Asking flooring manufacturers about their commitment to the environment is like asking a proud parent to show you pictures of his kids. Only in this instance, the kids are all grown up and off recycling on their own. One of the most under-reported stories about our industry is its long-standing commitment to minimizing the impact of flooring on the environment. Mannington chairman Keith Campbell summed it up pretty well when he recently told NFT, “The ‘green’ movement has been on our radar screen since before it became a popular and politically correct thing to do.”
That’s not just true for
Mannington; that is the case with all the proven leaders in our industry. So
wide ranging is Shaw’s involvement in environmental concerns that it recently
established a branding initiative called “The Shaw Green Edge” to better
communicate the story. Flexco has its impressive “nature friendly” product
line, EnviroFlex. MAPEI has its far reaching “Green Innovation” commitment.
Roppe markets its ground breaking Eco Effects brand. And let’s not over look
the Carpet and Rug Institute’s noble efforts to encourage sustainability.
The list of flooring-related
environmental initiatives could fill this magazine 10 times over. It’s a core
value of our industry and it comes in many forms. A determined effort to
recycle all carpet and underlay material, planting trees to replace what is
harvested for hardwood and lowering the VOCs found in adhesives are only a few
of the ways flooring has responded to the challenges. All of this has been
going on for years and continues to gain momentum.
Certainly, there is a lot to
be impressed by and proud of, but there has always been one seemingly
inescapable barrier: oil-based fuel. It is not just the enormous costs for
transporting huge, bulky flooring products all around the globe. A great many
of our industry’s products can not be manufactured without mixing in a generous
supply of fossil fuels. With oil costs rising and supplies ever dwindling, the
search for a Plan B has become more urgent. Now, it looks like the answer may
be emerging in a sleepy little town nestled on the banks of the Tennessee
It is there that Tate &
Lyle, an 85-year old British firm that specializes in converting food into
fuel, teamed with the huge chemical company DuPont to develop something for the
flooring industry. Mohawk’s management had called on the joint venture to help sever the petroleum
ball and chain. After some serious lab work, a $100 million plant in Loudon,
Tenn. will now use corn sugar to produce Bio-PDO, a key ingredient for the carpet polymer DuPont
Sorona. Until now, polymers were made using a petroleum derivative, which is
why this stands as an historic breakthrough. At an event at the plant to launch
the venture earlier this summer, the scientists who figured it out were honored
by the American Chemical Society with a “Heroes of Chemistry” award.
It may have been the people
in lab coats with pocket protectors who concocted this breakthrough, but if
someone ever comes up with a “Heroes of
Floorcovering” award, I’d like to nominate Mohawk’s chairman and ceo
Jeff Lorberbaum. It was under his leadership that Mohawk has been able to
address a serious and long-term impediment to the manufacture of carpet.
Beginning this fall, Mohawk will begin selling SmartStrand carpet using the
bio-based polymer. Company brass assure that the performance and quality will
not be compromised and that prices will be unaffected.
To be clear, the new bio-based
approach is not entirely “green.” The manufacturing process still requires
petrochemicals and it will be a long time before the technology completely
replaces the old oil-based way. Still, as Lorberbaum observes, “This is
allowing us to take the next step in environmental sustainability.”
Sustainability is a huge
consideration, but there is another observation made by a colleague of
Lorberbaum’s that sums it up as well as any. In talking about his company’s Eco
Effects brand, Roppe chairman Don Miller made a seemingly simple comment that
speaks volumes about his company’s philosophy on the environment: “We are
accountable for all the resources we use,” he said. That is something Mohawk
and many others in flooring seem to understand. It is also a mentality that
should be a mantra for every company-and every human being-on the planet.
Editorial Comment: Mohawk changes the oil
August 15, 2007