Retailers in the flooring business can be forgiven if they cringe a bit when they hear Green these days. They are not opposed to being environmentally responsible; it’s just that they keep hearing it over and over. It seems everyone touts it, embraces it and tries to leverage it to their advantage. Companies are bending over backwards to out-green each other and consumers love the concept-as long as it doesn’t cost extra. Meanwhile, with sales slumping, many dealers wonder if the whole saving-the-planet thing can wait until business picks up.
What follows is a rundown of how each major category in flooring is grappling with the Green issue. Not, surprisingly, every manufacturer thatNFTspoke with insisted Green is not a fad. Environmental sustainability is here to stay, they say. Everything else is just details that will be worked out in the months, years and (if we’re lucky) millenniums yet to come. Here, then, are some things to consider to make understanding Green easier:
Carpet, fiber and backingPerhaps no place in flooring is the race to be Green more pronounced. Case in point: The upscale carpet and rug maker Bentley Prince Street has grabbed Green with both hands. Its philosophy is to incorporate sustainability into everything it does. To prove the point the company created a 95,000 sq. ft. red carpet for a parade prior to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in New York. Every inch of it was recycled into new carpet through the company’s ReEntry 2.0 reclamation program.
The same approach can be found in Bentley Prince Street’s new line of broadloom and carpet tile. According to Catherine Minervini, BPS’s vp marketing, the Zip Stitch collection is the first to use at least 33 percent ReEntry 2.0 fiber in its construction. “Once we get over these humps and get it right, it becomes second nature,” she says. “It’s important to hit those milestones in development.”
Despite the strides seen, she adds that soft surface is still fertile ground for Green and it goes beyond the part consumers see. The company also now offers a line of carpet tile backing made using a next generation thermoplastic technology. The line is produced at the company’s Los Angeles facility to further save on energy and money. Management says these advances help “green the bottom line.”
Universal Fibers calls its Green plan EarthSmart Technology. Post-consumer carpet is resurrected as new nylon 6,6 fiber available in a wide range of eye-catching colors. Bill Goodman, vp marketing, says advancements in recycling technology have the added bonus of encouraging more people to recycle. “We are beginning to see the impact when viable new technologies such as EarthSmart come onto the scene,” he says. “At today’s rate of carpet recycling, more than 100 pounds of used carpet is now being diverted from a landfill every 30 seconds.”
Turning old carpet into new material remains a big priority for Shaw Industries, one of the first manufacturers to adopt large-scale cradle-to-cradle recycling. Its Evergreen Nylon Recycling Plant in Augusta, Ga., which opened last year, has already diverted more than 100 million pounds of carpet from the landfill. Now Shaw will start collecting cooking oil from local restaurants and homes to help fuel its Andalusia, Ala., plant. The plant has been outfitted to process as much as 100 gallons of cooking oil every two days. The company’s environmental marketing manager, John Bradshaw, says the goal is to be the No. 1 Green company in flooring. “Sustainability is core to Shaw’s long-term growth strategy, and we are commitment to taking the leadership position in sustainability today and into the future,” he notes.
Mohawk, meanwhile, recycles more than 3 billion plastic bottles a year to make its EverStrand P.E.T. polyester carpet. Additionally, the company has teamed with DuPont to create Mohawk SmartStrand carpets with DuPont Sorona polymer. This special polymer breaks new ground because it is derived from corn sugar and not fossil fuels, thus ensuring the carpet’s renewable content.
HardwoodWhat’s more Green than wood? Together with bamboo and cork, hardwood flooring already derives its products from renewable resources. To foster Green-cred, manufacturers are insisting their raw materials be harvested only in forestry group approved forests (where replanting programs are mandatory). They are also reclaiming old wood and reformulating adhesives to be VOC-free.
Southern Wood Floors, for example, makes its Antique Heart Pine flooring using wood harvested from buildings that date from the 19th century. The vintage pine is shipped to Georgia, precision milled and turned into authentic antique planks.
Shaw has also found a unique method to sustainability. Its EnviroCore inner core means each Epic hardwood plank includes wood fiber that would otherwise be discarded. Rick Ramirez, Shaw’s vp sustainability, says it is a reflection of Shaw’s “aggressive” push for more Green products.
“We are committed to continued leadership in corporate sustainability in the flooring industry,” he says. “We fulfill that commitment through our strong foundation of great people, enterprise capabilities and innovatively designed products.”
Another staple of hardwood flooring is the products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (among others) for following responsible forestry practices. For its part, Mullican Flooring has been certified by Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers Inc. as “Verified Sustainable.” The designation is important because it is specific to Appalachian forests.
Cork and bamboo manufacturers are also eager to tell their Green story. Among the most notable efforts is APC Cork with its tagline “Sustainable living from the ground up.” Similarly, Global Market Partners calls its QU-Cork line the “perfect environmental flooring choice.”
Bamboo products maker Teragren has even reformulated the adhesive used in its flooring. While the company says its adhesive is already “virtually formaldehyde-free,” an optional adhesive containing not even a trace amount of the chemical can be requested.
John Woolsey, a vp for Anderson Hardwood Floors, notes that while the rush to go Green is increasingly driven by bottom line considerations, the goal is not saving money. “Being green is important, but not as a marketing tool,” he says. “It’s an ethical imperative. Being green is something we should do even when no one is looking.”
LaminateHighly processed and engineered with chemical compounds, laminate flooring presents a unique set of challenges. However, manufacturers say they are rising to the challenge to create Greener results.
In addition to using at least 80 percent pre-consumer recycled material, Tarkett Residential is using scrap wood chips in the core board of its laminate. The chips are gathered at more than 100 lumber plants within a 200-mile radius of the company’s Clarion, Pa.-based plant. Gary Finseth, Tarkett Residential’s marketing director, says this practice offers benefits on a number of levels. “We recycle an important, available raw material, as well as save on energy by drawing these materials from within a close, geographic footprint,” he notes. It’s part of the company’s “Balance Planning” which takes into consideration “the raw materials that go into all our products and how they affect the way they can be reclaimed in the end.”
Steve Ehrlich, director of marketing for Faus, notes that laminate is in fact an environmentally conscious product. “It’s made of easily renewable species like pine and oak, and provides American and exotic looks without the environmental impact. It’s long-lasting and therefore fewer discarded floors end up in landfills.” He adds that Faus collects wood chips and sawdust to make into heating pellets and recycles everything from plastic bottles to metal banding at its plants.
Quick-Step’s vp of marketing Roger Farabee confirms that about 74 percent of the content in the company’s products is pre-consumer recycled material. It also reprocesses its wood waste into fuel while core boards are made from managed-forest lumber and recycled wood products. “We believe it makes make good business sense. So we seek ways to recycle, reduce, reuse, recover and renew,” he says.
ResilientIt this highly competitive category manufacturers say it is not enough to be Green. Sustainable products that perform well and look fantastic remain a top priority. Roppe and its sister company Flexco’s products are “specifically engineered to use pre- and post-consumer waste in their formulations,” according to Flexco’s Melissa Quick. She adds that the companies’ Green position is partly the result of the expectations of its customers, including many healthcare facilities. “We strive to develop new and innovative products that promote the green effort,” she says. “These products need to provide healthy places for people to live and work in.”
Johnsonite’s Green theme is its “Triple Bottom Line” message. The environmental policy is simple: “We believe that truly sustainable products must be good for the environment, good for people and good for the bottom line.”
Forbo Flooring Systems, maker of Marmoleum linoleum floors, notes that its flooring is derived from linseed oil, a naturally occurring product, and also contains a range of renewable materials: rosins, wood flour, jute and, according to the company, environmentally friendly pigments.
Not to be outdone, Armstrong’s BioBased Tile range is made using BioStride, a polymer derived from corn, and contains at least 10 percent recycled materials.
Mannington, meanwhile, recently launched Jumpstart RE, with backing made using about 10 percent recycled content (it is certified by FloorScore for good indoor air quality as well). The company also revamped its Relay RE line of commercial flooring to include 20 percent recycled carpet from the company’s LOOP carpet reclamation program. “We are the first and only flooring company that has developed a process that recycles carpet into resilient,” says Dave Kitts, Mannington’s vp environment.
Both Amtico and Ceres have unveiled lines that the companies say contain no PVCs, a potentially harmful chemical. Amtico offers the Stratica range of non-PVC flooring. According to David Voll, Amtico’s director of marketing, one of the major benefits of the flooring is good indoor air quality. “A low VOC product is essentially for healthcare, our biggest and fastest growing market,” he maintains. “In this segment, we’re even taking sales from carpet because of the problems associated with allergies.”
Non-PVC flooring options from Ceres include WELS sheet and Sequoia plank. The company’s senior marketing manager Edward “Chip” Braulick explains that the company’s origins as a cork floor maker helped lay the groundwork for a company deeply committed to environmental responsibility. “We are constantly looking at ways to evolve existing products as well as new product that supplement what we have with an even stronger green message,” Braulick says. “Whether that means high recycled content or using highly renewable resources, the Ceres brand is a natural for expanding in those directions.”
Tile and floor installation productsBecause it is derived from minerals, stones and clays that come from the earth, tile is indisputably Green. But those looking for an edge in this venerable product area continue to develop new technologies that further the Green content. Ergon Engineered Stone, for example, has recently introduced the Green Tech series of tile, made using 40 percent post-industrial material. It is one of a several companies that are adding recycled content to their tile lines.
The focus is also on grouts, adhesives, underlayments and other ancillary items. To remain competitive, manufacturers say their products must be as environmentally friendly as possible. Laticrete, for example, takes a top-down approach. “Our green strategy encompasses our entire operation, from raw material selection to manufacturing and packaging,” says Sean Boyle, director of marketing and product management. A high percentage of recycled content in its products and packaging and a commitment to meeting stringent Greenguard standards for good indoor air quality are the pillars, says Boyle. He adds that Laticrete is also “using alternative forms of energy to power our manufacturing facilities.”
Of course, installation products go well beyond tile. Taylor Adhesives offers a wide range of products under its Envirotec brand that meet the requirements of the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label program, ensuring good environmental benefits.
Jack Boesch, director of sales and marketing for MP Global Products, says his operation has been Green “since day one.” Along with its QuietWalk underlayment, the company is in testing on a FiberBacker crack isolation membrane that offers distinct environmental benefits.
“We can’t get much greener than we already are,” he says. “Some of our products are already third-party certified up to 95 percent recycled content and for highest indoor air quality by Scientific Certification Systems.”
MAPEI, which is well-known for its Green commitment, has been producing the ECO line of adhesives for nearly two decades. Now it is touting Dust-Free Technology, which is designed to ensure far better air quality.
Rainer Blair, MAPEI Americas’ president and CEO, says it reflects a personal passion. “Environmental responsibility is the right thing to do for the future of our planet and our children. The most important and positive change in our industry is the growing adoption of environmentally sustainable construction practices,” he says.
Similarly John Lio, marketing manager for DriTac, assures his company’s wood flooring adhesives are designed with air quality in mind. He adds that there is no turning back. “In our view, Green is here to stay and in fact, has already moved into mainstream. Green in many ways has already moved from a movement to a lifestyle. Our industry, country and world have already embraced this movement with open arms,” he notes. “Green products will continue to grow in importance and will have a major impact in the coming years.”
Industry groups teach dealers to ‘talk with authority'Turning “Green” (as in environmentally friendly) into “green” (as in cold hard cash) is the idea behind educational initiatives launched by the World Floor Covering Association and the National Wood Flooring Association. Both trade groups say it is crucial that retailers and contractors-who are often the first point of contact for consumers looking for flooring -speak with confidence about environmental issues.
D. Christopher Davis, president and CEO of the WFCA, notes that commercial flooring has led the way. Now the residential side has to catch up. “There has been a shift toward Green becoming more of a primary consideration, but that has not peaked yet,” he notes. “If Green means greater expense, consumers will invariably choose the less expensive alternative. However, consumers are also looking at the lifecycle of the product and its cost over time, and they really do have some interest in what happens to the floor after its useful life.”
To help its case, the WFCA has a Green Primer on its website at www.wfca-pro.org. “We put it together to educate our members, so they can talk with authority about Green issues with their customers,” Davis says.
The NWFA is also educating its members about the Green benefits of flooring. Specifically, the group has posted a study from the University at Wisconsin at www.nwfa.org which, among other things, claims that wood floors have one of the highest lifecycles of any material, offer the best air quality, and use minimal energy to produce. “Green products will have a huge impact on our industry,” assures Ed Korczak, president and CEO of the NWFA. “Which means that we need to address environmental issues so that end-users will be better informed about green flooring options.”