Green Carpet Tile And Sustainable Flooring Options

It is a very good thing that everyone is talking about green carpet and green carpet tiles these days. All the discussion hopefully means that end users, architects, and designers are more interested about what types of materials are going into commercial spaces and reviewing products to see if they are generally sustainable. This is a positive trend that has developed over the last decade and it means that eco flooring is becoming more important to everyone.
There are many types of quality products on the market today that would qualify for green carpets each having various attributes of environmentally friendly material. Many of these meet the CRI Green Label Plus program and have low VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), some qualify for the California Platinum status or help with LEED points and others break ground for their material composition as well as their longevity and performance in the field.
Recently I have heard a few architects say that green carpet tiles are the most sustainable flooring materials available and that statement warrants a closer look at these perceptions.  Carpet tiles have been used for years in commercial areas instead of broadloom carpets because individual tiles can be replaced in worn or damaged areas which seems to be a more sustainable approach.  Additionally, some of the better carpet tile manufacturers are offering 100% recycled content backing materials as well as post and pre-consumer recycled face fibers which are very positive developments.
Additionally, some of these products are made by manufacturers who use bio based fuels and renewable energy sources to power parts of their operations, they operate under ISO 14001 guidelines and adhere to NSF-140 product standards and third party certification.  Add to this the fact that a couple companies can recycle these products back into new green carpet tiles indefinitely and it makes for a very sound argument that green carpet tile is the most sustainable soft surface flooring material available.
Now consider the other side of the proverbial green carpet coin.  Carpet tiles usually require significantly more raw material than broadloom or woven carpets.  It is usually well over 30%+ by weight more which means it takes much more materials to make carpet tile. While a couple manufacturers in the commercial market today have open architecture environmental recycling facilities with the ability to recycle their own tiles and other manufacturers products, the fact remains that the large majority of used tiles are either incinerated or dumped into landfills.
In Europe alone over seventy million kilos of tiles are disposed of each year, and while American stats are not available, it is estimated that it is even more so we are talking significant volume. It seems ironic that when people replace carpet tiles they usually throw them away so their designed functionality actually promotes more material being sent into the landfill. What this means the vast majority of these heavier weight products that require more materials to make are going into landfills and that is something to consider when looking for a green carpet.
Recently a building owner asked me if it was more sustainable to buy a carpet tile with all the green attributes the manufacturer had represented or a hybrid resilient cushion flooring material that did not have as much recycled content material but that has been shown to last for over 35 years in the market and can be fully recycled at the end of its useful life.  That is a great question by an informed owner and is the cause of this article.
While green carpet tile can offer users and architects perhaps the best specification on paper for environmentally friendly materials it is the real world where sustainability must also be evaluated. To ignore a proven product that lasts for over 35 years under the most extreme conditions because it does not have recycled content fiber seems short sited and worth another look when considering the true meaning of green carpet.


What Is A Sustainable Flooring Expert?

If you are in the flooring business it seems like everyone is green these days or at least claiming to be green. Kermit the frog would be proud. Marketing brochures are using lots of green photos of trees and nature motifs to make us feel green. The Carpet and Rug Institute qualifies just about any manufacturer making carpet with a green label and  it seems like every rep pushing a flooring product says they are green so how does an
architect, designer or owner actually know if someone they are speaking to is a sustainable flooring expert?  It can be a daunting task in an industry filled with greenwash and the desire to project an image of eco expertise.

Perhaps we should start with the obvious. Can someone who is new in an industry be an expert?  It is possible that people can study specifications, product performance, recycled content, embodied energy and all the various aspects of what an environmentally friendly product is but can that make someone a sustainable flooring expert?  It is highly unlikely.  That is because understanding a sustainable specification is only part of the equation.  How will someone who is new in an industry truly know if any product delivers what it says it will over time?  

Time in the industry can be a key because sustainable products perform for long periods of time and the only way to know if they do or if they don’t is to evaluate them in the lab or preferably in the workplace and that requires experience in the market. This is not to say that an experienced flooring professional is automatically a sustainable flooring expert so do not misunderstand.  

It is to say; however, that a professional that has been on hundreds of projects and reviewed vast types of flooring products in the field has a great advantage on delivering a qualified analysis of how these products perform over time and if they live up to the longevity promises of their sustainable marketing stories. This expertise is unique and should be viewed as added value by all customers in the real estate and architectural industry.

This means it may be a good idea to start with people who have some experience as well as an understanding of what a sustainable specification looks like and what they can deliver over time.  A sustainable flooring expert should have experience in a variety of flooring materials to include tufted broadloom, woven materials, resilient finishes, wood, modular carpet tile, as well as hybrid resilient materials. 

Additionally, a sustainable flooring expert should understand LEED requirements as they relate to floor finishes and have an understanding of how the US Green Building Council determines sustainable materials.  A sustainable flooring expert should also understand how CRI, CHPS, the FTC, the EPA, and other organizations review materials and quantify their sustainability ratings and even claims that can be made about them.  It is not just about checking off the box that says recycled content face material anymore.  

As environmental sustainability continues to become an integral part of our interiors and our lives it is more important than ever that we know we are getting accurate information from our representatives so finding a sustainable flooring expert to work with is key to making good material choices.


Sustainable Flooring Grows

Why is it when people think of sustainable flooring the first thought they have is about the stuff that is on their floor at home?  Rarely does anyone imagine the carpet at their favorite restaurant, bar or theater when they hear the word flooring.  Is it that we think first of where we live rather than work or is it that we are tainted by some chewing gum or greasy spot we saw under our table at lunch? In any case, we really need to look at the larger picture and understand how the commercial spaces in the world have an even greater impact on sustainability and sustainable flooring than do our homes.  
LEED buildings and building green have become a fact of life for the commercial real estate business and professional architectural community.  It is not a fad or a passing phase because sustainable flooring is here to stay and for good reasons.  Simply, it makes good business sense and it is the right thing to do for the environment and for our global society.
In an ever expanding disposable world commercial flooring materials have to become more environmentally friendly because we are running out of room in landfills to dump used materials. Equally as important is that from a business perspective the cost to dispose of the materials is rising. Some commercial carpet manufacturers actually offer free shipping to take materials back to their environmental centers and recycle them into new products at no charge.  This reduces landfill fees and  limits the materials impact on our environment and helps to limit carbon footprint.  This is part of the reason sustainable flooring is growing because it cuts costs for owners and provides feed stock material for the manufacturer and both of these things are good.
The challenge that the industry and architects have as the explosion of sustainable flooring continues is to be able to decipher the truth amidst the green wash marketing between what is hype and what is truly environmentally friendly.  Knowledge and facts of the material content, their life cycles, their true costs, and what the manufacturers do with the products at the end of their useful life is a good place to start.  It is the responsibility of the professionals in the commercial real estate and construction industry to make sure that sustainable flooring continues to grow and that the right materials are being used more often and the less sustainable materials are being used less.