December 11, 2017
By Kathy Spanier
A recently developed sustainability standard gives project teams the verification needed to ensure that stone being sourced for a project is environmentally responsible. Now that this international standard is recognized by leading green building certification programs, certified stone can assist projects with sustainability goals and bring far-reaching benefits to the entire design and construction community.
It is no secret sustainability is on the forefront of top minds in the building industry—from architects and owners to product manufacturers. Thanks to the building community’s increasing commitment to constructing sustainable structures, material certification is becoming more important to reassure consumers best practices are being followed. The stone industry is one of the most recent in the building industry to adopt a certification program. Now, a third-party-verified standard for natural dimension stone helps project teams clearly identify stone being produced in an economically, environmentally, and socially responsible manner.
While the standard was adopted in 2014, many in the building industry remain unaware of its existence and significance to the design and construction world. Known formally as American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/National Stone Council (NSC) 373, Sustainable Production of Natural Dimension Stone, this achievement for the stone industry is the result of years of planning.
Years in development
After realizing other industries in the building community had asserted their environmental stewardship in the marketplace, the stone industry decided to respond. After years of planning, research, and investment, NSC established the rigorous and voluntary standard to determine the degree to which natural dimension stone is extracted and manufactured sustainably.
While the standard is new, sustainable practices are not a novel concept in the stone industry. At many quarriers and fabricators, environmentally responsible practices have been in place for years. Many companies in the stone industry have a long history of good stewardship of the land and the material production process. Natural stone is one of nature’s oldest and most long-lasting building materials. Now, all those involved with its production can verify their practices indeed have the long-term environmental interests in mind.
The third-party verification is important not only for manufacturers seeking certification, but also in the creation of the standard itself. Beyond the ANSI accreditation, NSC also sought third-party credibility by developing the standard with assistance from organizations such as Ecoform and NSF International. (For more information on these groups, visit their websites at www.ecoform.com and www.nsf.org.) Working together, these groups determined the environmental effects of how stone is quarried, transported, and processed.
The result of these efforts is a standard for environmentally responsible extraction and manufacturing of natural dimension stone. It includes a set of well-defined environmental, ecological, socially responsible, and human-health metrics, and provides a method for improving baseline environmental performance for stone. Ultimately, ANSI/NSC 373 has a goal of educating key members of the design and building professions the value and benefit of incorporating certified stone into projects.
As design teams consider the benefits of certified stone, they should realize ANSI/NSC 373 is a cradle-to-gate standard, applicable to quarry operations through final fabrication. While the standard does not measure any life-cycle impacts once the stone leaves the fabrication facility, it allows designers and specifiers the opportunity to look more closely into the manufacturing process in their examination of a product’s life-cycle assessment (Figure 1). Further, natural dimension stone producers in both domestic and international markets can participate in ANSI/NSC 373—an important criterion in today’s global marketplace.
When stone companies seek ANSI/NSC 373 certification, a third party such as NSF International supervises the rigorous certification process. The first step is a document review, followed by an onsite audit. A desk audit is verified by the site audit prior to the administration of certification. In order to achieve certification, companies must achieve points in numerous areas of stone production (Figure 2), which include:
In each of these categories, companies earn points toward achieving a Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum level certification. Credits required for each level are as follows:
Additionally, the certification is site-specific—companies with multiple quarries must have each location evaluated separately. As a continuous improvement program, recertification takes place every three years. The second and third years of certification include a surveillance review with a documentation review only, and the fourth year involves an onsite audit in addition to the documentation review for recertification. Companies can upgrade to a higher level of certification at any time.
The standard also includes a companion Chain of Custody (COC) program to further elevate the process. Like ANSI/NSC 373 certification, Chain of Custody certification is carried out by accredited certification bodies verifying compliance. NSC COC traces the stone as it travels from the quarry to processing and through the supply chain and, ultimately, to its journey’s end. Each organization handling the stone at each step along the way must be COC-certified for the stone to retain certification.
Merits of stone certification
Stone companies seeking certification should approach the process in terms of demonstrating leadership in the industry, rather than achieving certification as a marketing tactic. Now that stone has a sustainability standard, architects and owners can know with certainty it was produced in an environmentally sustainable manner whether in another country or in their own backyard. This also helps project teams and consumers clearly distinguish which natural stone lines up with their project’s goals.
Recently, the standard has become even more relevant in meeting project goals. In October 2016, NSC announced ANSI/NSC 373 is recognized in the latest versions of both the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program and the International Living Future Initiative’s (ILFI’s) Living Building Challenge (LBC). Recognition in LEED v4 falls under the Building Product Disclosure and Optimization–Sourcing of Raw Materials. Within LBC version 3.1, the Material Petal advocates for ANSI/NSC 373 under Responsible Industry.
Design teams desiring to source sustainable stone in their projects can write the standard into the project’s specifications. Architects are urged to update their documentation to include language indicating a preference for stone from ANSI/NSC 373-certified companies, as well as the NSC COC designation.
Architects also benefit from the standard’s clarification of certain misconceptions in the industry. In general, many in the building industry do not understand the difference between mining and quarrying, especially when it comes to current quarry operations and best practices. Most natural stone quarries have a small footprint as compared to possibly a large building excavation in the city. In frequent cases, quarries have operated in one location for many decades, creating material for thousands of residential and nonresidential construction projects in a small footprint.
Beyond its ability to bring clarity to some misconceptions, the standard’s biggest benefit for architects is perhaps third-party verification. For years, the stone industry has either not reported or self-reported its practices relating to sustainability, but the new standard requires third-party verification. For quarriers and fabricators, this third-party verification is a key component of the process because it confirms authenticity.
As more projects and design teams specify certified stone, the entire building industry will reap the benefits. Awareness of this important product designation will be generated, and the bar will be raised for stone production and fabrication across the globe.
Kathy Spanier is the marketing director at Coldspring and the National Stone Council’s (NSC’s) Sustainability Committee Chair. She has actively been involved in the Marble Institute of America (MIA) and on the Women in Stone Steering Committee, serving as the chair of its mentoring program. Spanier is a member of the MIA + Building Stone Institute’s board of directors and Building Stone Magazine editorial committee. Spanier can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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