Flooring considerations for a Green Rating

by Ofentse Sefolo
Flooring considerations for a Green Rating

Paying attention to the flooring systems when working towards a green rating is as important as the overall sustainability of the building. As such, designers and specifiers should familiarise themselves with how rating systems are applied and how sustainable flooring solutions can contribute to the overall rating. Let’s look at some of the key considerations.

Rating tools
Currently, the base building rating tools are not heavily focussed on floor finish specifications. However, of particular interest to designers is the fact that the Green Star Interiors tool has a specific section dedicated to the greenness of a building’s floor finishes.

The Interiors rating tool by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) includes a calculator that addresses flooring. This tool enables a floor to obtain six points out of the total 100 points needed for certification, which is why designers and specifiers should be more focused on sourcing sustainable products can help a project obtain all six points.

Flooring requirements
Trying to compare the points that can be earned from floors in the Green Star Rating process to other well-known global certification systems such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) and Edge is difficult, with each having its own set of criteria.

However, the following should assist in guiding what the requirements for flooring should be:
• How much reused or recycled content is used
• Whether the flooring products used have eco-labels
• The durability of the floors
• Forest Stewardship Certification (FSC) certification (in the case of wood flooring)
• ISO14001 environmental management system certification
• Volatile organic compound (VOC) requirements

With LEED, for example, credits can be achieved in the Building Reuse category if a large portion of the existing floors is retained, in the Recycled Content Category if the manufacturer uses recycled content during product manufacturing and in Regional Materials if the flooring product was sourced locally.

With BREEAM, points for flooring can be earned for using products that have ISO 14001 certification, if the manufacturer has a waste management plan and therefore diverts resources from landfills, and for minimising sources of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and formaldehyde. While the categories and credits are different, they all give the same message: reduce, reuse and recycle – and improve the indoor environment while you are at it.

Factors to consider when choosing a flooring system
What then should the built environment professionals consider when choosing a flooring system, given that the different flooring products are difficult to compare as the way in which they meet sustainability requirements vary?

It seems that the best route to follow is to look at each of the products individually and then to assess where and how each could contribute to the overall rating. For example, the manufacturing processes that a carpet manufacturer follows differ greatly from the eco-labels that a tile manufacturer or timber floor producer would pursue, hence the need to review each product on its own merits and characteristics.

Tips include:
• In the case of carpets, look for a product that has a high amount of recycled content in the carpet and the backing, low VOC, eco-labels, and whether the manufacturer can take back the product for reuse or recycling when it needs to be replaced.
• With timber or bamboo flooring, explore FSC certified options, and ensure that the sealants are low VOC and as natural as possible.
• Where vinyl is an option, look for products that use recycled content during the manufacturing process, ISO14001 certification and any eco-labels.
• With all the flooring options, local manufacturing is always a sustainable solution.

Look at labels, declarations and certifications
Overseas, the industry has advanced the materials market by providing EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations) which show the environmental impact of a product. EPDs list what ingredients are in the product as well as how much water and energy were used to produce the product.

EPDs can aid the decision-making process when comparing different flooring systems. EPDs do not classify a product as good or bad; they simply provide transparency on ingredients and resources used during manufacturing.

The International Living Future Institute provides Declare Labels, which “declare” the ingredients that are used in products – similar to a nutritional label on food products. The Institute also has a Living Product Challenge that rewards products that have a positive impact on the planet as opposed to doing harm.

Taking a circular economy perspective
The GBCSA looks at whether flooring products within a project comply with components – or fully – with the concept of a circular economy.

Besides understanding where the product comes from, it is also important have a holistic view of the lifecycle of a product. If a project uses products from a carpet manufacturer that has a take-back policy, or a laminate floor that has green credentials from recycled content, the right documentation needs to be in place to back this up. GreenTag certification from EcoSpecifier, for example, is one of the systems available that pre-certifies materials which are ready to be installed for a successful Green Star – Interiors Rating.

Product comparisons are tough – even for the pros
Deciding on the most sustainable flooring solution can be an onerous process, even for the professionals. The GBCSA is currently working towards creating a more comprehensive flooring rating system; however, the process will need to:
1. Consider natural materials such as bamboo, timber, cork and linoleum, as well as exposed polished concrete floors.
2. Determine which one is best by carefully evaluating the pros and cons for each option.
3. Assess the criteria proposed for use, which will be price, local availability, acoustics, the glues and sealants that the flooring system will require, thermal comfort, environmental impact, reused or recycled content as well as aesthetics.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to www.solidgreen.co.za, www.gbcsa.org.za, www.edgebuildings.com, www.leed.usgbc.org and www.breeam.com for some of the information contained in this article.

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