Faced with a sharp increase in the cost of petrochemicals and other raw material, carpet fiber makers are turning to Plan B: Mother Nature. By including natural materials or recycled content, manufacturers are finding that the payoff reflects on their image and their bottom line. Still, suppliers note that, while “Green” is still mostly a commercial concern, the consumer mindset is beginning to shift to environmentally friendly products.
Franco Rossi, president of Aquafil USA, said there is a simple reason why more fiber suppliers are going “Green.” “To sum it up: ‘Green’ is the hot issue in everything to do with fiber,” he says.
His company recently introduced Econyl 75, which features 75 percent recycled content. “The fiber is one of the ‘Greenest’ in the industry,” Rossi says. “It features 70 percent post-industrial and 5 percent post-consumer content. The remaining 25 percent is virgin polymer.”
The name selected for another recent debut from a fiber company reflects the growing importance of “Green” as a marketing tool. Universal Fibers recently unveiled its EarthSmart Technology. The company said its objective is to stress the “Green” aspects of the company and its products from the bottom up, including “manufacturing processes and equipment, recycled and recyclable products, waste saving systems and facility conservation.”
The new technology has led the company to “produce the first-ever post-consumer nylon 6,6 fiber from recycled fiber.” Called Refresh Fiber, the product features a wide array of color options and enhanced performance characteristics, the company says.
Jay Loughran, director of sales, contract carpet, for Solutia’s Ultron brand, says that “Green” products are indeed poised to take the marketplace by storm. But first, they need to get past the roadblock of increased production costs and higher price tags.
“‘Green’ has gotten into the mainstream enough that people are really beginning to think about it,” he says. “However, that doesn’t mean people are ready to pay [extra] for it. As processes and collection gets better the costs will go down, but right now it’s still a bit more expensive for a ‘Green’ product.”
He notes that while his company does offer some recycled content yarn and “is in development for even more,” Ultron is squarely focusing its attention on fiber performance. The company recently released StainGuard, a stain treatment designed to “emulate the aesthetics of solution-dyed nylon.” He says what manufacturers want, and what this treatment aims to provide, is a highly stain-resistant product that offers a wide range of colors and styles for commercial carpets. That, he says, is of higher concern than “Green” looks right now.
He adds that his company has focused recently on “upper-end, better quality Stainmaster goods.” This includes Luxerell, a new fiber that offers “Stainmaster performance with a soft cashmere hand.” Products such as Luxerell, he believes, will ensure that “nylon stays way up there in the marketplace.”
Mike Leary, director of external fiber sales for Shaw’s Anso nylon, also says that despite pricing pressures nylon is here to stay. He credits this largely to the emergence of nylons in the “type 6” category, which are designed to be recycled. This ensures that new products can be made from old carpets, which reduces some of the stress on raw materials. “Nylon 6 represents over half of all nylon for carpet,” he says.
Anso nylon is a large part of Shaw’s Green Edge sustainability initiative. “The carpets can truly be recycled cradle to cradle,” Leary notes, adding that Anso products “contain the output of Shaw’s large-scale recycling efforts, including recycling 100 million pounds of carpet in the past 12 months alone.” The company’s newest Anso offerings include 20 patterns in Shaw’s Savvy Spaces collection as well as new Tuftex carpets.
The commercial side of Shaw’s fiber business, Zeftron, also keeps recycled content at the forefront. Tim Blount, business leader for Zeftron, said the company aims to offer “high styled product offerings that offer documented attributes for performance and recyclability.”
To that end, all Zeftron nylon products now feature the Enviro6ix designation. “This guarantees a minimum of 25 percent recycled content in every color of our extensive palette,” Blount notes.
Along with nylon, polyester products are also on the rise. According to Jenny Cross, senior brand manager of Mohawk Residential, sales of the company’s polyester carpets are growing. Additionally, Mohawk’s SmartStrand carpets, including those made using DuPont Sorona polymer, have brought a lot of attention to the company’s “Green” philosophy. (Sorona polymer is derived from corn.)
She says an added advantage of working with natural materials is relatively few surprises in costs. “What’s nice about Sorona is the instant stability in cost because we’re not relying so heavily on petrochemicals,” she says, noting that as more suppliers look to this aspect of renewable resources, the more “Green” will grow in the industry.
“The ‘Green’ movement is getting bigger and bigger,” she says. “Before long it’s going to become the standard as opposed to the niche.”