Various key factors need to be both identified and then implemented to ensure a sustainable flooring industry globally.
Attaining a sustainable building that successfully incorporates all the required specifications to not only achieve green targets but excel beyond these is a significant achievement. Even more so as the green movement continues to gain momentum and directly affects the floorcovering industry.
If one considers that every commercial building contains some kind of flooring material, it becomes clear how quickly billions of square metres of eventual waste could potentially be offloaded in landfills, which is something that the flooring industry wants to avoid. The flooring industry has been at the forefront of methods to re-use flooring material and finding alternative uses for recycled flooring material.
Here are a few factors that need to be considered in flooring sustainability:
The floorcovering industry has embraced environmental practices and takes the stance that all companies are responsible for their fellow inhabitants and the subsequent generations. Through a variety of specific programmes to recycle, re-use and re-purpose flooring to prevent it from landing in landfills, the flooring industry continues to play a prominent role in terms of social responsibility.
Manufacturing Practises and Processes
The responsible companies have been, and continue to, eliminate processes that are time, energy and money wasters. Various technological advances over the last few years have been implemented to manufacture floorcoverings, and because there is such a large amount of new and established technologies to choose from, these can be quickly absorbed into the manufacturing process. These technologies generally result in less time and energy wasted. There are also fewer batch processes being used and more processes being employed that make manufacturing much more efficient.
Getting the product to the jobsite entails wrapping, packaging, shipping and handling. Less is more in this regard. Carpet tiles, for example, are often put on pallets, without being boxed and wrapped with recyclable plastic wrap. These pallets can be re-used, recycled or re-purposed.
The flooring industry’s products, such as cork, wood and bamboo, can be renewed. For example, cork trees can last for hundreds of years, yielding new bark every several years. Bio-based chemistry is also being used to produce carpet fibre, carpet backing and carpet cushion.
Recycled content can be used in flooring material such as backing for carpet tiles and polyester face fibre. Woven Axminster carpet can now be turned into carpet cushion and continues to be recycled in a continuous loop.
At its very inception, the trend is to produce flooring products with recyclability factors in mind. This is another aspect of social responsibility and manufacturing efficiency. Each and every single day the industry learns something new to ensure their products are recyclable to minimise waste in all aspects of the manufacturing process.
Almost every floorcovering product aims to eliminate any toxicity that may have existed in older generations of the products. Low odour and low VOC’s are crucial and any concerns that do arise are being addressed with new and evolving technologies, such as the dwindling use of PVC’s.
“Get it in the door and keep it on the floor” should be the mantra with every flooring material on every project. The correct product installed in the correct place, while cared for properly, will maximise the life of the product. This could be regarded as the most challenging part of manufacturing a green product. Incorrect specification of the flooring material and failed installations causes premature replacement of the flooring material, which, in turn, causes significant waste of resources and materials. A major challenge exists to bring an end to the ignorance that causes this type of waste.
Unless a flooring product is properly installed over a substrate that will accommodate and not compromise the installation; and unless the environment is conducive to maintaining the installation, failure of some kind to varying degrees is inevitable. Part of the challenge to installation is the use of recycled content in flooring material backings and concrete substrates. However, a host of new technologies can resolve conditions that used to wreak havoc with installations which caused massive expenditure. The key is for manufacturers and the flooring industry to accept these technological advancements and implement them based on the knowledge that technology does indeed work.
If a flooring material isn’t properly prepared for, it cannot last. This category includes surface type and colour selection. A colour that is too light won’t necessarily hide, mask or mute exposure to soil and will shorten the lifespan of the chosen floor. If properly cared for and maintained with a planned maintenance programme that is correctly implemented, any flooring material should last.
All the above factors, when properly applied and implemented, could also result in cost-efficiency. Much of what makes flooring sustainable can and does cost less in the long run. Implementation of sustainable flooring initially may take longer, but it will eventually be common practise. All that is needed is the industry’s co-operation in terms of putting the current and future solutions into practice.
Acknowledgement and thanks are given to www.lgmandassociates.com and Lisa Reynolds (Weber Saint-Gobain) for the information contained in this article.