Jane Buxey from the stone industry’s trade body speaks to Hutton Stone’s Marcus Paine about what the sector’s focus on ethical sourcing means in practice.
Stone Federation Great Britain is the official trade association for the natural stone industry, which helps architects, designers, specifiers and clients collaborate with suppliers to foster best practice. It has taken a firm stance on increasing ethical sourcing practices in recent years, including producing an Ethical Stone Register of suppliers.
Stone Federation’s chief executive, Jane Buxey spoke to Marcus Paine, managing director of natural stone merchant Hutton Stone, to see how the company had achieved the first Ethical Stone Register Tier 2 Verification level.
Jane Buxey: Congratulations on the achievement – what was the business rationale for you undertaking this process?
Marcus Paine: Thank you. We pride ourselves on supplying the finest quality natural and sustainable sandstone to clients, so for us this was a really simple choice. We take an enormous pride in the projects we supply whatever their size or location, and this project allows us to proceed with further confidence that we are doing our best.
JB: Has increasing demand from your clients to demonstrate your sustainability and sourcing credentials driven you to seek the Tier 2 Verification accreditation?
MP: We are a family business who have a personal relationship with our staff, customers and suppliers, and therefore we take our reputation with all our stakeholders very seriously. We want to be a leader in the sector and take every opportunity to lead on “doing the right thing,” for us this was the primary driver.
In the wider sector, we are beginning to see a rise in demand for this level of surety in supply and origination of product. Price is still ‘king’, but we are keen to differentiate ourselves by putting our money where our mouth is.
To achieve the higher level of Ethical Stone Register, we realised early on we would need to invest time and resources to formalise our business practices and to provide evidence. The process challenged some of our preconceived ideas about accreditation and verification, and interestingly we discovered benefits we did not expect, such as identifying inefficiencies in our quality and environmental management systems that translated into real business benefits when addressed – previously we believed this process would cost us extra in terms of resources and time.
JB: We now see almost daily coverage of ‘modern slavery’ in the media, did you not consider sustainable procurement as a business opportunity previously or feel it important for you to manage risk in your supply chains?
MP: Being a UK-based company and taking pride in being ‘local’, we did not really appreciate ‘modern slavery’ as being a relevant topic to us – that is until we realised that we buy PPE, stationery and other auxiliary products from all sorts of sources, and not just in the UK. Applying a formalised approach to our practices and procedures, that didn’t require major changes, has allowed us to be more strategic in regards to our environmental impacts and overall business growth. It gave us an opportunity to present some of our activities around social and community involvement, increase staff engagement and put in place common sense ‘zero waste’ initiatives.
JB: Would you say that your customers see sustainability as a representing a ‘green premium’ and would you feel it necessary to pass on such a premium? Or do you feel the ROI has already paid for itself by identifying opportunities for saving, promoting current practice and being able to showcase local community involvement?
MP: The bottom line for me is ‘doing the right thing,’ which can be enough of an incentive, but I would say anything that gives you a cleaner business operation ultimately provides you with a clearer vision and more efficiency, which has been proven in this pilot study. This has several benefits and promotes positives both within the company and to our customers – all of these things add up to and create a compelling reason both morally and commercially.
JB: Would you say that sustainability/responsible sourcing will pay dividends for future business?
MP: I think there is a growing sense that responsible sourcing is really going to matter more and more to supply businesses.
I think we are going to be asked to demonstrate our sustainability credentials increasingly more often, certainly on larger projects, to which our Verification level from the Ethical Stone Register helps greatly.
JB: Where do you see the Ethical Stone Register, responsible sourcing and sustainability for SMEs to be in the next five years?
MP: I think this area is only going to become more and more relevant. I think the ESR should be widely discussed and promoted by Stone Federation. There are large client groups out there looking to back a scheme like this, and I feel that the demand for being able to show your position will only grow in future.