Environmental Impacts: J+J Flooring attains zero waste to landfill certification


By Darius Helm

J+J Flooring Group’s recent announcement that it had achieved a zero waste to landfill certification represents a milestone in the flooring industry, and at the same time it illustrates how a firm doesn’t need billion dollar revenues to transform its environmental footprint. J+J attained this industry first through innovative approaches, strategic partnerships and attention to detail.

Manufacturers have a broader range of environmental impacts than most businesses. They use a lot of energy and raw materials—and in the case of carpet and resilient flooring producers, a lot of synthetic materials derived from oil and natural gas—and they generally use a lot of water. All of this can lead to high greenhouse gas emissions. And then there’s waste: production waste, waste water and non-specific trash. 

Most of the major players in the flooring industry have established baselines in the last few years for reductions in intensities of energy, water, waste and greenhouse gas emissions—intensities meaning energy, water etc. per unit of produced material—with goals generally around 2020. The most meaningful reductions tend to come early in the process, and it’s those last steps that take the most effort and dedication.

That was certainly the case with J+J Flooring when it came to its waste program. The firm, which was founded in 1957 by Tom Jones and Rollins Jolly, is focused on the commercial market, and estimated sales last year were over $120 million. J+J started tackling its waste in earnest in 1991, and within five years its energy intensity had fallen from 250 pounds to closer to 40 pounds per square yard. It took nearly two decades to bring that number down to 12 pounds per square yard, with only 0.3% of total waste still requiring a solution. 

At that point, all the manufacturing waste was already accounted for, and what remained was trash from breakrooms and bathrooms that didn’t fall into any waste recovery categories, along with floor sweepings. Even employees who didn’t have recycling services at home were bringing in their recyclables. That was when J+J started doing research to close the loop, which ended with a partnership with Covanta, a leader in waste-to-energy conversion, with 45 facilities worldwide. 

Covanta, which is headquartered in Morristown, New Jersey, has a facility in Huntsville, Alabama established in 1990 next to Redstone Arsenal. The facility processes nearly 700 tons of solid waste and sewage sludge daily, producing about 180,000 pounds of steam an hour, which serves the arsenal’s heating and air-conditioning needs. The arsenal houses about 2,000 people and has a workforce of close to 40,000. It’s the center of testing and development of the U.S. Army’s missile programs, along with other tactical operations, and it also is the base of the Marshall Space Flight Center. A couple of FBI programs are also being relocated to Redstone Arsenal, along with the U.S. Bomb Data Center.

J+J had to figure out a lot of logistical details, including whether it was worth it in terms of environmental impacts to ship the waste two hours to Huntsville from Dalton—it turned out that the transportation impact was marginal. The firm then engaged with GreenCircle Certified, a third-party certifier and verifier. GreenCircle did an audit of hazardous and non-hazardous waste streams and on June 1 certified J+J’s Dalton operation as a Zero Waste to Landfill facility. The certification runs through the end of May 2016.

Covanta’s fees are higher than J+J’s local landfill tipping fees, so it would have been cheaper to dump what little waste it had, but the environmental benefits and the certification itself outweighed the cost. The firm estimates that the efficiency of converting the waste to energy through Covanta is equivalent annually to taking 60 cars off the road.

Nevertheless, Russ DeLozier, J+J’s director of sustainability, is quick to point out that there’s a difference between zero waste to landfill and zero waste, and the firm is ultimately committed to eliminating all waste entirely. For now, the Covanta solution closes the loop, creating clean energy along the way. 

One huge benefit of J+J’s zero waste to landfill is that it means there’s an accounting of every ounce of the firm’s waste. Everything that goes into the mill is recorded on its way out. Something like this would have been unimaginable for a 20th century factory. 

Only a handful of manufacturers put out annual sustainability reports, and they’re generally multi-billion dollar firms, like Shaw, Mohawk, Interface, Tarkett and Armstrong. And then there’s J+J Flooring, which just released its third annual sustainability report, and it is by far the smallest carpet producer to do so. The report charts developments in reductions of waste, energy, water and greenhouse gases, as well as sections on specific programs, like its Kinetex PET tile, which is a sort of hybrid between carpet and resilient flooring. In fact, J+J’s sustainability report includes a graphic that compares (favorably) Kinetex’s environmental impact to standard vinyl flooring. The report also includes details on J+J’s HPDs and EPDs, along with certifications.

There are myriad ways that a manufacturer reduces its environmental footprint, including waste reduction, water reclamation, renewable energy, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced raw material use, dematerialization, recycling and a whole host of efficiencies. For J+J, waste reduction ranks up there, though the firm has also made great strides with water. Its Aquafinity program, introduced four years ago, is an on-site water reclamation program that essentially cleans the dyes and chemicals from the firm’s processing water, allowing for the recovery of two-thirds of dyehouse water. And that recycled water gets warmed up by the process, meaning that less energy is required to heat it up. According to the firm, Aquafinity saves close to three billion BTUs of energy a year.

In terms of which strategies have the biggest impact on reducing an environmental footprint, it depends on which firms you speak with. In general, it tends to relate to energy and waste reductions, that low-hanging fruit that most manufacturers address in the early years of their sustainability journeys, but it varies a lot depending on the specific firm. DeLozier suspects that in J+J’s case, it may well be waste, though its water reduction and purification program has also been a game changer. 

When it comes to the other leading sustainability players, some boast similar impacts while others get more mileage from different strategies. In the case of Mohawk, for instance, energy and water programs have likely had the biggest impact. Shifting from beck dyeing to a continuous fluid dyeing process, which the firm did years ago, followed by getting out of skein dyeing, hugely impacted water use, as did initiatives on the ceramic side, which now uses recycled water for 33% of its needs.

Shaw cites energy reductions, takeback programs and increased fuel efficiency of its transportation fleet, while Mannington points to cross fertilization of operations and the sharing of waste streams—in other words, efficiencies. Aquafil’s recycling program has been the most effective way of lowering that firm’s footprint. And Interface refers to “LCA-informed product design” as its most potent tool, because understanding the major impacts of carpet production has enabled the firm to strategically alter its product designs to reduce its impacts.

Like J+J, Armstrong cites waste, in part because of all of the ramifications of excess material on energy, greenhouse gas emissions and other factors. Forbo believes that its CO2 emissions program has had the biggest impact—from a baseline of 2009, the firm is on track for 25% reduced emissions by the end of this year. Gerflor also cites emissions, along with lower water use. Energy strategies have given Bentley Mills its biggest footprint reductions, and that includes managing efficiencies. And for Tandus Centiva, its biggest impacts have come from its recycling programs, which reduce strain on natural resources along with lowering energy and water use.

Copyright 2015 Floor Focus


Related Topics:Mohawk Industries, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Armstrong Flooring, Tarkett, Mannington Mills, Interface