By Leigh Smith | December 23, 2020
You may ask, "how could installing thousands of square feet of flooring have anything to do with sustainability?" Many manufacturers are dedicated to making their products with the environment and you in mind. Using recycled materials, partnering with communities to collect waste, and using innovative technologies are just a few ways manufacturers work to create a sustainable product.
What goes into making a sustainable floor?
Many things qualify a floor as "sustainable." The use of natural and renewable resources, a responsible manufacturing process, transportation and delivery of materials and products, and the product's lifecycle. A floor's lifecycle refers to harvesting resources, production, use, and disposal at the end of its life. For example, if a product has a Cradle-to-Cradle lifecycle, it was made with the intention that it will be able to be upcycled instead of being turned into waste. Many large manufacturers have a recycling program so their old floors can be recycled and reused to create new products or flooring. Armstrong has its On&On recycling program (add a link to Armstrong's website) to keep their products out of landfills. Instead of being thrown away, they take flooring and recycle it into new Armstrong flooring!
The idea of sustainability reaches beyond recycling and manufacturing. Sustainability has a large emphasis on experiences, community, and wellbeing. For example, Interface and their Net-Works program work with fishing communities to collect discarded fishing nets and turn them into carpet fibers. This keeps waste out of our oceans, protects our marine life, and provides income to these fishing communities. Sustainable products also improve indoor air quality, which is essential to the health and wellbeing of occupants. 90% of our day is spent indoors, meaning the air we breathe inside needs to free of harmful pollutants. A floor with a FloorScore or GreenGuard certification guarantees low VOC emissions.
Most manufacturers release their sustainability reports, material health statements, and environmental product declarations on their website to back their sustainability claims. Just saying a product is "green" or "eco-friendly" isn't enough. Giving vague and misleading information about a product's green story is called greenwashing. If you are wary about a product claim, check the manufacturer's website for more details. Some terms are regulated by the federal trade commission's Green Guides to save you time in your research. These terms include biodegradable, non-toxic, and recyclable.
What options are there for commercial-grade, sustainable flooring?
Carpets with a CRI Green Label Plus certification exceed the indoor environmental quality standards for low-emitting products. Carpet can also be made from recycled materials, which diverts waste from our waterways and landfills. Interface's carpet tile is carbon neutral across the full product lifecycle. Mohawk has their Continuum process, which converts plastic bottles into pellets that are then turned into carpet fibers to create their Everstrand, Everstand Soft Appeal, and Air.O carpets. Each square yard of carpet contains an average of 63 reclaimed plastic bottles. Recently, manufacturers have been looking for ways to install carpet tiles without glue to minimize VOC emissions even more and make recycling these tiles easier at the end of their useful life.
At first, you may not consider this flooring option as a sustainable product. However, luxury vinyl tile can be FloorScore certified for low VOC emissions, made of recycled content, recyclable, and Cradle-to-Cradle certified. Luxury vinyl floors often last longer than other flooring materials, which helps divert waste since it does not need to be replaced as often. In some instances, luxury vinyl floors can install with click-and-lock technology to minimize the use of irritating glues. The lack of glue also makes it easier to recycle at the end of its life. Some companies take their products back at the end of their useful life and recycle them into new floors.
Rubber flooring is widely used in applications like gyms, healthcare, and schools. This flooring type is extremely durable and doesn't need to be replaced as often as other flooring options. Rubber can be recycled into many things other than new rubber flooring. However, it is important to know what kind of rubber is used. Natural rubber is made from the sap of a rubber tree (a sustainable resource) and does not need to be cut down to be harvested. Synthetic rubber is made from various polymers and petroleum-based materials, which negatively impact our environment. Check material health statements when choosing your rubber flooring.