Clue Free About PVC (Vinyl)

I'm still laughing at the embedded video. This is how misinformation is spread to uninformed people regarding vinyl. Take a look and have a chuckle.

Was that Satan narrating? "Carpets are like icebergs." Sure right. And morons are like geniuses. Never mind PVC Free, this video is just plain Fact Free. Ask the USGBC, the CDC and the EPA.

PVC is not toxic in the factory and is fully recyclable infinitely. Tandus actually has been recycling post consumer and post industrial PVC in a closed loop, cradle-to-cradle process in their Environmental Center since the early '90's and has already kept over 145,000,000 lbs of material from landfills so far. That's a lot of icebergs! The United States Congress gave them an Innovation award for this back in 1997. Perhaps some facts and research would be best before these people attempt their next video because this is really good environmental stewardship.

I must admit, my favorite part is when Satan says,"...if nature can find a way to break it down it is probably safe." Hmmm, probably? Nature can break down rattlesnakes but they are far from safe. Ever chew on a Hemlock? And did you know that people actually die from coconuts falling from trees and hitting people in the head? Maybe that's what happened to the people who made this video. Perhaps we should consider banning coconuts.

A Fungus Among Us - Floor Moisture

There is a stinky thing happening in office buildings today and it is hiding under your carpet. Like a cockroach slithering in the walls chasing old pizza crust this troublemaker is growing and few people even suspect it is presence or the damaging health and safety hazard it is causing. It has been known to cause sick building syndromes and generate mold and mildew. At the least it antagonizes people with breathing problems and at it’s worst it can adversely affect everyone working in the environment. What is it? The hazard is unchecked moisture underneath the carpets surface. Yes there is a fungus among us.

Recently I actually heard a real estate professional make the statement that checking slabs moisture was a complete waste of time and was totally unnecessary. That statement could not be further from the truth and ignoring a massive health and safety threat to all workers or visitors inside a public building is a legal liability not to overlook. Besides, making sure buildings are safe is an obligation for all reputable building owners, managers, architects, real estate companies and general contractors.

Just because a carpet product or carpet tile material can lay flat on the floor does not mean that everything is OK. Go ask a virologist about that one and see what they say about things that you can’t see and if that is the measure of OK. In college I couldn't’t see all the cockroaches in my dorm but we all knew they were there. Don’t ask me how but you get the picture. When it comes to moisture issues you better be sure and you better have tests or lawyers because when the biological boogieman shows up you will want one or the other or maybe even both.

The Carpet and Rug Institute and most reputable manufacturers require concrete slabs to have lower than 5 lbs of slab moisture before installing carpet and most experts would tell building owners to make sure moisture is below 3 lbs. But with the fast paced commercial construction schedules of today environments are beginning to see a frightening rise of slab moisture ranging from 6-10lbs on a regular basis. Now carpet manufacturers are often putting owners and building inhabitants at great risk by telling them that their carpet will install over these moisture levels and are inferring that it is OK. The carpet might be OK but the potential biological nightmare underneath the carpet surface is not OK. Some manufacturers have products that will install at high moisture levels but that still does not mean your floor is right. VCTT/PowerbondÔ will actually install over 10 lbs of moisture but that does not mean that biological growth will not occur.

When it comes to being green, don’t let your slabs get green with mold and mildew. Stop the madness. Fix the slab. Make sure your slabs are tested if there are any questions regarding high moisture levels and take appropriate remediation action if there levels of moisture above 5 lbs. Don’t pretend anybody’s carpet will solve the problem. Remember, bacteria loves moisture just like cockroaches love pizza. Growing green mold under your carpet is not sustainable even if it is green. It’s actually more like an icky green fungus color anyway and who wants that even if it is underneath the carpet. Don’t sweep this issue under the rug.


Comparing Sustainable Carpet

Architects, designers and owners all have a difficult challenge when it comes to sorting out the claims made by manufacturers regarding green products. Particularly since some carpet reps will make knucklehead statements like, "hey, my carpet can give you 14 LEED points. Specify this and you'll be green." But there are some simple tips that can help to make the process easier. Start with the obvious first. Ask each competing manufacturer on any RFP or RFI process one simple question; can you turn your standard running line product back into itself and keep it out of the landfill forever? The follow-up to that is; does your response meet the Federal Trade Commission guidelines for marketing claims? If the answer is no to these questions you can stop right there.

Any manufacturer in 2009 that can not do this and claims to be green is either not committed to sustainability or has not been committed to sustainability and it has finally caught up with them. Taking care of the products that you put into the environment and closing the loop should be priority one for any manufacturer that claims to be sustainable. It is intellectually dishonest to manufacture and sell millions of yards of materials and send them into the market without having a daily solution for the material that you make at the end of its useful life. There are no amount of trees you can plant to make up for that fact.

These 2 questions and answers get to the heart of a sustainable product. They answer the key question of whether or not a manufacturer is responsible about the products they are putting into the office environment and if they have an operational recycling center to provide a cradle-to-cradle solution for the raw materials that they took out of the natural environment. If a manufacturer answers yes to these questions, they should provide a signed guarantee document from an officer of the company promising that the material will not be stored, land filled or burned and that it will all be turned into new product.

Perhaps an even larger sustainable question is; how long have your products been proven to last in the commercial market? The first test of sustainability is long-term performance. A product made from biodegradable materials such as PLA that lasts 5 years or less before it falls apart or uglies out and can not be cleaned is hardly sustainable. The longer the performance the more sustainable it is economically for all parties and the less energy it takes to recycle it back into itself. Therefore, the next tip that might help architects is to ask a manufacturer; how long has your product performed in the market place in high traffic areas with your current backing system? Ten years should be the minimum and 20 years is a much better target with references to speak with about the product performance. The key here is to have the product performing without problems.

Product problems such as backing delaminating from the face product, tuft bind issues, edge ravel, shrinking, curling, cupping are all non-sustainable products because they cause the owner and all involved unnecessary energy, capital, and time. These problems also cause disruption in the work environment and often lead to the remaking of product causing more raw materials to be used, more energy to be spent, and more capital to be wasted. Ideally, a sustainable product would use less energy, less cost over time and be easier to manage. At the end of it’s useful life, hopefully 20, 30, or 40 years, the used materials would then be sent back on a green shipping carrier to the original manufacturer’s environmental recycling center and turned back into new flooring for another generation of use.

Imagine if our automobiles lasted 40 years like some vinyl backed products and were then recycled back into new cars. We could actually pass the materials from our favorite Ford truck down to our children or even our children’s children. Now that would be something! Yes, I have a dream. But for now, that is only possible with certain carpet products and we’ll have to wait to see what auto manufacturer is the first cradle-to-cradle provider. In the meantime, keep specifying sustainable carpet and compare them honestly.


PVC Free & Tweedle Dee

Recently websites and documents have been circulating stating that PVC is "one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created" and should be taken out of all commercial carpets. According to some, they can cause cancer and harm to the immune and reproductive systems. Well, if we are going to be honest, so can breathing air in New York City, sex with an unprotected partner and grilling meats outside but I can't find many industry's dedicated to eliminating sex in America or ending the good 'ol backyard BBQ. I'll take mine medium rare please.

Certain manufacturers looking for less costly (and often less durable and less sustainable) forms of backing materials have been exploiting these claims for their financial gain and playing on the fears of unsuspecting, and often uniformed, architects, designers and building owners. Before you rip the PVC pipes out of your house that runs the water to your tap or you pull the IV from your arm that runs blood from the PVC bag next time you are in the hospital, here are some things to consider.

The US Green Building Council appointed a special task force of materials experts to perform an exhaustive four-year study regarding the safety and health implications of the use of PVC as a building product. The task force concluded that there is no credible evidence that would support excluding PVC in favor of alternative materials. In fact, the task force warns against creating any credits that could steer decision makers towards alternative materials that may have worse environmental impacts. Particularly, new backings that might last 1/2 the length of time on the floor or that has never been studied as long as vinyl has been. PVC is one of the most widely used products in construction, from roofs, piping, flooring, wallcovering and many other products and there is NO substantiated claims of negative health effects after over 40 + years in our built environments.

Now, on the other hand, the government actually lists 228 items on its cancer causing list with items ranging from the sun, UVR's in tanning beds, wood dust in saw mills, exposure to X-radiation and gamma-radiation such as bone, chest and dental X-rays to things like MeIQ, MeIQx, and PhIP which are heterocyclic amine compounds that are formed when meats and eggs are cooked or grilled at high temperatures. These compounds are also found in cigarette smoke and, oh yeah, they cause cancer too. Then there's lead that makes batteries and Cobalt Sulfate which is used in electroplating, as coloring agents for ceramics, and as drying agents in inks and paints, and of course Diazoaminobenzene, a chemical used as an intermediate in the production of dyes and to promote adhesion of natural rubber to steel which is said to be listed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" (whatever that means). The list goes on and on and yet, vinyl in commercial carpet is not on that list. So why the hype and fear over PVC?

In this industry experts opinion there are 3 major factors contributing to this manifestation of knee jerk reaction. First, it's about love. Seriously, a legitimately caring groups of people who have seen the damage that certain chemicals have done to human health over the years are really scared for our health and welfare and are trying to do the right thing. I'm truly glad these groups of people exist. Unfortunately, these folks stopped listening with both ears to the all data on vinyl products in commercial carpet and have jumped off the PVC ledge a little too early. They are now trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. Or in this case, the baby toys out with the carpet tile backing.
Second, Fear is easy to exploit. I think it started with the cave man and fire but it's a sales fact. Certain manufacturers have decided to make carpet backing using other compounds that those same caring public watchdogs don't know about yet and have no long term test data with any history to analyze. So the watchdogs would rather attack with partial information what they think they know versus what they really don't know. These manufacturers are using PVC -free as a scare tactic and positioning tool like Kryptonite is to superman. For all we know, the substitute materials these manufacturers are using might make 3 packs of cigarettes a day look like a post modern health diet. These new materials are less than a decade old, some less than 5 years old and have yet to be studied or proven to even perform more than 6 years on the floor, unlike vinyl, which has been shown to perform perfectly for over 4 decades on the floor without any problems.

And third, it's a way to take our eye off the fact that PVC is in every car we drive, it's in every office we encounter, in every hospital we visit, every school we send our children to and in every restaurant we dine at while sipping Chardonnay and munching on charred beef. For some odd human reason, attacking PVC in commercial carpet makes some designers feel good during the day so they can go home at night and grab their PVC computer products and type on Facebook about the successful day they had ridding the world of the evil toxin PVC.

So you tell me, PVC Free, Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dumb? Do you really want the hat with the propeller on top? I'll go with the facts and data saying it's the most sustainable and fully recyclable product available and then head to the beach for some sunshine and carcinogens. Call me crazy, but I like the beach in the summer and vinyl-backed carpet in my office. Now chill out, summer's coming and it's time to break out the BBQ!


Green Gone Goo Goo

Going green and trying to be sustainable is a really good thing but it's now starting to go over the edge. While on a US Air flight this week I read an article about an entire university system that was green. Really? Are you kidding, the entire university was sustainable? I guess everyone rides bikes to school, it's all solar powered, all LEED buildings, they recycle everything, they produce energy, and take nothing from the earth and maybe they even grow their own cabbage right? Yes I'm being facetious, but we've got to admit that the greenwash that is happening right now is truly reached an all time high. It's this type of bogus hype that causes confusion in the market and pushes people to make poor sustainable choices, whether it be at home or in their building finishes.
I read a green carpet blog last week by a guy who said he saw a carpet executive on the weather channel and that the mill was "the most sustainable in the world." I guess everything on TV is real and factual now like the Family Guy. Sadly he didn't offer any data. Maybe he just liked the executives suit or something and thought it was made of hemp, who knows. Either way, it sure sounded like the executive was selling carpet using scary stories of species dying off from the planet. Not sure what that had to do with his carpet but it seemed to make this blogger a believer. Then he babbled on about some other unsubstantiated claims regarding another competing manufacturer who was the other "greenest" mill in the world. The funny part is that the second mill was diametrically opposite of the first mill as 2 companies could possibly be. Hmmmm. Please pass me some green peas and let's continue.

Then it all came out, this blogger was a carpet dealer who primarily sold both mills. Aha! The real green story came out. Big Money. That's often the problem with green stories. They get mixed up with the green of the Benjamin's. Not really an environmentally accurate or accountable sustainable blog at all, particularly to those people who have seen this dealer dump piles of old carpet in the landfill or out in his dumpster behind the warehouse. Is dumping old carpet in the landfill on a daily basis now a sustainable practice? Do they give carbon credits for that? I digress...
Anyway, for those people that really care about little things like facts and truths there are a few places to check out carpet mills and get some perspective on who and what is really green, based on today's knowledge of what those mills offer. Check out the following sites if you are confused by the green washing and think green carpet issues have gone goo goo and you may be able to make sense of the nonsense. And for heavens sake, don't step in the goo. That's just not sustainable and the goo is not green.