Transparent Sustainability

When it comes to the green market, stone often gets to take the hard route to a project, either in trying to meet arbitrary material specs or competing with products bearing some kind of Sustainability Seal of Approval. The obstacles are often well-meaning in nature, although it’s also reminiscent of road paved with good intentions and its ultimate destination.

The toughest one, though, may be competing with a product that doesn’t exist, and may never see the side of a building anywhere in the world. It sounds absurd, but it’s true.

One of the green standards is the Cradle-to-CradleSM concept from McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC). The designation is for materials that can be recycled, in some fashion, again and again, creating a perpetual use.

Look under Building Exteriors at the MBDC site, and you’ll see something called Pierre de Roches® by Serrastone SA as the first Cradle-to-Cradle certified stone product. And it sounds impressive, until you realize:

* It’s not really stone as most in the industry perceive it;
* It’s not available for use; and
* It’s likely you may never see it. Ever.

To be fair, the designation shows an expiration date of August 2008. That’s appropriate, because the writing was already appearing on the wall for this exterior-siding product.

The product, from Limoges, France-based Serrastone did have some roots in the natural world. The process, developed after a decade-and-a-half of research, combined gypsum and waste-rock aggregates to form hardened building blocks; it did this with no cement or resin, but in a water-based mix subjected to high pressure. (Serrastone, incidentally, is not to be confused with Serra Stone Corp., a Bethesda, Md.-based masonry contractor that’s been featured in Stone Business in the past.)

Instead of shipping these blocks long distances, such as in overseas containers, plants could be set up worldwide to use local ingredients. The plan would be to sell the process to licensees, much like what’s done with other architectural building products.

The company attracted substantial attention and financing earlier in the decade. Two U.K. investment consortiums poured in the equivalent of $12 million of the total $22 million raised between 2003-2008 as Serrastone refined the process. And, the product received that Cradle-to-Cradle stamp as a notable green product.

Pierre de Roches got plenty of attention. What it didn’t deliver, though, was any output heading for the commercial market. Last fall, the company went out to investors, looking for one more round of financing to get it over the top.

The high-level British investors – the most-visible support for Serrastone – had seen enough. The consortiums not only balked at sending more money; they wrote off their previous holdings and walked away.

This spring, Serrastone went into some form of receivership. The details are a bit hazy, as the company dropped from view. Click on any link for Serrrastone at a variety of Websites, and you’ll get a note that a company selling network “blade” servers now controls the domain.

And yet, on several sites advising architects and contractors about green goods, you’ll find notations for Serrastone offering a sustainable stone building product. And – who knows – maybe we’ll see it someday.

Until then, though, be prepared to compete with a ghost. A green ghost.

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