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.


  1. Here is a response from Jeff Carrier, CRI Sustainability and IAQ Program Manager:
    "Your statement that CRI 'qualifies just about any manufacturer making carpet' is glib, but misleading and unfair to both consumers and manufacturers. Your article states the importance for those who would call themselves sustainability experts to be familiar with multiple sustainability platforms and standards, and so I must ask you, do you know how CRI sets the criteria for its Green Label Plus Indoor Air Quality Standard? Are you familiar with the chain of custody and how it is handled? It seems to me that you are not aware of much that makes Green Label Plus the world standard that it is. I am available to discuss the technical details of the program and why it continues to be specified by state and federal governments as well as Green Globes and LEED. It’s tough and it works."
    B Richmond
    CRI Communications Mgr.

  2. This post sounds a little defensive. My comment WAS glib and tongue in cheek and in no way an indictment of CRI. Have a glass of wine, chill out, and go watch some MacGyver re-runs or something.

    I was poking some fun at the fact that just about every commercial carpet manufacturer qualifies for the CRI green label program (I'm told as long as they pay the fees, is that true?) and the truth is that architects and designers sometimes assume that all flooring materials that have a CRI label are equal that is not the case.

    Far more important is that you missed the larger point that green attributes are over stated by many manufacturers and that green marketing is running rampant. Many owners, architects and designers can't decipher between the over hyped green marketing. They are often listening to a sales representatives that has been in the industry for 11 months and was selling suits before they got into the industry and are just regurgitating what marketing told them to say.

    There is no need to go into how CRI looks at hazardous air pollutants per square yard of carpet, carbon dioxide emissions, energy consumption, waste generation, water usage, the relationship to ANSI standards, CHPS criteria or how NSF-140 impacts the CRI green label. I deal with that daily and those that read this post that want to review those protocols and specs can find that information very easily.

    The point of the post is that a sustainability expert needs to understand much more than how the CRI chain of custody is handled. A building owner won't care about that criteria if the green label product he selected last summer looks like it is 10 years old and can't be maintained anymore.

    A true sustainable expert should be able to know what products actually adhere to the Federal Trade Commissions marketing guidelines on environmental marketing, as an example, and can advise how "green labeled" products actually perform in the field regardless of their written criteria.

    Now quick, MacGyver is figuring out how to rig a tufting machine to a solar panel and produce a carpet that will last until 2050. Don't miss it.