Green Resilient Flooring - Aug/Sep 2012

By Darius Helm


When it comes to the greening of the resilient industry, there are a few key agendas being pursued by resilient flooring manufacturers. On the product side, we’re starting to see more use of bio-based materials, more recycled content, more reclamation and more phthalate replacement chemistries. On the process side, waste and water reduction and use of green energy are lowering the environmental footprints of many of the leading firms.

In terms of certifications, there is a steady movement toward multi-attribute certifications like NSF 332, as opposed to simply certifying indoor air quality. With the new North American product category rule (PCR) in place, covering all flooring categories, resilient producers are now in a position to create lifecycle analyses and generate environmental product declarations (EPDs) for their product lines. 

For now, however, it looks like the focus will be on creating EPDs for product categories, like LVT, VCT, homogeneous sheet vinyl, and others. This will enable specifiers to make informed comparisons between categories. But many in the industry hope that this will be followed by EPDs at the manufacturer level of resilient product lines, like what we’re already seeing in the carpet industry.

On the reclamation side, the biggest news is that the three largest commercial resilient players, Armstrong, Mannington and Tarkett, who control 75% of the U.S. market, all have formal VCT reclamation programs. However, there are significant challenges associated with their efforts, in terms of both the economics of the system and the lack of a reclamation infrastructure. The carpet reclamation industry has encountered the same problem over the last decade, and it is in fact an ongoing struggle, but it’s a lot more viable now than in the past and the hope is that VCT reclamation will similarly become increasingly viable.

In terms of the economics, there’s a long-term trend that may end up making reclamation a more affordable proposition relative to dumping, and that is the plummeting U.S. landfill numbers. For instance, back in 1986 there were 7,683 landfill dumps in the U.S., but by 2009 there were only 1,908—that’s a 75% decline in less than 25 years. Some major metro markets can no longer support their own trash and must ship it out to neighboring states. That’s the case in New York City, which used to dump at the disturbingly named Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island and now must ship its trash out to Ohio, Pennsylvania and even West Virginia. In 1996, California had 278 landfills and now it has only ten. Over the same period of time, Arizona has gone from 58 to ten and Nevada has gone from 59 to two (and eight out of state). 

What this means is that waste must travel further from jobsites to landfills, and that can mean some hefty transportation costs, considering that for every 2,000 square feet of facility construction, an average of 8,000 pounds of waste goes to landfills. In fact, 38% of landfill volume is construction and demolition waste. So the cost of waste transportation is rising, as are dumping fees, and this improves the economics of reclamation. And as fuel costs go up—and there’s really no other direction for them to go—this will further strengthen the viability of reclamation.

With the acquisition of Amtico in March of this year, Mannington now has its own domestic production of luxury vinyl. Simply producing domestically rather than outsourcing internationally lowers the firm’s environmental footprint, but in addition Amtico’s products are becoming increasingly sustainable, with post-industrial recycled content of up to 32% on Amtico brand products and up to 29% on Spacia products. The recycled vinyl content is on the backing of the products. Last year, Amtico also started up a post-consumer waste recycling program, focusing on Amtico and Spacia products, including samples, so it should soon start including post-consumer content as well.

Mannington has been doing VCT reclamation for a few years now, and it’s facing the same sort of challenges that carpet players faced a decade ago when they started carpet reclamation—there’s little in the way of reclamation infrastructure, the value proposition for reclaimed VCT is marginal at best, and there’s little consistency in the quality of reclaimed product. Nevertheless, Mannington is committed to building its VCT reclamation business. Currently, the firm offers VCT with up to 10% post-consumer content from reclaimed product.

Mannington is also focusing on reducing its overall environmental footprint, and to that end it is working on water and energy reduction. From 2007 to 2011, the firm reduced its water intensity by well over 30%, with some of the gains coming from recycling water from the carpet fiber dyeing process. Mannington is also part of the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings, Better Plants program. As a nationally recognized Better Plants Partner, the firm is committed to reducing energy intensity by 25% over ten years. Mannington is three years into the program. 

One of the ways Mannington is reducing energy intensity is with its solar array at its New Jersey facility. The 3.3 acre array of nearly 4,000 solar panels generates close to one million kilowatt hours of clean energy—and that’s up 50% from 2009.

The firm has facilities all over the country, and with the Amtico acquisition it also has production in the U.K. All told, Mannington manufactures LVT, glass-backed and felt-backed sheet vinyl, VCT, hardwood, laminates, a range of rubber flooring products, broadloom and carpet tile.

Tarkett, which makes a wide array of resilient products, including rubber flooring, linoleum and several vinyl constructions, has been making significant progress on its four pillars of sustainability: good materials, resource stewardship, people friendly spaces, and reuse and recycling. In terms of good materials, the firm is moving toward phthalate free alternatives for all of its vinyl products. So far, 80% of all its North American products are phthalate free, largely replaced with a petroleum based synthetic material. However, the firm’s IQ Natural sheet vinyl features a castor oil based alternative to traditional phthalates, accounting for 16% of the weight of the product. 

Centiva, acquired by Tarkett in December 2010, started moving away from phthalate plasticizers about a year ago, starting with its Victory series. However, Centiva’s products generally have 4% to 5% post-consumer content, and that content, at least for now, is not necessarily phthalate-free. Earlier this year, the firm received NSF 332 Silver certification for both its Contour and Victory series. Also, last August the firm’s Alabama facility was ISO 14001 certified.

Tarkett’s commercial division, Johnsonite by Tarkett, offers solid vinyl tile, vinyl enhanced tile and vinyl composition tile with post-consumer recycled content—3%, 6%, and 5% to 30%, respectively. VCT’s recycled content comes from old VCT reclaimed by the firm and processed at its Houston facility. The firm’s Florence, Alabama facility currently processes waste material from installation scrap and cutting, and turns it into new product.

Last year, Tarkett’s VCT reclamation volume was flat, in part because the best source is the retail sector, which has severely cut back on remodeling. However, like Mannington, Tarkett is confident that in the long run the VCT reclamation infrastructure will grow more robust and volumes will rise.

Tarkett also has annual goals for the reduction of water, waste, energy and carbon—5% in 2010, 3% in 2011 and 3% in 2012—that it has consistently met or exceeded. In 2011, it reduced water use by 25%, in part by using processed water in its air conditioning units.

On the residential side, Tarkett’s FiberFloor is the first flooring to attain Asthma and Allergy Friendly certification by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Armstrong, the biggest resilient manufacturer in the U.S. market (and the second biggest in the world), has now launched its own VCT reclamation program. It started as a pilot program about 18 months ago with a few large end users, and now the firm is ramping it up. Armstrong may have an advantage in reclamation over other VCT producers because it has three production facilities that can receive reclaimed product: Jackson, Mississippi; Kankakee, Illinois; and South Gate, California. This enables the firm to pull product from a much larger geographical area. Kankakee is less than 50 miles from Chicago, while South Gate’s pretty much in the heart of Los Angeles, and Jackson’s within 500 miles of just about every major metro market in the South. 

Two new Armstrong VCT products, Raffia and Chromaspin, both feature 10% post-consumer content, and that’s just the beginning. Armstrong is working with flooring contractors as well as demolition and construction contractors to target projects of at least 8,000 square feet for VCT reclamation, which Armstrong will pick up for free.

Armstrong’s linoleum, VCT and BBT (bio-based tile) are all now certified NSF 332 Gold. Armstrong recently added to its BBT line with the Striations collection. The BBT product replaces PVC with a polyolefin along with some bio-based content (about 3% of the total weight of the product).

Armstrong’s sustainability agenda is focused around four key initiatives: energy and greenhouse gases; water; forest management; and waste. The firm has achieved Climate Registered status for five consecutive years now (through 2010), which means that the firm measures and publicly reports its third-party verified greenhouse gas inventory. Armstrong’s goal is to reduce the firm’s global greenhouse gas emissions 10% by 2015. 

By and large, there’s more demand for sustainability in the commercial market than in the residential market, so residential flooring producers tend to lag behind commercial producers as well as those targeting both markets. However, over time the trend is expected to sweep over the residential market as well. IVC, which does most of its U.S. business in the residential market, has recently been building its commercial business as well. 

The firm has a massive glass-backed vinyl facility in Dalton—it’s the largest sheet vinyl line in the world—and its LVT comes from its parent company in Belgium. At the Dalton facility, an array of 454 solar panels powers the firm’s fleet of electric lift trucks. IVC also uses a high efficiency chiller plant with cutting-edge heat exchange systems to cool the facility, along with a set of recuperators to reclaim heat generated during production and reuse it in the manufacturing process. A closed loop water system purifies and recycles water used in production. In Europe, IVC is building a $10 million vinyl recycling center that will reclaim and reuse 50 million pounds of vinyl a year. Currently, its North American product scrap is recycled locally into automotive car mats.

Another European firm that’s committed itself to the U.S. market is Gerflor, which makes a range of vinyl products, largely targeting the commercial and sports flooring markets. However, last year the firm launched a U.S. residential program with Texline, a loose lay sheet vinyl with a polyester textile backing. Its greenest product is undoubtedy Symbioz, a homogeneous sheet vinyl that replaces phthalates with a bio-based plasticizer derived from corn and wheat residues. The high performance commercial product targets the healthcare and education markets.

Gerflor’s plan is to expand the bio-based plasticizer program to other heterogeneous and homogeneous product lines.

Most of Gerflor’s products feature recycled content, mostly post-industrial. For commercial flooring, it’s generally a minimum of 35%, and it ranges from 25% to 30% for sports flooring. Creation Clic LVT is 40% recycled, with the content coming from the backing, and Saga2 uses cork in its backing.

CBC Flooring brings to market a range of resilient flooring brands focused on the commercial market, including Halo Floors, Toli, Salto, Indelval and Ceres. Toli, produced in Japan, offers sheet vinyl as well as a range of vinyl tile and plank products, while Halo specializes in LVT. Toli’s greenest product is probably LL300, with 38% recycled content, both post-consumer and post-industrial from the filler. Halo’s products, made in Taiwan, feature 13% post-industrial recycled content. 

Salto’s Unica is a VCT with 70% limestone content and a binder that is one-third post-consumer polymer, accounting for 10% of the total weight of the product. The Ceres brand features PVC-free resilient, including cork, recycled rubber, and polyolefin plank and sheet goods. Sequoia, the plank product, features 38% post-industrial recycled content, all in the backing. Wels Sheet and Sequoia are both FloorScore certified, and more certifications are pending in other brands. Halo’s products are also FloorScore certified. The firm’s Indelval brand offers a range of rubber products with high natural rubber and recycled content.

Ecore produces the largest offering of recycled rubber products in the U.S. market. Its newest EcoSurfaces Commercial Flooring line, the Studio Collection, is notable for its palette of contract colors in a range of neutrals. The new collection is likely to broaden the firm’s reach in the contract market, particularly in the higher education, corporate, hospitality and retail sectors. Ecore’s products are FloorScore certified.

Ecore annually recycles more than 80 million pounds of scrap tire rubber—that’s 2,000 trailer loads that don’t go to landfills—which saves more than a million barrels of oil. The firm is also notable for its water conservation. According to the firm, it conserves more than 17.5 million gallons of water every year by manufacturing with a closed loop chilling system for recirculation.

In addition to recycled tire rubber, Ecore products are made from virgin EPDM (the colored flecks), and its Everlast products feature Nike Grind, which is material made from recycled sneakers through the Nike Reuse-A-Shoe program and Nike manufacturing scrap. Products like QT Sound Insulation and Eco98 are made of scrap tire rubber, reclaimed recycled rubber and, in Eco98’s wearlayer, recycled PET water bottles.

Copyright 2012 Floor Focus