Kids Hate Dirty Floors - So Why Do We Keep Making Them Sit In The Dirt?

How many of us want to sit in the street in the dirt for the better part of the day?  Has anyone who has actually seen a special on the school situation in Afghanistan hoped that our kids could spend their days learning while sitting in the dirt outside?  While I'm sure our children love to play outside in the filth from time to time, none of them really want to sit there and try to learn or listen to a teacher all day.  So why do so many schools continue to spend valuable dollars on facilities for hard, cold, dirty floors and then ask our kids to sit there?  

The case could be made that VCT floors are cheap and that would be a fair argument.  But that's where it stops.  VCT floors that dominate the K-6 schools in the United States are cold, hard, expensive to maintain, cause airborne particulates to float everywhere and yes, they are dirty.  Make no mistake, the fine people that are attempting to keep the schools and these hard floors clean for the kids are using every type of chemical possible to scrub, strip, wax, buff and spin shine these floor clean but they are almost always dirty because dirt just lives in schools. 

Here is where this practice starts making even less sense.  After we fund these floors and the massive operational budgets that go along with having to try and clean them for the next 20 years the teachers and parents take matters into their own hands and do the right thing by putting something more useful on the floor.  They go and buy soft pieces of area rugs, colorful learning circles, and even times pieces of carpet for the kids to sit on so they don't have to be dirty and cold when they are sitting on the floor during the day.  It's almost funny.  

Perhaps we should ask our architects, designers, and administrators to talk to the teachers and students about what they want and how they would be most comfortable during their learning days.  If that is impossible, just walk around a school and see what the have put in themselves to help the kids.  Oh, and let us not forget all those tennis balls they have cut up and put on the bottom of the chairs to stop the noise pollution and scuffing that occurs to those VCT floors.  Spending money on these types of floors for schools is not fiscally sustainable, hurts indoor air quality and does not provide a clean floor for our children.  We can definitely do better and hopefully we will.


Commercial Carpet - The Top 3 Ways To Choose Green

When people think of carpet they always think of the stuff that is on their floor at home.  Rarely does anyone picture the carpet at their favorite restaurant, bar or theater when they imagine carpet.  Commercial carpet is very different than what we have at home since when it is being selected issues of return on investment, carpet repair and carpet cleaning are rarely part of the decision making process.  Most importantly, commercial carpets go into commercial spaces like food service areas, schools, hospitals and offices and they take far more abuse than in our homes.  They actually take more abuse than anything in the commercial space.  Carpet is walked on by everyone, spilled upon constantly, and most always under maintained.  For these reasons and many others, commercial carpet is completely different than normal home flooring products and should be considered unique and one of the most important interior selection, particularly since old carpet is a huge contributor to landfill dumping.  Unfortunately, all too often the thing designers consider first when making green carpet choices are LEED points and recycled content and this is a big mistake. 
Choosing a green product is much more than just thinking about recycled content, carbon footprint and LEED points.  The top 5 ways to choose a green product should always include the following:
First, how long will the product last.  Green or sustainable products must be measured by the longevity of their productive and performing life first.  A commercial carpet made of corn or PLA that lasts 3 years before it falls apart or uglies out is worthless and not green at all.  A product should perform for the minimum of 10 years and be easily cleanable but preferably perform for 15 to 20 years.   The most sustainable soft surfaces last for over 30 years or more.  The decision to replace carpet should be the owners by choice and not because the carpet is falling apart.  
Second, is the product fully recyclable, cradle-to-cradle by the manufacturer.  Companies such as Tandus have systems and processes in place that can recycle their own materials as well as materials manufactured by the rest of the industry offering a solution for their own materials as well as old materials from their competition.  This is a much more sustainable solution.  Companies such as these should be rewarded for their innovation and open architecture of being able to take care of materials that are currently on the floor getting ready to go to the landfill from any manufacturer as well as their own old materials.
Third, does the product offer recycled content in their own product. This would include both pre-consumer and post consumer materials.  This means that the product is helping the manufacturing world as well as using materials that have already been in use in the commercial environment.
Green carpet and specifically green commercial carpets are an important aspect of limiting materials going to landfills as well as reducing carbon footprint.  While planting forests and trees are important, the most important thing a carpet company can do is be able to have a cradle-to-cradle system for their material.  Green bonus points are given to those companies that can also take care of the rest of the commercial markets carpet.  That is the greenest of green carpet in the commercial environment.


Sustainable Works of Architecture

As Earth Day approaches it is a great time to look at some fantastic sustainable architecture.  Most of us are learning to be better stewards with what we have and as we all have less and less income due to our economy we need to do more with less.  As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.  And speaking of invention, take a look as some amazing designs showing real creativity and design.  Check out these 10 sustainable works of architecture 


Old Is Green - The Sustainability of Doing Nothing

Often times people get so focused on bio based materials; recyclability or carbon footprint that when it comes to flooring materials they forget one of the most important places to start and that is performance.  It is true with buildings as well as floors.  A 600 year old castle that has never been rebuilt is far more sustainable than a modern day building that might last 50 years even if it has waterless toilets and longer lasting light bulbs.  Perhaps when owners start thinking more like kings then we will start building 1000 year buildings in the United States rather than 50 year disposable buildings and sports stadiums that we are building today.  Actually, I've seen sports arenas torn down within 15 years of their construction so 50 years is often rather generous but you get the point.

One carpet manufacturer several years ago launched a carpet made from corn (PLA) fiber and it performed so poorly it wouldn't stand up for 2 years before falling apart. Let's face it, carpet that only lasts 2 to 5 years is not economically or environmentally sustainable or responsible.  When you consider cost of materials, energy, carbon footprint, labor, labor to remove, labor to reinstall new materials and all the associated hassles to get the new product off and back on to the floor, even if the product were made from lima beans it still wouldn't be very sustainable.  Now if the lima bean flooring lasted for 35-50 years that would really be something sustainable to sing about. 

In the meantime, Interior Design magazine is correct in finding this long lasting material called VCTT, or Powerbond.  Take a look at this link.

Material Girl

Every once in a while I find good places to learn about sustainable materials and I've found one at Material Girl.  This young blogger offers great places find materials from residential countertops to drapes to flooring materials that have green attributes and sustainable qualities.  One of her posts found Powerbond, or VCTT, as a long lasting fully recyclable material.  It is great to see people who are actually looking for better materials.   Go material girl go!