Hard wearing and with a distinctive aesthetic finish, natural stone paving offers a number of benefits over concrete landscaping materials. Each piece of natural stone features a unique blend of colours and tones which enables self-builders to create completely bespoke designs in gardens and driveways – perfect for adding that extra ‘wow’ factor. What’s more, as approximately 75% of the cost of hard landscaping is tied up in the installation process rather than the material itself, it makes sense for self-builders to splash out on the higher quality and more luxurious finish of natural stone.
This growing appetite for natural stone landscaping means that as a society, we are importing more stone than ever before from the developing world. India, for example, is a key exporter of granite, sandstone and limestone, offering attractive stone products at cost effective price points. Regulation of the Indian stone industry however is erratic, with corruption, child labour and illegal quarries presenting major problems – issues that cannot be ignored by those buying stone in the UK.
For self-builders, this unstable Indian market makes confirming the quality of imported products problematic to say the least. Goods from unregulated quarries are inconsistent and it is often impossible to track materials back to their original source. For these reasons, it is essential to look for natural stone suppliers that hold ethical trading memberships and can offer solid evidence that they have properly audited their supply chain.
A good starting point is to check whether suppliers are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations that work in partnership to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable workers across the globe. Sourcing stone paving from companies that commit to the working practices required by this alliance not only ensures products have been manufactured responsibly, it offers greater assurances about the quality and finish of the materials specified. The ETI’s experience has shown that the introduction of fairer working practices and better on site facilities improves both the productivity of the quarries and the quality of the materials they produce.
However, in such a complex market, even the most closely audited supply chain can face problems. The stone industry has no certification schemes equivalent to the timber trade’s Forest Stewardship Council Chain of Custody programme and without such measures it can be hard for developers to have complete confidence that they are getting ethically sourced materials. Therefore, the only way to be absolutely sure of a product’s origin is to buy from suppliers that offer a complete end-to-end service.
Natural Paving Products, for example, has dealt with this challenge by investing in its own quarries. The company owns seven Indian quarries and is partner in two others, meaning it has full control over the products it supplies from the point of extraction, to end delivery. In addition, Natural Paving Products has recently invested in two new factories in India, which enables it to produce the design-led, sawn styles of stone that are growing in popularity throughout the domestic market.
When purchasing imported Indian stone, self-builders should also give careful consideration to any quality marks provided by the manufacturer and take the appropriate steps to ensure any documentation is genuine. CE Marking for example, is now a requirement for products sold in the EU, but the significant cost of becoming fully CE Marked has led some of the smaller players in the Indian stone market to apply incorrect labels to their products and pallets.
Investing in the correct procedure is a substantial commitment. Again, working with suppliers that have full control over the supply process from sourcing the raw materials, to final delivery of products, is a good way to avoid this issue.
For example, at Natural Paving Products, significant time and more than £200,000 has been invested in the process of fully CE Marking our products, which included comprehensive testing, the introduction of factory production controls and the production of a detailed Declaration of Performance (DoP) for each product.
The challenges faced by the Indian stone market are not insignificant but the demand for natural stone from the West is such that the market will continue to grow, delivering a major boost to the country’s developing economy. Choosing to source materials from responsible suppliers that adhere to ethical trading principles, however, is the only way to ensure these benefits are felt right across the supply chain – filtering all the way to the worker at the rock face.