The pandemic has not only emphasized health and wellness, it has also highlighted all facets of sustainability, from recycled content to carbon reduction. As manufacturers and specifiers look for ways to limit negative impacts on the environment, innovative solutions and tools for education are being offered so that people can make more responsible choices—starting with flooring.
When companies used to discuss sustainability there was often a narrow focus on one or two areas, and even fewer product offerings that were truly sustainable. Manufacturers are now striving to ensure that more key elements are addressed, while being as transparent as possible about their processes.
“All the segments are concerned about providing health and safety for their employees and customers,” said Roxane Spears, vice president of sustainability, Tarkett North America. “It's a real shift to a holistic approach to material selection and long-term maintenance for our projects now, whereas I don't think that was always the case. Before, maybe it was an underlying concern, and today it’s a primary concern.”
Richard French, vice president of global sales and marketing at Bentley Mills, has also noted an increased interest in a broader look at sustainability. “The biggest change in the industry is the attention to this holistic approach. There are buckets of sustainability: chemicals of concern, carbon reduction, social equity. People might have checked one box of those three before. People are trying to check every box now, and be a little more thoughtful in what they do.”
At Bona, a floor care company founded in Sweden in 1919, sustainability has been a driving force since the beginning. “We’ve been talking about sustainability for over a hundred years, so the pandemic hasn’t really changed anything that we're doing in particular,” noted Heather Lindemann, global senior communications manager, Bona. “We are hearing more people talking about it, and we've been focusing on education. We’re taking what we have learned for all these years and really trying to share it with the industry. We want to provide this information because it's going to have to be a collective effort to create some lasting changes.”
Indeed, the next generation of designers is demanding swift change. They want sustainable materials and access to up-to-date information. According to a recent survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects, 79% of architects (97% of millennials) would like to specify more sustainable materials than they do today. But 43% said they lack the time or resources to research sustainable products, and 28% said it’s too difficult to find information on product/material sustainability.
The Tarkett Floorprint aims to provide some of the much needed information, and make specifying flooring less complicated. The Floorprint is a set of 12 documents, one for each major category of Tarkett’s product collections, detailing all pertinent data and certification information in one convenient location. “The Tarkett Floorprint is one way to show our customers how we're approaching sustainability,” Spears said. “We’re hoping to impress upon specifiers that they need to look at everything, and need to take all of this into account when they are sourcing products. They are creating buildings that are going to last for decades, impacting the people and space within a community.”
While producing flooring with sustainable materials is an improvement, companies are also aware that making less products that end up in landfills is vital to the health of people and the planet, at a time when natural resources continue to dwindle. “We’re looking at ways to reduce the raw materials that we use, yet still offer a beautiful product with a higher-end aesthetic. I think the end-of-life story will be a trend,” French explained.
Spears agreed, and added that a closer examination of what happens at the end of life is just as crucial as what we do at the start of the cycle. “I think the concern about the climate and all of these carbon initiatives have forced us to look at the bigger picture. Adding recycled content to the product lowers the carbon footprint of the product, and considering how you're going to maintain the product is also important. At the end of life, we need a plan for our products. We want to know that we can give it back to the manufacturer, so that it's not going to go into a landfill.”
Bona is known for wood floor care and has long promoted proper maintenance, rather than installing all-new flooring. “Sanding and refinishing wood floors has been around for a long time,” said Lindemann. “We know that wood floor refinishing can be done really sustainably. What hasn't been on top of people's minds is the resilient side—rubber, PVC, laminate, LVT.”
Lindemann explained that standard methods of stripping resilient flooring involve toxic chemicals, and the process of adding another coat of polish has to be repeated throughout the year due to heavy traffic and wear. Eventually damage or dirt hinder peak performance, and the floor is torn up. The Bona Commercial System Resilient Floor Solution can be used to renovate and refinish resilient flooring, so that it looks and performs like new.
A study and accompanying report by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute found that refinishing resilient flooring can offer up to a 92% reduction in carbon footprint versus replacing. Additionally, refinishing the surface can realize at least 90% savings in energy resources. “Renovate, don’t replace. Let’s keep that floor and just make it beautiful again,” Lindemann added.With sustainability at the forefront, we’ll continue to have flooring that is designed with the total wellness of people and planet in mind. “We’ve had a reality check. We are looking at healthy materials and the climate. We’re looking at how we’re giving back to our communities and how the factories are run. It’s the big picture,” Spears said.