I have a friend who was one of the first I know to use concrete countertops. They are, by many measures a perfect material for a sustainable material world. Not only did he specify them some 20 years ago, he had his contractor cast the counters on-site, saving the longterm lifecycle costs of manufacturing (plant construction, machinery, and utilities) and transportation (gasoline, truck exhaust emissions). They have lasted and are still beautiful.
Even something as simple as countertop selection for a home or business can make a dent in the global warming crisis. I’ve included a summary of 10 types of materials people consider for countertops (if you cannot read it, control click on it and download it so you can enlarge it orfeel free to email for a reprint). Each has their usefulness, their beauty, and also their costs and benefits to the environment. For example, stones, concrete and composites like Corian have no outgassing over their lifetimes, whereas woods and plastics may. Metals like stainless steel are maufactured with up to 80% re-cycled content (www.ssina.com).Re-growablw wood tops such as bamboo are completely renewable but are porous and may harbor bacteria.
Each has its set of benefits and cautions. In general, when looking for choices, try to use products that are recycled or reclaimed, and if not those that do not drain the Earth’s resources (like endangered woods). Lastly, if you choose a stone product, try for those which are locally or regionally produced.
To really dive into the topic, read “Sustainable Residential Interiors” from the American Society of Interior Designers, published by John Wiley & Sons. Better yet, hire an architect!