The Survivors: The Countertop Market Is Finally Demanding Green Options

By Jessica McNaughton

Looking for the latest and greatest in countertops? You can find yourself running like a lemming toward the school of thought that says quartz is the best option because it “performs better than granite.” But a discerning customer should have the foresight to ask the questions: “Where does this come from?” or “How is this made?”

Quartz is not progressive. It is decidedly dated. It has become commoditized, is largely sourced from China and often private labeled by stone fabricators in an effort to put more money in their pockets. There are quite literally hundreds and hundreds of quartz suppliers in the market. There are certainly reputable companies, but they are vastly outnumbered by copycats with the exact same colors and designs.

The true thought leaders in the industry are not racing to the bottom. They are innovating for the future by finding smarter, healthier and more sustainable ways to provide a surfacing product that has a positive impact on the environment and respects the desires of new homebuyers who inherently care about the environment.

True innovation is found in products that have a story. Pulling materials that would otherwise go to waste and incorporating it into a durable and beautiful product is not a simple task, but it has been mastered by a handful of truly progressive companies. This is not an easy feat, and many underachievers have fallen by the wayside attempting to enter this market and failing due to poor manufacturing, improper testing or misrepresentations.

But the survivors – the companies that jumped on the green bandwagon a decade ago and continued to adapt, improve and innovate – are the true winners, and the true “new” products. These are the survivors that have withstood the tests of LEED, greenwashing critics, and others who shot holes through all the half-baked product attempts that didn’t weather the punishing storm of sustainability critics.

Who are the Green Countertop Survivors? It is a unique class of companies, some of which include IceStone, PaperStone, Vetrazzo and Durat modern solid surface. Additionally, there are new product categories that are addressing sustainability in a different way – not by logging recycled content or bio-based content– but by providing a manufacturing technique that is low energy or low impact or presenting a longer lifetime option with greater durability. Sintered stone is a great example of how performance and durability are moving up the list of desirable attributes.

We are in the age of the survivors from the green wave, and they are legitimate and strong and great options. This intersects with the entrée of the new sustainability age of durability and low impact – resulting in a new family of modern surfaces that shelves quartz and stone in the commodity aisle where they belong.

About the Author

Jessica McNaughton is the President of CaraGreen, a distributor of sustainable materials, and co-authored the book Understanding Green Building Materials. She has her Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering and her MBA from the Ivey Business School. She is also a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP).

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in guest editorials are those of the author’s and do not necessarily (although in some cases may) represent the views of the publisher, editor or owner of this website.

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4 Responses

  1. Interesting article and I welcome any new and sustainable countertop material but I also realize that it might take a very long time before these products become widely available. It took engineered stone, or quartz, 25 years to get from the first Caesarstone colors to where it is now representing huge volumes and demand around the globe.

    Sintering stone is very interesting as it can use fly ash as one of the ingredients but with only a hand full of production lines and a price point 3 times the price of quartz it will take years to grow and become a mature product. Another thing to improve is the stress inside these slab that give fabricators headaches and end users an edge that is very prone to chipping or a crack.

    The market leaders in quartz will soon make the change from polyester resin to bio resin and this change will improve heat and uv resistance. Thermal expansion will go down meaning less cracks caused by temperature changes in dishwasher and oven areas. I believe that the change to bio resin and the available volumes will give the market leaders an advantage over many Chinese copycats.

    Granite and marble will always find their way to the kitchen and bathroom market. You can tell by using the countertop material search engine of Houzz.com. Quartz and stone can be found in the commodity aisle but it takes skilled fabricators to make a real sustainable countertop.

    Looking forward to your next article Jessica, greetings from the Netherlands.

    Norman Saarloos
    Care 4 Tops

    • Jessica McNaughton says:

      Norman-
      Thank you so much. Great input and perspective. I agree with you and look forward to the new materials. These new products do take time and I like to stoke the conversation and push things forward. I appreciate your input and support in that dialogue. I welcome the bio resins and the responsible use of fly ash or comparable bi-products of dirty industries (one of which is mining of stone). Sintered products have matured since they were thrust on the market and the documentation of how they should be treated has come such a long way. These new entrants (Lapitec) are not throwing themselves at the big (US) box stores hoping for traction. They are approaching it carefully and maturely hoping for responsible adoption. Thanks again for your great insight and progressive thinking.

      Danke je wel.
      Jessica

  2. Thank you very much for your reply Jessica. Sintered materials could be the future because they can help solving the fly ash problem but it will take a long time before fabricators understand the product and are able to combine them in their workshop with current materials like granite, engineered stone and ceramic slabs.

    Sintered slabs with a thickness of 3 cm have no future in my opinion. Too heavy, too much stress inside and above all….too costly to produce not to mention selling them. The future in my opinion is a slab of 10 mm thick and back splashes of 5 or 6 mm. A strong, durable and easy to cut product with all the surface options and colors of today. But above all it has to be safe to work with and environmental friendly. It’s not coming soon but it’s something to work on.

  3. Norman-
    We find the adoption of thickness (2cm/3cm) really varies by geography. Some areas like the lighter material, and dropped edges, and others like the full thickness and polishing the thicker edge. As far as fabricator adoption, the progressive, skilled fabricators are quick adopters and eager to use the materials. We have trained several up and down the East Coast, and they are excited about the materials. It will be interesting to see how this makes its way to market. Exterior seems to be very popular.

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