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.