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How Sustainable are Your Countertops?

As a Holistic Interior Designer, it’s so important to me to stay knowledgeable on the sustainability of the materials I specify. When it comes to countertop materials, it’s no exception. 

Not all countertops are created equal, and there are a few key factors to examine when determining the sustainability of a material. The most important factors include: what the lifespan of the material is for the application, where the material originated and how much travel does the material have to go through to get to your location, what the template and install process looks like, if the material requires regular or yearly maintenance, is the material itself eco-friendly, what is the likelihood of damage from regular wear and tear and what does the repair process look like. 

Concrete countertops are a unique option and can take on many different styles depending on what materials are mixed with the concrete. The actual manufacturing process to create concrete countertops can be very energy intensive, but they can usually be manufactured in the same state you reside in making their travel requirements relatively low. Though concrete is heat and scratch resistant, the material is susceptible to cracking so the lifespan of concrete countertops isn’t especially long. Concrete countertops require yearly sealing and the material can be recycled at the end of its lifetime.

Natural stones like granite, soapstone, and marble are usually the least eco-friendly option. The mining process is very energy intensive, and the stone is typically imported from other countries which means a larger carbon footprint. Granite is relatively indestructible and is heatproof, but requires sealing and is susceptible to cracking. Marble is waterproof and heatproof, but can become stained and scratched unless professionally sealed. Natural stone countertops are heavy-duty, and can have a long lifespan if cared for correctly. 

Engineered stone like quartz is a highly durable countertop option and can have a good lifespan if cared for properly. Quartz is heat and stain resistant, it doesn’t scratch or crack easily, and it doesn’t require regular sealing. Most quartz countertops are NSF certified, and don’t contain toxic chemicals. There are many quartz options available that look similar to granite or marble, which is a plus. There are quite a few engineered stone companies who manufacture in the USA so there is less travel involved and therefore less of a carbon footprint. 

Terrazzo countertops are another really unique and easily customizable option. They are typically made with various recycled materials including glass, stone, metal and others that have been mixed with a resin. Terrazzo countertops are durable and can last the lifetime of your home. Like quartz, there are many manufacturers in the USA so there is less travel required to get the material to you. Terrazzo countertops require yearly sealing and the material can be recycled at the end of its life.

Wood countertops are an eco-friendly choice, especially if you choose a sustainably harvested wood or a rapidly renewable wood such as bamboo. The manufacturing process of wood countertops is very minimal, therefore has a low environmental impact. The downside of wood countertops is that there are relatively limited options in terms of “looks” you can achieve with wood. Wood countertops do require regular oiling, but if scratched they can easily be sanded and resealed. Wood countertops can be recycled at the end of their lifespan.

There are certainly upsides and downsides to each countertop material option, especially when examining the sustainability of each. Once you figure out the look you’re going for, it’s easier to determine what material is best for your space and how to source the most sustainable option available. 






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