Greenbuild Review - December 2010

By Darius Helm & Kemp Harr


This year’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo was back in Chicago’s McCormick Place West, site of Greenbuild 2007, though it took up about twice as much space. According to U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) representatives at the show, there were 1,000 exhibiting companies, about the same as last year, with over 1,800 exhibit spaces, and attendance was expected to top 27,000.

This year’s keynote speaker was General Colin Powell, who delivered an address at an opening plenary that also included political pundits Mary Matalin and James Carville. The closing plenary featured Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, as well as pioneering environmentalist Paul Hawken, who was also on hand at InterfaceFlor’s booth to autograph copies of his book.

While the show floor was fairly active, many industry observers noted that it was the conferences and education sessions that really drew the crowds. Part of the challenge for the Greenbuild show is that it represents a fledgling industry, and as such knowledge is the real commodity. People travel from all around the world to learn about processes, strategies, public policies, LEED systems, certifications, management and conservation, sustainable design—and the education sessions were absolutely jam-packed. 

Another challenge facing the exhibition portion of the event takes the form of a culture clash. The culture of trade shows has always been about glitz and drama—think about the Surfaces show, with all the stunning booths and displays, exotic parties, giveaways, celebrity spokespeople, models clad in laminate cocktail dresses—while the green movement, with its emphasis on minimal environmental footprints, is all about restraint. It would be poor form for a manufacturer to build a towering, lavish space to promote its sustainable wares.

That’s why Shaw, for instance, which used to show at Surfaces in a space big enough for a bullfight, showed at Greenbuild with nothing more than a kiosk and information pillars—and flooring that, packed up, could have been hauled out on the back of a burro. Tandus, InterfaceFlor, Milliken, Bentley Prince Street, Mohawk, J+J/Invision, Armstrong, Johnsonite—all the big players were notable for their minimalist exhibits.

Also, product shows are traditionally about design and the sensory experience—in the case of flooring, visual and tactile—of new products, so it makes sense for manufacturers to exhibit as much product as possible. However, in the case of sustainable products, and particularly for flooring as opposed to, say, building products, the green attributes people want to know about tend to be invisible. A carpet with 50% post-consumer content or with a neutral environmental footprint generally looks no different from any other carpet. FSC-certified hardwood looks no different from hardwood from clear-cut forests. So what is there to show?

Show Highlights
Nevertheless, Shaw did make the most of the situation with prominent signage hanging from the ceiling all around the show floor pointing out that all the carpet in the aisles came from Shaw and would, after its useful life, be converted back into carpet again.

Shaw’s actual exhibit space, centered on the message of “making sustainable personal,” featured a handful of pillars, each covering a different aspect of Shaw’s sustainable strategies, including its cradle-to-cradle story, its waste-to-energy initiatives, and its recycled PET bottle program. One pillar was dedicated to Make It Right donations. The Make It Right project, introduced by founding partner Bill McDonough at Shaw’s first annual sustainability breakfast, is tasked with building 150 LEED homes in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Actor Brad Pitt is a co-founder of the project.

Crossville unveiled its innovative Sustainable Samples Kit. The lightweight 10”x4” box, which features thin yet high resolution flashcards of every style in Crossville’s porcelain lines, should drastically reduce tile sample shipments for the preliminary stages of product selection. Each flashcard has a QR code on the back, which allows designers to look up additional specifications at the click of a button. Crossville is also starting to get traction with its Take-Back tile recycling program.

Bentley Prince Street announced that all of its products will receive Environmental Product Declarations, third-party verified, by the end of 2012. The firm began the process in 2009 with six preliminary products. In addition, Bentley Prince Street was recently tapped to be one of three pilot manufacturing facilities in California to help in the development of the new ISO 50001energy management system.

J+J/Invision came to Greenbuild with its range of NSF-140 certified products: two broadloom backing platforms with Gold certification and its Eko-backed carpet tile with Platinum certification. The firm’s Encore SD Ultima nylon 6, extruded in-house, features post-industrial content for recycled content ranging from 20% to 25% of the total weight of the product.

Invista, which manufactures Antron nylon fiber, rolled out its First Life calculator, available on the firm’s website, which allows specifiers and end users to quantify the lifecycle impact of its products. The comparative calculations are based on the relative life of the majority of “North American competitive commercial/contract carpets” compared to Antron nylon carpet of similar weights, constructions and colors, and is designed to reflect the replacement cost relating to “additional energy needed and increase in CO2 emissions for the majority of competitive carpets.”

In a continuation of the firm’s “Off Oil” campaign, InterfaceFlor’s booth featured a large graphic of a brain, the message being that we need to be smarter than oil. The firm also recently released an interactive report on its Mission Zero milestones, which include 94% reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions since 1996 and the diversion of over 100,000 tons of material through its ReEntry program.

The firm has also declared that it will obtain third-party verified Environmental Product Declarations for all its products by 2012. Mission Zero’s goal is to have zero environmental impact by 2020. A key component of the firm’s sustainability philosophy is a commitment to transparency, reflected in its Ecometrics reports.

Armstrong was at the show with its range of green products, including its linoleum collection and its high performance Migrations tile. Migrations replaces the PVC component of VCT with BioStride, a polyester with a bio-based component derived from corn polyols for a total bio-based content of 2%. The firm also showcased its commercial laminate line, with 14% rapidly renewable content derived from eucalyptus trees, as well as its four commercial hardwood collections that are FSC certified.

Tandus came to Greenbuild with its new third-party certification of its reclamation center through Scientific Certification Systems. As of now, it’s the only reclamation center guaranteed to conform to the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines for environmental claims. The firm also showcased its Genesis fiber, made of a bio-based core of polylactic acid (PLA) surrounded by a nylon 6 sheath. Total bio-based content is 15%.

Following the success of Mohawk’s SmartStrand carpet in the residential market, the firm recently introduced the fiber, made of triexta with 37% bio-based content, to the commercial market through its Karastan brand. While Mohawk has an exclusive supply agreement with DuPont for Sorona triexta on the residential side, the firm chose not to follow the same route on the commercial side, reasoning that, due to how heavily entrenched nylon 6,6 is in the commercial arena, adoption of triexta will be tougher. So the more mills that adopt it, the better it will be for Mohawk and for commercial triexta in general.

In addition to Mohawk’s range of NSF certified carpet, the firm also offers a commercial resilient product from Congoleum that’s PVC free and includes 45% post-industrial content.

Johnsonite unveiled two rubber and cork hybrid products, EcoShell with Cork and Cork Tones. EcoShell includes both cork and walnut shells for 6.9% post-industrial content and 6.9% rapidly renewable content. The 24”x24” tiles come with their own color line. Cork Tones, a construction that does not include walnut shells, uses Johnsonite’s Color Palette A, which includes a lot of neutrals and earth tones.

Milliken came to Greenbuild with two central messages: transparency and green innovation. According to Milliken, there are 348 green certifications out there, and the firm navigates through them, searching for those that best analyze products, processes and raw materials while at the same time communicating to clients the progress of the firm. 

The firm’s goal is to manufacture high performance products with reduced energy, without using toxic materials, and with a limited environmental footprint. Examples include FSC certification, participation in LEED programs, and SMART (Sustainable Materials Rating Technology) standards.

Gerflor, the French vinyl producer, was on hand on talk about Saga2, a 20”x20” loose lay product that has a 100% post-industrial recycled backing made from vinyl and cork. Gerflor also talked about its participation in the largest LEED NC Platinum project in the world, a university campus in Saudi Arabia featuring 430,000 square feet of Gerflor’s Elegance homogeneous tile, with an average post-industrial content of 27%.

The firm is also coming out with the first fully recyclable safety flooring on the market, using ground glass, which can be recycled as filler, rather than carborundum for traction.

USF Contract’s Cork Décor line is a compressed cork collection that comes in 18”x24” tile with a high performance suitable for everywhere from clinics to schools. It comes in nine colors, and that will be expanded to 18 at the beginning of the year. For now, with its Greenguard Children and Schools certification, it’s the only glue-down cork that contributes to LEED 4.3 for low emitting materials. The UV-cured bamboo offering also has the same certification.

The Vinyl Institute came to the show with a lot of literature about PVC to both dispute criticisms and advance its position on vinyl’s sustainable characteristics—including its thermoplastic properties, which allow for PVC to be remelted and reused with a far lower level of degradation than commonly remelted plastics like PET. 

Representatives also addressed phthalates, one of the biggest issues with flexible PVC, with a range of information, including how today’s producers use DINP, a phthalate with a larger molecular weight than DEHP that has not been implicated in any scientific studies to show adverse effects. 

The group also pointed to the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star program, which recently shifted its position from awarding a credit for avoiding PVC to awarding a credit for using PVC, as long as the PVC met certain criteria, including use of high molecular weight phthalates.

Earlier this summer, Florida Tile installed a porcelain crushing machine at its facility, allowing the firm to regrind its fired porcelain and incorporate it back into product for a 10% post-industrial recycled content. The crushing machine was modified from the glass industry. The content applies to all tile made in the U.S., which accounts for 87% of everything the firm sells in North America.

Teragren showcased its Portfolio line of strand bamboo in ten colors, including several dark hues, featuring a modified Välinge 2G click system, but the big news for the firm was its partnership with high end hospitality furniture product Vaughn Benz for a range of bamboo furniture for commercial applications. The partnership should help build Teragren’s brand in the commercial, A&D driven marketplace.

Mullican is one of the few hardwood producers with a dedicated FSC certified line. Green Haven was first launched with a range of solid domestic hardwoods, but over the last year has been expanded with engineered domestics in red and white oak, hickory and maple, as well as engineered exotics responsibly harvested in Brazil. Green Haven now comprises 26 styles, including some handscraped looks.

The big news at CBC Flooring was the full launch of its Indelval line of rubber flooring made in Argentina. The line includes Viva, 22 colors in a homogeneous collection with a hammered finish, all designed specifically for the North American market. Indelval’s products feature a minimum 10% natural rubber, a rapidly renewable resource. The firm’s Indelcol Plus and Indelcol TX are double backed products with both post-consumer and post-industrial recycled content in the backing.

MP Global’s UltraLayer Peel & Stick is a self-adhesive crack isolation and acoustical membrane for ceramic tile, and it’s made from post-industrial recycled synthetic fiber. Like all MP Global products, UltraLay Peel & Stick is third-party certified for recycled content.

Universal Textile Technologies (UTT) showcased its latest innovative environmental programs through exhibits with three affiliated companies that use its backing products: SynLawn, AstroTurf and EcoPath. UTT also announced the launch of its residential programs, which will be unveiled at Surfaces. 

SynLawn, which produces synthetic grass for both residential and commercial applications, uses UTT’s soy-based EnviroLoc. EcoPath’s 100% recyclable entryway mats, which can be customized with graphics using waterjet technology, include several lines that are “40% to 80% green by weight” using natural rubber, soy technology and recycled PET. The big news at AstroTurf is the Root Zone system that uses nylon fibers to help the PET fibers stand up, which not only improves performance but also reduces by more than half the use of rubber infill.

Forbo’s linoleum is bio-based from top to bottom, including its TopShield protective water-based wearlayer. The firm purchases 100% renewable energy in both Holland, where the sheet goods are made, and Scotland, where Marmoleum tile (MCT) is produced. Since the product itself is already so green, the firm’s sustainability committee is currently analyzing its LCAs to see how it can further lower its embodied energy in the production process. Water-based adhesives also help maintain the product’s green profile.

Centiva’s three product lines—Contour, Victory and Event—all feature recycled content in varying degrees, and all but homogeneous Victory includes post-consumer content. The firm has backed up its pledge to steadily increase recycled content with gains in all lines. Stria, a heterogeneous product in the Victory line, currently leads the pack with total recycled content at about 53%. 

Through SCS 002, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) is heavily involved in the development of a comparative EPD (environmental product declaration) based on the new draft national ANSI LCA standard. The standard is in the final stages with ANSI, which will be followed by a public comment period. If all goes as planned, the standard should be released in 2011.

Weyerhaeuser, which produces Lyptus eucalyptus flooring, has formed an alliance with Global Market Partners (GMP) to be the exclusive global marketer of the entire Lyptus line, responsible for the sales, marketing and logistics of the product. 

Lyptus has many green characteristics—it takes 15 years from seedling to harvest and 99% of every log gets used—but what the firm is focusing on now is FSC certification for the 1.4 million hectares of forestry managed by Fibria, its Brazilian partner. That may take a year or two. There are also plans for FloorScore certification.

Smith & Fong announced that its Plyboo strand bamboo flooring is now FSC certified, which means that all of the firm’s bamboo flooring has achieved FSC certification. The firm has also added to its offering with a line of stunning sugar palm flooring, which, like its coconut palm line, is generated from trees that have grown too old to yield fruit.

Wicanders, an Amorim cork brand, showcased its commercial line of products, including the Corkcomfort line of 18”x24” floating products with designs and colorations that will likely broaden cork’s appeal. Also on display was Corkplank, a line of 43/8”x36” planks in 12 looks, assembled in Wisconsin for the North American market. The firm’s Acrodur binder, developed by BASF, features a range of green characteristics and was instrumental in achieving Greenguard certification.

The entire offering of Nydree Flooring, formerly Gammapar and PermaGrain, is FSC certified. Its engineered COR products have gained solid traction in the commercial market thanks to the styling and colors of the aspen strand top veneer as well as the acrylic impregnation that enables their use in high traffic areas, like restaurants.

Mondo Idea, a new coordinated flooring system with a solid, speckled and patterned component from rubber flooring producer Mondo, recently received the Nightingale Award for Healthcare Product Design from Contract magazine and The Center for Healthcare Design for its sustainability, functionality, durability, design, pricing and overall contribution to the quality of healthcare.

Part of Expanko’s focus has been educating people about the difference between solid cork floors and floating floors. While floating engineered floors are ideal for residential and light commercial applications, solid cork can handle high traffic areas like museums, churches and higher education applications like libraries, where its sound absorption qualities are also in demand. The firm’s rubber products, like Reztec, have third party certification for recycled content through SCS, with total recycled content, post-industrial and post-consumer, ranging from 35% to 100%. 

Copyright 2010 Floor Focus 

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