The challenge every year in putting together this sustainability report is largely about facing down the intimidating excess of information and data and sifting through it to figure out how everything works. Every year seems to bring more standards and certifications, more reporting methodologies, more opposing views, more controversy, and in general more experts to speak with to cover all the growing elements in the sustainability discussion.
The complexity, which from a distance can look a lot like chaos, tends to get our attention, as we try to boil down the issues and focus the information for our readers. And that can mean that the most obvious aspect of this drive toward sustainability is often overlooked: it's a growth industry.
As the U.S. economy tries to find another gear, and as the global economy struggles to regain some stability, there's a constant shortage of good employment news. Even the slowly but steadily failing unemployment rate masks the real crisis for the American worker: people are having to make do with less work and less money. However, one sector posting steady growth is green jobs.
According to the latest report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "total employment associated with the production of Green Goods and Services" increased to 2.6% in 2011 to over 3.4 million jobs, accounting for 2.3% of private sector markets for green jobs are in manufacturing and construction, each accounting for nearly half a million jobs. Overall, the green job market grew by nearly 5% from 2010 to 2011.
Unfortunately, we may never see 2012 numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics because the sequestration cut the bureau's budget by more than $30 million, and one of the programs that had to be cut to accommodate the budget was the measurement of green jobs.
THE CARPET SPECIALISTS
The leading commercial carpet mills have all made solid progress down the road to sustainability, and leading the way is Interface, which pioneered the greening of carpet in the 1990s through the vision of its founder, Ray Anderson, and continues to gain accolades for its well-developed approach to sustainability.
Somehow, Interface continually manages to be one step ahead of the industry. Two years ago, the firm already had EPDs on half of its products—it was the first North American carpet producer with an EPD. Now, with EPDs for all of its products across the globe, the firm is quickly moving to create HPDs for its products. The firm already has a completed HPD for its nylon 6 products with GlasBac backing, and that accounts for approximately 30% of its sales. Other HPDs are in progress.
Another major initiative at Interface is the Net-Works program, a partnership with the Zoological Society of London that focuses all three pillars of sustainability (ecological, economic and social) on an initiative to clean up coastal waters, provide wages to local residents, reclaim fishing nets made of nylon 6 and turn them into carpet fiber. Italy’s Aquafil and Project Seahorse are also Net-Works partners. The first program was set up along the coast of Bohol, an island in the Philippines, where the Danajon Bank, a massive barrier reef that has become heavily degraded, has turned into the gravesite of fishing nets.
So far, the pilot program has already recaptured nine tons of nets, of which one ton has been turned into carpet fiber through Aquafil’s Slovenian recycling facility, and the rest will follow in the coming months.
According to Interface, 640,000 tons of nylon 6 nets are thrown away every year, and without any intervention they will reside on the sea floor for 600 years before degrading. On Bohol, the villagers reclaim the nets and sell them through a community banking system, and just six pounds of material is enough to provide one family meal. With nine tons already collected, that’s 3,300 family meals for the community.
About half of Interface’s carpet is made with Aquafil’s Econyl nylon 6 fiber, and the other half, which is nylon 6,6, comes from Universal. Econyl is 100% recycled, half from post-consumer content. The nylon 6,6, which is significantly harder to turn into new fiber, nevertheless features 30% recycled content, a third of which is post-consumer.
When it comes to recycling, Interface has continued to make gains, with reclamation volume up 10% last year. The firm makes about 120 million pounds of carpet a year, and recaptures and reuses 35 to 40 million pounds, so it’s close to reclaiming a third of everything it makes.
Other accomplishments in 2012 include a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions intensity, closing in on 50% of where it stood in 1996, the baseline year. Recycled and bio-based materials now account for 49% of total raw materials, compared to 1% in 1996. Waste to landfill was down 20% in 2012 from 2011 to two million pounds.
Over the last couple of years, Aquafil has arguably become the greenest independent producer of synthetic fiber, thanks to its Econyl nylon 6 line. And with last month’s acquisition of Domo Chemicals’ nylon 6 operation (Xentrys), based in Germany, the firm is now one of the biggest nylon fiber producers in the world. Aquafil now has five extrusion plants, including three in Europe, one in China and one in the U.S.
Econyl’s post-consumer content is derived from reclaimed fishing nets and carpet fiber, in about equal amounts. The recycled carpet largely comes from the U.S., while fishing nets are recaptured all around the world, including through the Net-Works program. The firm’s Slovenian facility takes the reclaimed nylon and depolymerizes it, turning it into pellets. For the North American market, the pellets are extruded into fiber at Aquafil’s Cartersville, Georgia plant.
Total Econyl production doubled in 2012, as did the post-consumer content. The Slovenian facility has a capacity of 30 million pounds a year. The firm’s goal is for Econyl to be 100% post-consumer by 2020. The biggest challenge is procurement, securing sufficient sources of recycled material.
Bentley Mills, which became independent of Interface about a year ago, has not had to make a lot of adjustments to its sustainability strategy, thanks to the solid foundation generated from Ray Anderson’s vision. Along with Interface, Bentley started doing EPDs in 2010, and it now has EPDs on eight product platforms, covering 100% of the products made at its City of Industry, California facility.
The firm also has a Declare label on its NexStep polyurethane carpet tile. Declare is a stringent rating system from Living Building Challenge that includes a red list of materials (including cadmium, lead and PVC) that are not allowed. And Bentley recently earned cradle-to-cradle certification for its broadloom products.
The firm’s City of Industry facility is LEED EB certified, and this year, when the firm recertified, it moved up from Silver to Gold, due in part to a new roofing system.
Since its baseline in 1994, Bentley has reduced water usage by 40% and landfill diversion by 97%. And thanks to lighting and equipment upgrades, overall energy use is down 40%.
Milliken Carpet, which is best known for its cushioned carpet tiles and its high resolution printing technology, is part of Milliken & Company, which has a huge specialty chemicals business, as well as various textile operations. In 2012, for the seventh year, Milliken & Company was certified as a carbon neutral manufacturer by Leonardo Academy. According to the firm, the flooring division has sent zero waste to landfill since 1991. The firm processes its waste for the highest reuse possible and sends it to multiple recyclers.
The firm has its own hydroelectric operations, and that has helped the company generate 38% of its energy from renewable sources. It also gets 80% of its methane from the LaGrange, Georgia landfill. And since 1991, it has reduced water consumption by two thirds. Over the last 18 months, the firm has revamped its landfill diversion program, doubling its carpet diversion rate.
While Milliken already has EPDs for products made at its British facility, the firm is in the process of creating EPDs for North American carpet, and it’s currently evaluating HPDs. According to the firm, cushioned carpet tile—Milliken is the largest producer of cushioned carpet tile—lasts 40% longer than hardback tile, and that adds to the green profile of its products.
J+J Flooring Group is a commercial carpet specialist that goes to market under its well established J+J/Invision brand as well as its new J+J/Kinetex brand. J+J/Invision makes carpet tile and broadloom in equal amounts—its carpet tile is manufactured through a partnership with Mannington—while Kinetex is something entirely new, a floor tile with a knitted polyester face thermally fused to a nonwoven polyester backing.
Kinetex features 60% recycled content—17% post-consumer and 43% post-industrial. Currently, all the recycled content is in the backing, but the firm is already looking at getting recycled content into the face yarn. One of the green characteristics of Kinetex is its weight; according to the firm, at about half the weight of traditional polyolefin backed tile or a third the weight of PVC backed tile, Kinetex presents a far lower environmental profile due to its relative dematerialization. In theory, the tile is fully recyclable, though it relies on the development of end-use markets for the reclaimed material.
The firm has completed EPDs on Kinetex as well as its carpet tiles with eKo polyolefin backings. Three more product platforms will follow in the coming months.
In the last year, J+J has also moved the needle on its energy, waste, water and greenhouse gas intensity 2020 goals. By reducing energy usage on the order of two million kilowatt hours per year, J+J’s new lighting project should bring down energy intensity by 4% to 6%, with a goal of 20% intensity reduction from a 2010 baseline. And by the end of this year, the firm should achieve zero waste to landfill, with certification from NSF International. J+J’s goal for water is a 60% reduction by 2020, and its Aquafinity dyehouse water filtration system has already taken the firm a long way down that road; Aquafinity also reduces reliance on natural gas because the recycling process heats up the water by 25º F, so less additional energy is needed to attain operating temperatures.
Bolyu, the commercial division of Beaulieu of America, came out with its own polyester tile program this year, called Level, and the first product in that line, Svelte, was introduced at NeoCon in June. The product, with a needlepunched felt face and the firm’s Nexterra backing, is 100% PET, with a minimum post-consumer content of 70%.
According to the firm, the product can be fully recycled into the backing of new tiles. At just over 70 ounces, the 24”x24” product is at the low end of carpet tile weights.
One of the greenest suppliers to the carpet mills is Universal Textile Technologies (UTT), which makes a range of backings with high bio-based and recycled content under the BioCel and EnviroCel brands. Both were recently recertified for their environmental claims by NSF International.
The firm has garnered a lot of accolades in the last couple of years with its PET bottle reclamation program at Yellowstone National Park, channeling the material for reuse into UTT’s green backing. Its products recently helped Applebee’s in Harlem achieve LEED Gold certification (New York City’s first LEED Gold restaurant) using Signature Carpet’s Yellowstone Collection, with UTT’s bio-based backing and Aquafil’s Econyl nylon face fiber, which is 100% recycled.
This year UTT has also been putting a lot of focus on taking back synthetic turf and carpet, partnering with two suppliers. The firm has invested in equipment and personnel to recycle product, and the extruded pellets are sold for a range of uses. It has also made significant progress in reducing its internal waste stream and recycling post-manufacturing waste, and in addition it takes scrap yarn from sister companies.
UTT recently completed a project in Battery Park, near New York’s World Trade Center, resurrecting a community playing field that had been devastated by Hurricane Sandy last year. The AstroTurf field, which was installed in just 14 days, features the firm’s soy-based backing.
UTT’s sister companies, Global Textile Services and Textile Coating, have been working hard at greening their latex programs. Over the last couple of years, the focus has been on incorporating Cargill’s BiOH Fusion, a modified vegetable based material, into latex products to reduce dependence on styrene butadiene chemistries.
So far, it has developed backing systems with 10% green content, and for some systems that can go as high as 20%—all with the same performance characteristics and the same cost.
THE MULTI-CATEGORY PRODUCERS
While both Shaw and Mohawk offer a wide range of soft surface and hard surface products, the only firms that manufacture both resilient flooring and carpet (which together dominate the commercial market) are Mannington and Tarkett. While Mannington has been making both carpet and resilient flooring for decades, Tarkett only got into the carpet business in the last year with its acquisition of Tandus, a commercial carpet specialist.
Mannington makes commercial broadloom and carpet tile, as well as rubber, laminates, and a wide range of vinyl products. Its acquisition last year of Amtico has given the firm a leadership position in luxury vinyl.
On the carpet side, Mannington has already completed an EPD for its Revolve polyolefin-backed carpet tile platform, with an EPD on its Infinity RE PVC-backed carpet tile to come shortly. The broadloom platforms will follow.
On the resilient side, where category EPDs for vinyl and rubber products have been introduced, Mannington has maintained its recycling programs. In addition to its regional VCT reclamation program, which has to date recaptured 21 million pounds of VCT, the firm also recycles into VCT a ton of drywall per day. One of Mannington’s biggest initiatives right now is in the development of viable systems for recycling LVT into new LVT, figuring out the best way to technically recycle the product as well as how to create a reclamation infrastructure.
Mannington is also focused on domestic manufacturing. With its acquisition of Amtico, which has facilities in Georgia, Mannington has been able to increase its domestic LVT production, and so far this has led to a 30% increase in jobs at that facility. These numbers will continue to grow as the firm shifts more and more of its LVT production for the U.S. market to its Georgia manufacturing plant.
Tarkett manufactures rubber flooring, linoleum, all types of vinyl flooring, and, with its acquisition of Tandus, commercial carpet. Because both Tandus and Centiva (which was acquired at the end of 2010) go direct rather than through distribution, the two have been brought together under the leadership of Glen Hussmann, Tandus’ president and CEO, with Erin Dempsey Istanbulluoglu heading up sustainability for the two divisions.
Centiva recently lowered the environmental profile of its products by sourcing materials locally, shifting production of its backings to Tarkett’s Nafco plant, just a few miles down the road in Florence, Alabama. And the firm has also been able to make strides in its water reduction by targeting areas for improvement revealed through Tarkett’s continuous monitoring of water and energy usage.
All of Centiva’s vinyl tiles have recycled content in them. The Contour and Event lines offer post-consumer recycled content, and in the Victory line it’s all post-industrial, with the exception of Stria, which is 52.5% recycled, including nearly 5% post-consumer content. For nearly two years, Centiva has been using non-phthalate plasticizer on its Victory line, and now it’s rolling it out into the other lines. However, it’s more complicated with Event and Contour, because their post-consumer content is recapturing waste streams that are not necessarily phthalate-free.
To date, Tandus, which has always been a leader in carpet reclamation, has recycled over 225 million pounds of carpet, producing 50 million square yards of product with ER3 vinyl backing. The firm also offers a PVC-free backing called Ethos, which is polyvinyl butyrate reclaimed from the film sandwiched in windshields. Tandus already has EPDs on 95% of its carpet offering.
Last year, following an expansion of the firm’s Dalton recycling facility that just about doubled its size, reclamation volume grew enough to allow Tandus to increase post-consumer content on ER3 from 13% to 20%.
Tarkett, which in addition to Centiva and Tandus includes the Johnsonite brand, as well as Tarkett residential vinyl, has a global environmental strategy that it calls circular closed loop design. The strategy, which is communicated and executed in all divisions on all levels, incorporates cradle-to-cradle principles like resource stewardship and material reuse with Tarkett’s commitment to people friendly spaces.
Most of Tarkett’s vinyl products use non-phthalate plasticizers, except for post-consumer content, and by 2015 all of Tarkett North America will be phthalate-free. Tarkett has also achieved cradle-to-cradle certification for its rubber tile. And the firm continues to work on lowering emissions, with a goal of going under 100 micrograms per cubic meter (Greenguard for Children and Schools requires 220 micrograms or less).
Tarkett’s VCT reclamation program reclaimed 91 million pounds of flooring through the end of last year, and the firm is working on the geographical expansion of the program. Tarkett works with a handful of consolidators to recapture product, like Texas Carpet Recycling, and it recently named NRF as a consolidator for the Northeast.
RESILIENT & HARD SURFACE SPECIALISTS
In the U.S. flooring market, sustainability is mostly seen in the commercial market. For now, there’s little demand among the bulk of residential consumers for green flooring. Most people’s lives have been so shaken in the last few years that it’s hard for them to see beyond practicality and price.
In the commercial market, the dominant floorcoverings are carpet, ceramic and vinyl. And then there’s rubber and linoleum, which are almost exclusively commercial products.
Armstrong, the dominant resilient flooring manufacturer, has massive sheet vinyl, hardwood and VCT operations, along with linoleum, and it also offers luxury vinyl tile and plank. In addition to its U.S. operations, Armstrong has two facilities in Germany, two in China and two in Australia.
A major focus at Armstrong has been its VCT recycling program, which started off with pilot programs in 2009 and was formally launched last year. The reclaimed product is channeled to the firm’s facilities in South Gate, California; Kankakee, Illinois; and Jackson, Mississippi. In 2012, the firm reclaimed over two million pounds of VCT, with the recycled material going into the firm’s Raffia and Chroma Spin premium VCT lines. Raffia has products with post-consumer content ranging up to 10%, while all of Chroma is at 10%.
In addition to VCT, Armstrong has a composition tile that replaces PVC content with polyolefin that contains some bio-based content (3% of total weight). It comes in two lines: Striations and Migrations.
About 90% of Armstrong’s hardwood flooring is harvested in the U.S., and the firm also supports the Tropical Forest Foundation (see box on page 46), which promotes sustainable forest management. Globally, the firm employs a range of strategies to reduce its environmental footprint. For instance, in its Australian sheet vinyl facility in Braeside, Victoria, the firm harvests rainwater; and in the highly automated German resilient facility, areas operated by robots are run in the dark.
Forbo, which is best known as the leading producer of linoleum flooring, also sells vinyl products in the U.S. market. The firm has taken a progressive position in terms of transparency, pursuing all avenues including EPDs, HPDs, fully disclosed LCAs, and GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) reporting.
The firm is in the process of putting together EPDs for its North American vinyl and linoleum offerings. There will be 20 EPDs in all, two thirds of which are already completed. Along with the EPDs, the firm is disclosing its full LCAs with additional information covering human and eco-toxicity. And Forbo is working on assembling all the data for HPDs on all products in its North American portfolio.
Tennessee based Crossville, a porcelain specialist, has achieved Green Squared certification on all of its U.S. made products, and it has also developed recycling operations for both wet and dry waste. The firm is currently pursuing EPDs and is also evaluating HPDs.
Crossville recycles 500,000 pounds of post-industrial wet waste every month, recapturing the rich sediment that makes up the raw materials for tile, and it recycles another 560,000 pounds of fired waste (also post-industrial). And its third waste stream, making up another 300,000 pounds a month, comes in the form of porcelain whiteware through its alliance with Toto, the toilet manufacturer. Combined, this yields an annual total of over 16 million pounds of recycled material.
Thir firm is also examining other sources of recycled material, though it can be a challenge, since it can’t use red body products or quarry tile. And it’s also essential to retrieve material as close as possible to Crossville’s facility, since tile is heavy and its transportation adds to its environmental footprint. Construction waste management represents a growing source of reclaimed material.
Mohawk’s Daltile, the dominant tile producer in the North American market, has now been joined by Marazzi, Mohawk’s recent ceramic tile acquisition and a giant in its own right. All of the products that Daltile produces have Green Squared certification, and now the task is to get the same certification for Marazzi’s products. And the larger challenge is to align the sustainability strategies of Mohawk and Daltile with those of Marazzi.
Daltile has already taken steps to develop EPDs with the completion of full product LCAs, and it’s also looking at HPDs. It offers recycled content on its tile, which contributes to LEED points and helped in the specification of over 2,500 green building projects last year.
Ecore, the parent company of Ecore Commercial Flooring, is the largest user of reclaimed tire rubber in North America. Each year, Ecore recycles 80 million pounds of scrap tire rubber into its flooring products. Ecore also produces athletic flooring and rubber parts for industrial applications, and its B2B division focuses on the firm’s Itstru technology.
Itstru is a system that bonds the firm’s cushioned rubber backing, made from recycled tires, to a range of floorcoverings—anything from carpet tiles to vinyl flooring. It’s a great option for small to medium sized manufacturers that need an edge to compete against the industry giants. As for partnerships with larger players, Ecore is experimenting with taking their post-industrial waste and essentially sending it back to them, incorporated into the post-consumer waste of the Itstru backings.
Ecore can also take back its own flooring products, like EcoSurfaces, and turn them into new flooring without suffering performance degradation, according to the firm. Ecore only reclaims commercial tires, because of the premium quality of the rubber, and it has a range of shredding machines, including some with magnets, to remove the steel fibers along with dirt and pebbles.
CBC Flooring goes to market with six brands—Halo, Toli, Indelval, Salto, Ceres and Takiron—offering resilient products ranging from rubber and vinyl to its latest introduction, Halo Free, a PVC free tile product with the same performance characteristics as Halo’s LVT program.
Roppe, a domestic producer of commercial rubber and vinyl flooring products, has been running a rubber recycling program since 2010 called Impact, which uses reclaimed product in applications like mulch and pavers. So far, Impact has diverted 8,464 tons of material from landfills.
Gerflor, a vinyl producer headquartered in France, has a four pronged approach to sustainability: raw material selection, indoor air quality, reduced footprint and improved recycling. The firm’s bio-based plasticizer, used on the firm’s Symbioz heterogeneous sheet vinyl, is being tested and modified for use on other Gerflor vinyl products, like Taralay, and the firm is also doing research on other responsible materials.
In terms of indoor air quality, the firm goes beyond its FloorScore certifications, with some products emitting less than ten micrograms per cubic meter. The firm tackles its environmental footprint with a philosophy of transparency. In France, all of its products have EPDs and its chemistries are regulated through REACH, the European chemical evaluation and authorization agency.
When it comes to recycling, Gerflor has increased the recycled content of its products to an average of at least 25% globally, and it has also designed all of its products for recyclability. The final challenge was with Tarasafe, a safety product with slip resistance conveyed through carborundum, an abrasive compound that can tear through machinery. Gerflor replaced it with a crystal mineral particle. Over 400,000 square feet of Tarasafe flooring was used at the London Olympics, and after the games 95% of it was reclaimed and recycled by Gerflor into vinyl backing.
TThe Tropical Forest Foundation (TFF), an international non-profit educational institution, was formed in 1990 to protect tropical rainforests by promoting sustainable forest management. According to the group, 73% of the loss of tropical forests is due to conversion to agriculture—mostly commercial agriculture, like palm oil and soybean plantations—because the land is not valued for its forest products. Part of what the TFF does is to educated communities living in these rainforest regions on how to manage the forests in a way that sustains both the forest itself and the local populations.
For instance, a grant in Brazil allowed TFF to run a three-year program to train 15 communities in sustainable practices, including inventorying all the trees, measuring their value, studying the eco-system, and coming up with a 20-year management plan for sustainably harvesting trees from the forest.
The firm is also doing a project with The Nature Conservancy, a U.S. based charitable environmental organization, to derive real, transferrable value out of the carbon sequestration rainforests provide. Through carbon credits registered with the Verified Carbon Standard Association, forest managers can register their credits from avoided emissions (The Nature Conservancy has also documented the forestry practices that avoid emissions), and even sell those credits to firms looking to reduce their environmental footprints.
The TFF is funded through member companies like Armstrong, Caterpillar and Marvin Windows. The board of directors is made up of a range of stakeholders, including conservation groups and academia. All members have equal votes.
Because of the Lacey Act amendment, there's less tropical hardwood in the U.S. market these days and more domestic woods in tropical colorations. But Bob Johnson, executive director of TFF, points out that the lack of demand can jeopardize the forests by reducing the value of the hardwood. Also, the purchase of responsibly harvested tropical hardwoods, which are generally far harder than North American hardwoods, helps sustain eco-systems, stabilize communities and even reduce greenhouse gases.
In 2012, TFF conducted 82 training programs with 1,259 participants, impacting nearly 3.5 million acres with sustainable forest practices. This year, the organization anticipates impacting as much as 50 million acres, thanks to large training programs in Indonesia and Guyana. TFF currently has training programs in Africa, South America and the Pacific Rim.
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