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.