Running a green business has been an experience of learning, assessment and adjustment. Running any type of business involves these same processes, but for the dedicated green business it seems to require a bit more of each. In no other sector of the economy is the landscape changing so rapidly. New technologies, new products and new methods arrive every week. Often, the speed of change is so fast we can easily overlook the value of traditional methods and materials, such as our newest product offering, soapstone.
Two years running now my business has avoided quarried, non-renewable materials. But experience and a growing understanding of life cycle assessment has convinced me to make room for soapstone in my green offerings. By all performance measures, soapstone is a fabulous material. It is heat-resistant, it won’t stain, it requires no sealant and it is highly workable. By and by, soapstone has the strongest performance attributes for a counter-top material out there.
On the sustainability concern, soapstone has some weaknesses up front, but proves itself to be better than many materials in the long run. As already stated, soapstone requires no toxic sealers such as those commonly used on granite and other stones, nor any resins such as are used in manufacturing quartz counter-tops. Additionally, the techniques for quarrying soapstone are far less damaging than materials such as granite. For example, granite is excavated from huge pits that flush billions of gallons of contaminated (granite dust that silts up rivers) water into nearby streams, aquifers and waterways. Additionally, the excavation process of granite is intensely energy intensive. In contrast, soapstone requires little to no water use for excavation; and due to the softness of the materials, it is cut from the sides of hills using simple equipment that involves no blasting. Does this make soapstone a green material? No. But what does make a material green? Is a poured in place concrete counter-top made from 50% recycled materials such as glass and slag, green? After all, concrete is the most carbon intensive material out there and it is used extensively in building.
The answer for me, regarding soapstone’s “green-ness” lies in its behavior throughout its life. For one, soapstone is one of the stronger stones. Should it break, though, soapstone is easily repairable. Not so with most stone. Soapstone can also be re-finished, re-cut and re-used in many forms over the course of its useful life time. Many a New England home will attest to this. While it is rare for a granite counter-top to be re-used after being removed from a home, soapstone nearly always finds a new home or purpose. Despite being extremely heavy, it is much more portable than other stones because it is less likely to break and much more easily re-shaped. All-in-all, soapstone promises a much longer useful life than most other stones, though it may not be a cradle to cradle substance. Man made Ice Stone is among the greatest and greenest products you can find for your home today, but will Ice Stone live up to the same longevity? Time will tell.
Certainly I’d like to see more Paperstone and wood counter-tops out there, but if you must have a stone surface, if you demand the ease of a quarried material, soapstone is definitely a greener choice than granite or marble or quartz or…you get the point.