While “Green” – as in “environmental sustainability” – has long been a driving force in the commercial flooring business, the gauge to measure standards is evolving rapidly. The gold standard remains the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process, but now that environmental considerations are a dominant theme other third-party ratings processes are elbowing their way onto the scene.
Manufacturers acknowledge that there exists an alphabet soup of organizations and acronyms – EPP, NSF, SCS, etc. – that offer a Green stamp of approval on products. Apart from the potential to confuse the consumer, the various standards make it difficult to pin down the exact specifications that make a green product “green.”
Jenny Rogers, director of creative marketing and sustainability for commercial carpet maker J&J/Invision, says “green” has become the No. 1 one consideration for commercial specifiers, more so than even aesthetics and performance. “Green has gone beyond a consideration,” she says. “Now it’s a must. Your products aren’t even looked at if they’re not sustainable.”
As the components of “green” have expanded well beyond recycling, so too have the methods of monitoring the industry's progress. Organizations that take into consideration energy efficiency and sustainable processes have sprung up, each with their own ratings system. FloorScore, for example, measures a product’s effect on indoor air quality. Meanwhile, Environmentally Preferable Products aim to speak directly to the “green” needs of commercial contractors, facility managers and commercial building owners. Perhaps recognizing the flurry of activity from other organizations, the USGBC itself plans to unveil a new version of its LEED system in January 2009.
Henning Bloech, global sustainability director for commercial fiber supplier Antron, agrees the definition of “green” has grown like a weed. “It has changed, there’s no question about it,” he notes, adding, “It has transformed the business tremendously. It changes the way the products are made. It changes the way we look at things.”
He describes it as “a more sophisticated approach.” Included now are factors related to a product’s entire lifecycle. He also notes that Antron views its products from a similar “holistic standpoint.”
“We start at the durability level. No matter what green features a product may have, it has to meet our highest performance criteria first,” Bloech says. “Then we consider things like ‘how do we make this product with less materials, or recycled materials?’”
Tarkett sister companies Azrock and Johnsonite create products with similar considerations in mind. “We’ve seen a very strong interest from the end-users to get environmental products and when I say environmental it’s a lot about the indoor air quality, about lifecycle cost, and about reducing maintenance,” says Diane Martel, vp marketing for Tarkett Commercial Tile, which includes Azrock. She says these concerns tie into the companies’ “Triple Bottom Line” initiative, which considers not only the “green” content, but the product’s impact on health … and the wallet.
Jeff Krejsa, director of marketing for Johnsonite, agrees. “When we look to our product solutions and services, as well as our manufacturing systems and procedures, we ensure that what we are doing is balanced in relationship to people, the environment and the bottom line,” he says. “Specifiers have gone beyond just looking for recycled content – now they ask more questions about raw materials, energy consumption and energy savings as well.”
These questions underscore an observation made by Dave Kitts, Mannington’s vp environment during a recent meeting at the company’s headquarters in Salem, N.J. He noted that the focus on the environment will remain a constant journey. “Green is not a single attribute,” he said. “It’s both yin and yang, and not just black and white.”
During that same meeting, the company’s CEO Tom Davis talked about new “green” ventures including the recycling of construction-grade drywall into VCT tile. Additionally, the company is teaming with Wilmington, Del.-based Alliance Recovery Corp. to build an alternative energy plant designed to convert waste rubber tires into alternative energy.
For its part, Beaulieu Commercial is investing in wind power to help keep its plants humming, according to Clay Rigsby, Beaulieu Commercial’s environmental development manager. Essentially, some of the plants harness energy directly from wind power, where others buy wind credits to cover the difference.
Rigsby acknowledges that the initiative is not about saving money, as the company is essentially paying separate bills: one for “our power bill and one for wind energy to be put back on the power grid,” he says. But he notes these types of investments are necessarily in order to ensure continued progress in renewable energy. “The more you invest in renewable energy, the more you encourage companies to look for new resources,” he says.
His company is committed to ensuring that every product is as “green” as possible, Rigsby notes. This means the recycled material that finds its way into the company’s carpet tile includes plastic water bottles and glass from windshields and computer monitors. “I can honestly say that even before the green movement we had a lot of things in place, because it’s the right thing to do,” he says. “Now people are asking a lot of the right questions, and we try to be as transparent as possible.”