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The role of flooring in green building

by Ofentse Sefolo
The role of flooring in green building

FLOORS in Africa magazine reached out to the industry to find out how much attention is paid to the flooring systems within a building during green rating processes, how many points can be earned on popular rating systems, and what designers and specifiers should look for when choosing sustainable floors.

Rating tools
According to Marloes Reinink, Managing Director of Solid Green, the base building rating tools are not heavily focussed on floor finish specifications, whereas the Green Star Interiors tool has a specific section dedicated to the greenness of your floor finishes.

“This is mainly because flooring is not a major item within the base building scope; and other sustainability issues such as energy efficiency, water efficiency have to be addressed as well. Base building does not include the floor finish selection for tenanted areas. The tenant, who is responsible for the fit-out has to come up with a sustainable solution that can earn points or credits,” says Marloes.

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.

“A total of six points that can be achieved from flooring products. It might not seem like much but sourcing sustainable products can help a project obtain all six points,” says Marloes.

Comparing flooring options: it isn’t apples with apples
The flooring is assessed based on a number of requirements:
• 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; and
• Volatile organic compound (VOC) 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.

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

Grahame Cruickshanks, Managing Executive of Market Engagement at the GBCSA comments: “The LEED system rates buildings according to Silver, Gold or Platinum categories, whereas the GBCSA’s rating uses 4, 5 and 6 Stars. The levels are roughly comparable. When comparing the GBCSA system to other certification systems, we look at the rating holistically instead of on a credit by credit basis. EDGE also addresses flooring to my knowledge, the Green Star Rating system is the most comprehensive.”

Factors to consider when choosing a flooring system
When asked what built environment professionals should consider when choosing a flooring system, Marloes says that flooring products are difficult to compare as the way in which they meet sustainability requirements vary.

“The manufacturing processes that a carpet manufacturer follows would differ greatly to the eco-labels that a tile manufacturer or timber floor producer would pursue, for example,” says Marloes.

If your client is interested in 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 is able to take back the product for reuse or recycling when it needs to be replaced.

“With timber or bamboo flooring, consider reclaimed timber floors, 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,” says Marloes.

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 was 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,” says Marloes.

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
Grahame says that the GBCSA looks at whether flooring products within a project complies with components of, or fully, with the concept of a circular economy.

“It’s not only important to understand where the product comes from, but also the 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,” says Grahame.

Product comparisons are tough – even for the pros
Deciding on the most sustainable flooring solution can be an onerous process, even for the professionals. Marloes says that her team is currently evaluating options for floors of Solid Green’s new offices.

“We are considering natural materials such as bamboo, timber, cork and linoleum, as well as exposed polished concrete floors. To determine which one is best, we need to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of each option. The assessment criteria that we use are based on 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,” says Marloes.

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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