European Geologist Journal 42

Dimension Stones, a unique and attractive sector for international institutions and private investors:

Outcomes from the International Conference STONECHANGE 2016 as a first step for the necessary future international cooperation

By Marco Cosi and Piero Primavori


The dimension stones industry represents a very unique sector and a key asset for most Western and developing countries, with well-known historical sources and new and potential sources in high demand for the international market. However, most international cooperation programmes and initiatives do not often consider dimension stones in their interventions, mainly because the industry and its characteristics are not well known.

This contribution points out the main issues regarding the dimension stone industry and its absolute need to:

  • to undergo a fast and modern process of sustainable development;
  • to begin a necessary awareness action toward international institutions, in order to be in a position to develop cooperation programmes.

It also reports on the outcomes of the STONECHANGE 2016 International Conference, which tried to create discussions on these two issues.

In general, international conferences and workshops are mainly organised to bring together experts and stakeholders of different industries or sub-sectors, to discuss new ideas or theories or to exchange information, data and views on new aspects and trends of that industry or area.

In the case of STONECHANGE 2016 (, the first international dimension stone conference about the future trends of the industry and the absolute need to find a path towards its necessary sustainable development, the objective of the event was much wider and ambitious: sustainable development and international cooperation.

STONECHANGE 2016 took place in the famous marble hub of Carrara (Italy) on the 16-17th June 2016 with 100 participants from 18 different countries of all continents; it was organised by IMM Carrara, AlpiConsult Stones, the Pan European Resources and Reserves Reporting Committee (PERC) and the European Federation of Geologists (EFG), with the patronage of the European Federation of Stone Association (Euroroc) and the National Council of Italian Geologists.

STONECHANGE 2016, among other objectives, had the main aim to attract the interest of international institutions and the private sector on some key issues for the future “survival” and development of the sector:

  • sustainable development: a must!!
  • international cooperation: private-private and private-institutional
  • sectoral modernisation
  • sustainability
  • standardisation
  • international standard reporting and the figure of the Competent Person in the construction materials industry
  • ethical conduct issues: in mining, processing and trading
  • awareness action toward policy makers, sectoral governance actors and private and institutional stakeholders
  • “sowing seeds” for an EU coordinated legislative framework to govern a modern sustainable sector, with very particular and unique features
  • EU financial tools to support the mining industry
  • new opportunities to develop historical stone districts, some of them still producing stone products very much in demand in the international market, but also stone sectors in developing countries; this by mutual international collaboration.

Dimension stones (DS), although not included in the category of “Strategic Minerals” as defined by the European Union Programmes and Initiatives (e.g. RMI, EIP, etc.), belong, to the target group of Raw Materials considered officially by the European Commission, together with industrial minerals and construction materials. Dimension stones are supported by several initiatives and programmes supporting the development of the EU mining sector and international cooperation (see the EU Raw Material Initiative webpage).

The stone industry has represented and still represents a key asset for most European countries and societies, with well-known historical source districts and famous attractive material that are in increasing demand in the international market (Figure 1). Moreover, the same is true for other world regions, including developing and in-transition countries, which, although far behind in relation to western countries – have the opportunity to take the right direction for successful sustainable development of the industry. This will certainly bring medium and long-term benefits to the local economy, environment and society.

DS represents a very unique sector in the mining scenario, with its own particular rules, approaches and evaluation, that needs to improve its innovation in exploration, evaluation and mining for its necessary long term sustainable development (see EFG Magazine N. 39 , May 2015).

Figure 1: Open pit marble mine in Carrara – Good management: controlled environmental impact and successful marketing (photo G. Milazzo).

The uniqueness of the sector is well explained by the following examples:

  • Although seriously affected by the crisis, the DS sector has been continuously growing, on a worldwide scale, for 60 years.
  • Unlike gold, or silver, or copper or some industrial minerals, each granite or each marble is different from the others; this makes their individual evaluation (technical, economic, social) necessary, case by case. Moreover DS evaluation and consequently DS resources-reserves estimation cannot be made starting from chemical analysis, but mainly by considering the market quality and related value, which is often subjective.
  • DS materials appear not to be indispensable (not strategic!), but, with few exceptions, they are (after all, we are surrounded by walls, floors, stairs, squares, etc.). As matter of fact, they convert into indispensable goods when the lifestyle of a country starts to improve.
  • Primary raw resource may be almost everywhere. Unlike metallic and base minerals, which are mainly connected to specific geologic settings, a “common” limestone or an “ordinary” granite may really be everywhere.

Anybody who intends to work in, govern and support this particular industry, at any level, must know the very specific characteristics of the sector and the rules driving it.  International cooperation institutions must also be aware of the sector’s features and regulations.

The world is changing, and thus its priorities, market rules and living practices; new key issues have entered into our everyday life such as environmental sustainability and ethical conduct, both more and more demanded by Western markets and societies and probably soon to be demanded in other countries, too. Any industry must have these trends in mind and find ways to meet them.

Moreover, international co-operation programmes and projects, both institutional and private, need to take into consideration this quick change, by supporting also developing countries and making the local industries aware of these changes in international societies and markets. If the local stakeholders want to export, they have to know that it is not enough to have an attractive material consistently produced, but they must also begin to comply with social, ethical and environmental requirements of the importing markets.

STONECHANGE 2016, had, and we hope will still have in future editions, the ambitious goal  to contribute to the “rescue” of the imension stone Industry in the EU and in general all over the world, mainly based on a short-to-medium-term strategy for the sustainable development, modernisation and conscious involvement of governance institutions both in Western and developing countries.

Furthermore, the organisers hope that this type of event could begin a new trend of international cooperation among institutions, companies and associations of both sides (developed and developing countries). In particular, following the present crisis of most of the “classic” mining industry (mainly base metals, coal, uranium, etc.) arising from the global economic-industrial crisis and for other environmental and social reasons, the STONECHANGE 2016 Conference  focused on the development of the so- called “low value minerals” (or, as named by UN institutions “neglected minerals”): construction materials, “low value” industrial minerals and dimension stones, although the third group does certainly not include real low value materials! (Figure 2).


Figure 2:  UNDP – ACP-EU Development Minerals Programme website – Particular focus on construction materials and dimension stones.

These materials and minerals should also represent a perfect “instrument” to build up the local regional markets in developing and in transition countries (e.g. the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), Middle East and Latin American countries); this can be done through the creation and development of the local private sector and rural communities and through meeting  local domestic regional market demand, driven by the high improvement and growth of the construction sectors in these countries.

In July 2015, a €13.1 million capacity building programme named the ACP-EU Development Minerals Programme (ACP-EU DMP) was launched, considering exactly these goals. The programme supporting the development of the so-called “neglected minerals and materials” is co-financed by the EU and UNDP, and implemented by the UN Programme (see webpage in the references).

 The ACP-EU DMP is in line with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “otherwise known as the Global Goals, which represent a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity (Figure 3). These 17 goals build on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals, while including new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice, among other priorities. The goals are interconnected – often the key to success on one will involve tackling issues more commonly associated with another” (from UNDP website).


Figure 3:  The 17 sustainable development goals (Source: UNDP website).

The programme supports the small-scale mining and quarrying private sector, public institutions and communities in the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States in the “neglected” minerals and materials mentioned above. It will provide assistance in promoting knowledge exchange to increase the sector’s productivity, improve mining, processing and market management, adhere to national and international environmental, ethical and health standards, and prevent conflict through effective community relations.

The UNDP EU-ACP Programme was present at STONECHANGE 2016 with a group of 20 participants representing 10 ACP countries.  The group also participated in the other two international cooperation capacity building events organised during the “Stone Week” in Carrara between 15 and 20st June 2015:

  • a training course organised by PERC, AlpiConsult Stones and IMM Carrara on Mineral Standard Reporting titled “Best practice for Assessment and Reporting of Exploration Results, Mineral resources and Minerals Reserves” (15 June 2016) and
  • a second training course on “Dimension Stones and other Construction Materials Quarry Management” (18-20 June 2016).

It is possible to affirm that STONECHANGE 2016, in addition to the main objective to keep alive the Western wuarry industry through modern and innovative sustainable development, has also really started a new phase of international cooperation North-South, based on the necessary new vision that the only way to develop the small-mining/quarrying sector is to aim towards sustainable development together with the innovation and development of local-regional markets in developing countries, too.

During the conference a one-and-a-half-day plenary session took place devoted to presentations; six main sessions included 29 presentations, introduced by international key-speakers from 11 different countries.

The six sessions covered the following issues:

SESSION I:  Institutional Programmes and Initiatives to support the necessary sustainable development of the quarrying industry.

SESSION II: International Reporting Standards in the Mining Industries – Standards for public reporting of exploration results, mineral resources, and mineral reserves – A new entry: the Natural Stones Industry.

This session in particular regarded the key issue of Mining Project Evaluation and Resources/Reserves Reporting Standards, very commonly used in the “Classic” Mining Industry, but not yet used much in Dimension Stones Quarrying projects, for various reasons (e.g. the cultural background of DS players, small size of DS companies, low investment for exploration and official valuations, etc. ).

SESSION III: Governance  and Policymaking for a new sustainable natural stone sector in the EU and worldwide. Seeking a coordinated and harmonized way to manage, regulate, and support the sector, taking into consideration the different mining, environmental and social characteristics of various countries and districts.

The session, open to local and central institutions, administrators and policymakers as well as to private sectoral stakeholders, included case histories, experiences and new plans to govern and support the NS industry in some of the main EU historical districts. The session was open also to experiences outside of the EU.

SESSION IV: Technical Innovation – Innovative technologies for a more sustainable modern DS industry. Key support to increase its sustainability and performance.

The session aimed to introduce experiences in the design and use of new modern technologies, in the exploration, mining and processing areas (Figure 4), addressed to more sustainable (financial and environmental) production of natural stone products. It also introduced new mining and processing technologies, methods and equipment, new methodologies for field data collection, exploration and selective low-impact mining and processing.


Figure 4:  Innovation and technology:  left – Multiwire block cutter (photo P. Primavori); right – underground marble mining (photo G. Milazzo)

SESSION V: Sustainability – Selective Mining, Ethical Conduct and Waste Management are the next future priorities for a new sustainable Dimension Stone industry.

The financial and socio-environmental sustainability of natural stone projects is the key to future operation of the NS industry. In current economic and social conditions, this is vital and also urgent for the developed countries, although also the developing countries and those in transition must work towards the same goal as soon as possible.

In this section all issues to reach this desirable necessary goal were discussed and related case histories, lessons learned, and new proposals were presented:

  • Quarry and processing waste management and re-use;
  • Pilot projects concerning the “environmental & social and ethical conduct mark” to be officially accepted in the very near future in developed markets;
  • New methodologies and other tools to assist NS project sustainability concerning the environment, society and economy;
  • Any other issue that will be considered interesting to reach this critical goal for the future world society.

SESSION VI: Attractive Materials and Quarries in EU and in the world: an opportunity of investment and development both for EU and overseas companies.

The development of a new modern DS sector also depends on the availability of high class materials, to attract the interest and finance of investors and final end users.

In this final session particular new material and product investment opportunities from the most important EU stone districts and all over the world were introduced and discussed. New and unfamiliar grassroots and operating quarry projects were described by various local companies, sponsors and consultants, as well. New materials and quarries from EU and all over the world were also described that are looking for international support, partners and or investors willing to establish sustainable business.


The event certainly highlighted some critical problems affecting the small mining and quarrying sector with particular regards to the dimension stones sector, justifying the efforts made to organise such a particular and unique conference.

In particular, the very low participation of EU dimension stones companies (only three!), confirmed that most of them are not interested in or not fully aware about the present situation of the industry in Europe or about the absolute need for a quick drastic turn to sustainable development and that the Conference was organized at the right time. This is needed to avoid a short-term collapse of the small mining and quarrying sector in the EU and in other Western developed countries.

On the other hand, not surprisingly, international institutions and related programmes and initiatives were present (e.g. the EU, UN and others). This certainly is a good sign for future international cooperation in the Industry.

Another group that was not well represented was local (country and regional) governance institutions and policy makers, who should be the main drivers and regulators of this new development trend.  Finally, we also regret the low participation of central and country-level regulators and policy makers, who should be the first to understand the characteristics and rules of the quarry industry in order to be in a position to regulate and manage the sector with a new modern view.

It is to be hoped that this type of event, as well most other international and national institutions and related initiatives regarding the small mining and quarrying sectors – and especially those concerning dimension stones and other construction materials – will be focused on this key issue, with the main aim being to help these industries to survive and modernise. This will contribute to the necessary future sustainable development of the mining industry in all its areas and aspects.


Cosi, M. 2015. The dimension stone sector: new perspectives on the global market and on the reporting of international mining standards, European Geologist, 39. 24-30.

STONECHANGE 2016 Conference website –

UNDP EU-ACP Mineral Development Programme webpage –

EU Raw Material Initiative webpage –

This article has been published in European Geologist Journal 42 – International cooperation on raw materials.