence pro-actively“, according to John Mattke of Cold Spring Granite.

Europe has initiated its own process of standardisation under the auspices of the European Community Commission. The aim is the passage of an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD): Information on the energy efficiency in production of all building materials used in public buildings as well as other aspects will soon be mandatory requirements. Albeit the Standards will not include social correctness as an aspect. Euroroc is currently working on a bill.

Natural Stone Council

Interested parties please contact Jack Geibig (Mail)