The Merry Month: And a (Robert) Merry Christmas

Robert Merry

Robert Merry, MCIOB, is an independent Stone Consultant. He ran his own stone company for 17 years before becoming first an independent project manager and now a consultant. He is also an expert witness in disputes regarding stone and stone contracts. 0207 502 6353 / 07771 997621. 
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As Christmas approaches, Robert Merry contemplates what the post COP26 year ahead holds in store for the stone industry and the world. 

So it’s Christmas again. We made it, dear reader, you and me. Despite the pandemic and global warming with its floods, fires and rising sea levels. Not that we are directly responsible for these, although I suspect we have contributed in our own small way.

But yes, we made it. And this is traditionally the time for reflection on the year nearly over and contemplation for the year ahead.

So what are we going to do next year to change our lifestyle, you and me? Air source heat pumps? Solar panels on the roof? Become vegetarians? Only eat home grown produce in season? Buy clothes made from recycled clothes? Only work on projects that use indigenous stones? It’s a big list to get your meat-free head round next year.

There are manufacturers of adhesives and other chemicals saying they can’t afford to re-test all their products in the face of the new (and already delayed by one year) UKCA accreditation system for British Standards. Some are pulling out of the market altogether. The value of their UK sales is too small for them to bother about, especially as the profits are even smaller.

There is a chance we will become the little ol’ backwater the Romans, the Saxons, the Vikings and the French invaded. They all came and saw, conquered and, ultimately, became part of what it is to be British or were asked to leave – nicely (we are British after all).

We keep digging up artefacts of the Roman occupation as global warming and consequential floods wash away more land to reveal our ancestors’ brick-a-brac and the odd statue.

A return to ‘home grown’ (as it were) could be a huge shot in the arm for British stone quarries.

Except that many of the UK stones cannot be used with current interior specifications. They aren’t suited to wet areas – bathrooms, kitchen worktops or thin internal floors – which are the most popular areas for the use of imported natural and not so natural engineered stone. There are obviously some exceptions – British slate and granite, for instance. But nobody is going to specify British sandstone for a shower floor... are they?

I know of one British quarry owner investing vast sums in opening up another part of their quarry to expand production. They believe the market for their product will increase and they want to be ready to serve; to supply. Good for them. It has to be more sustainable than importing.

So will specifications change to suit a locally supplied stone? Or will clients still import, even if they face rising prices and longer waits for the product? Or will stone just not be used in the same way any longer?

Perhaps developers and designers and the public can off-set the carbon generated by the road and sea journeys of imported stone – or is off-setting greenwash, as some suggest? You can’t help questioning some carbon off-sets. Although tree planting is good if it’s the right tree in the right place, how long is it before a newly planted tree, even the right tree, becomes an effective carbon sink, I wonder?

There are carbon off-set companies to invest in that don’t plant trees. Some offer new technologies to bury, convert or replace carbon. Copenhagen city council has a huge carbon capture factory in the middle of the city and has turned the outside of it into a public park.

But even the leader of the council admits that becoming completely carbon neutral is a pipe dream. It would be too unpopular and effect too many industries, which means re-election would be difficult.

Economics or the future of the world? We have some decisions to make, you and me, about how we live, what kind of air we want to breathe, what we want to leave the next generation.

COP26 in Glasgow has helped emphasise that 2022 has got to be a year of change. We had to do it in 2020 for the worst of reasons. But carbon was reduced, air quality improved, the world was quieter, more peaceful, better in many ways. So I’m up for the sacrifice, for the change of lifestyle, work patterns and travelling less.

Are you, my friend? Is the stone industry? Is the world? We shall see.

Have a great holiday. And here’s to 2022. I’ll see you there.