Sustainable Stone: Lowering the Environmental Impact of Your Hardscaping Project

Four workers are laying stone outside a home.

From a patio or walkway to a custom fireplace, designing your backyard’s features with natural stone has become more popular in recent years for its beauty and durability.

To be an educated consumer and build your outdoor oasis with the environment in mind, it’s important to understand the impacts of the stone you choose and how you can make better choices to ensure your design is eco-friendly. 

Stone’s durability means once installed, you won’t have to redo the project in a few years with new materials. Photo courtesy of Steve Ambrose

Shop local, buy natural

After the year that was 2020, we all want to get outside more. True nature-lovers may fear that digging up your backyard or altering it in any way could hurt the environment. But there are environmentally friendly hardscaping practices that can allow you to design the backyard of your dreams and still do what’s right for the planet. 

Before shopping for materials for any outdoor renovations, it’s essential to understand how your choices could affect Mother Nature.

First, consider where you’ll shop. While searching for stone for your outdoor patio or fireplace, if you decide to shop at the local big-box hardware chain, you might end up selecting stone that traveled a long distance, using gallons and gallons of fossil fuel while they made their way to you. 

Transporting natural stone a far distance ranks as the most significant environmental hazard of choosing this medium. Think of the large planes or boats exporting and importing natural stone from a developing country. Then, a truck transporting the stone barrels down the highway with gas billowing out of its exhaust pipe.

But shopping locally is easy because quarries exist across the United States, including in and near Western North Carolina. The trick to maintaining a low environmental cost is to choose a natural stone from a local, nearby quarry. Selecting local stone also helps ensure it will hold up in your region’s climate. Picking natural stone native to your area means less maintenance, price, and carbon emissions for you.

Next, ensure you’re actually choosing a natural stone. Some products you might purchase look like stone but are really made of concrete, which presents many environmental issues. 

The costs of concrete

Homeowners looking to design an inexpensive outdoor patio may seek out materials like concrete to create a functional and affordable outdoor space for entertaining. However, concrete is manmade which means there’s a high environmental cost. 

To pour concrete, the truck needs to be on at all times to spin its drum. This prevents the concrete from hardening before it’s been laid. The truck idling in front of your home means it is emitting carbon dioxide while the contractor can spend hours completing your hardscapes. 

Concrete also doesn’t absorb rainwater, so as it builds up, the rain runs off into a nearby storm drain. The runoff can pollute the local natural streams, hurting the water supply and local animals. 

When selecting a natural stone, the layout allows the water to soak into the dirt below it and drain back into the soil, the way Mother Nature intended. 

In general, natural stone has a low impact on the environment because it requires little fabrication and no harmful chemicals. This is unlike other options you could select, such as wood, brick, ceramic, glass, and concrete, which require natural resources and energy to create.

Manufactured stone is created for its tolerance and consistency. It is an excellent choice for commercial projects where uniformity and strength is a premium, but it requires enormous sophisticated machinery to create the pressures and temperatures necessary. Naturally you won’t find manufactured stone factories near most of the U.S. population because of their size. They are huge distribution hubs serving many states at a time. The travel distances are far greater than even concrete.

The impacts on environment

The good news is that stone is not a limited natural resource and comes from the Earth. When designing any part of your outdoor property, choosing Earth-friendly materials that renew themselves helps the environment because you’re not depleting a natural resource. 

No manmade materials are used to create natural stone, making it an extremely environmentally friendly choice. Choosing materials such as soapstone, limestone, and travertine help you design an eco-home. 

Since natural stone comes from the Earth, each one is different due to geological shifts, mineral composition, and the weather. All of these things mean you can choose from diverse types of stone to achieve the rustic or romantic look you envisioned for your unique home and project. 

When designing natural stone hardscapes in your back or front yard, consider trees or flowers. Because natural stone comes in so many sizes, it’s easier to work around pre-existing living plants and shrubbery. Leaving the greenery intact helps keep the environment in balance as well. 

The benefits in maintenance

In terms of maintenance, most sealers used for stone are natural and water based. Natural sealers emit fewer chemicals into the air, helping lower pollution.

Since natural stone comes from the Earth, it is tolerant of the elements, such as rain, snow, or sun. Stone doesn’t show much dirt, which reduces the need to clean and minimizes the use of energy, water and chemical cleaners in the process.

On the contrary, decks built out of wood require yearly treatments as well as monitoring for rotting and bugs. Within several years, a wood deck may need an upgrade, repair, or replacement, whereas natural stone patios are free of these issues. 

Stone projects stand the test of time, lasting anywhere from 50 to 100 years. Stone’s durability means once installed, you won’t have to redo the project in a few years with new materials. And that results in less overall waste generated from your home. 

Steve Ambrose is an expert hardscaper who has been working with natural stone for more than 25 years. Steve owns Ambrose Landscapes, a full-service landscaping company in Asheville. Steve works with three generations of landscapers, all of whom put responsible building at the core of what they do. Connect with Steve at

You can also view this article as it was originally published on page 76 of the 2021-22 edition of the directory.