GreenBuild 2007 - December 2007

By Darius Helm and Kemp Harr

Looking back, 2007 will be remembered as the year the GreenBuild International Conference and Expo became a national event. For one thing, there was the keynote speech by one of the most sought out speakers, former president Bill Clinton. That’s a heavy dose of street cred right there.

Then there were the numbers. The event, held at the Chicago Convention Center in McCormick Place early in November, drew nearly 23,000 attendees, about 70% more than last year. There were also 850 exhibitors, up 80% from last year’s 470. Were GreenBuild to grow at the same rate in 2008, it would surpass Surfaces in both exhibitor and attendee figures. But it will probably take GreenBuild a few more years to reach that level.

However, what really marked this new plateau was the excitement and barely managed chaos. Registration lines snaked back and forth and up and down the massive hallways—even many pre-registered attendees had to wait two hours or more to collect their badges and enter the expo. The food court and restaurants in the building were so jammed on the first day that it wasn’t worth thinking about food until well into the afternoon. Hundreds sat on the carpet outside the entrance to the show, watching live simulcasts of the speakers and forcing crowds to slalom through their ranks. In short, GreenBuild was bursting at the seams.

Without a doubt, flooring was the largest single building category represented at the show, which speaks well for the sustainable consciousness of our industry. Exhibitors included industry leaders like InterfaceFlor, Shaw, Tandus, Bentley Prince Street, Milliken, Mannington and Mohawk, along with fiber producers Solutia and Invista, the Carpet & Rug Institute, Universal Textile Technologies and StarNet. Hard surface and resilient players were there too, including Azrock, Amtico, Forbo, Wood Floor Resource Group, Amorim Flooring, Plyboo, Crossville, EcoSurfaces, Toli, Mondo, LG Floors, Kährs and Estrie. And then there was Armstrong.

Armstrong’s participation had special significance. While the majority of environmental action has been taking place on the carpet side for the past several years, green advocates including architects and designers have been clamoring for more sustainability from vinyl and hard surface producers. Over the past couple of years, some producers have been coming out with programs like sample reclamation or products with post industrial recycled content, but little in the way of far-reaching initiatives. But with Armstrong, the resilient leader, coming out with a full scale program for a greener alternative to VCT, the pace of environmental reform among hard surface manufacturers is likely to accelerate.

Armstrong’s product is called BioBased Tile (BBT) and it was unveiled in a new collection, Migrations, that comes in 28 colors. The product replaces the 14% vinyl content in VCT with a polyester based ingredient, called BioStride, that includes 13% corn polymer. In addition, the limestone in Migrations, which typically makes up 85% of traditional VCT, features post industrial recycled content, accounting for 10% of the weight of the total product. Bio-based content makes up about 2% of the total weight.

For specifiers, perhaps the most compelling aspect of BBT is that it outperforms traditional VCT, with a 250 psi, five times the impact resistance and more than twice the resistance to cracking from uneven subfloors. In addition, the gauge of the product, as well as maintenance and installation requirements, are identical to traditional VCT, so there’s no learning curve. And its low VOC emissions are compliant with California 01350. The cost? About the same as high end VCT.

Armstrong is the first hard surface company to use EcoScorecard, a customized program that allows clients to search for green products, evaluate precisely their green attributes through a range of programs, including LEED, and document how much the products will contribute to various certifications. It’s what specifiers have been hoping for, an easy interface for all things green.

InterfaceFlor’s booth had a hands-on display of the ReEntry 2.0 process that shears face fiber off the backing and filters all the carpet components into a range of reclamation channels. The firm uses a patent pending technology to reclaim face fiber, created in an alliance with an Italian American company, Post Consumer Carpet Processing Technologies LLC. Reclaimed nylon 6,6 is sent to Universal Fibers, where it’s made into new nylon 6,6. Interface Inc. has expanded its program so that it can now use the process on both broadloom and carpet tile, regardless of the face fiber used, thus enabling a far greater rate of reclamation.

InterfaceFlor’s new RePrise carpet tiles with Biomimicry designs feature the recycled nylon 6,6. As the reclamation flow broadens, the firm will be coming out with more collections and higher post consumer content. Biomimicry is itself a design concept with significant green attributes, because the random placement of the tiles significantly reduces tile waste.

Ray Anderson, chairman and founder of Interface Inc., was on hand to discuss the firm’s goal of being a climate neutral firm by 2020. Through the Cool Carpet program, InterfaceFlor commercial carpet tile made in North America is carbon neutral. Anderson also pointed out other achievements, including a 55% reduction in fossil fuel use since 1995, a 90% reduction in absolute tonnage over the same period, and the use of renewable energy, which now accounts for over half the firm’s needs. 

Another fairly recent innovation by Interface is its TacTiles adhesive panels to attach modular carpet without adhering the carpet to the floor. This program reduces the use of adhesives by 90%.

Bentley Prince Street, sister company to InterfaceFlor, is the first carpet manufacturer with LEED EB certification for its manufacturing facility. The City of Industry, California manufacturer attained a silver LEED rating. The only other manufacturer to achieve LEED EB certification is furniture maker Knoll, whose certification came from the pilot program. A handful of manufacturers, though none in the flooring industry, have LEED NC ratings.

Bentley Prince Street is also an innovator in green fiber. The California company offers a range of styles blending nylon, wool and hemp and a total of 94 products with recycled content. Its new Saturnia Collection features nylon with a minimum recycled content of 50%.

One of BPS’s latest initiatives is the development of a thermoplastic backing to further lower its environmental footprint and reclaim more carpet. BPS also offers climate neutral carpet from the Cool Blue program and next year will install its own equipment for ReEntry 2.0 carpet reclamation.

Shaw Industries’ sustainability message this year covered both the residential and commercial sectors of the market. Attendees at the show were led around Shaw’s circular booth, the largest at the show, and introduced to the company’s core sustainability messages. The firm’s ability to convert post consumer carpet back into new carpet was explained. Highlighted was its Evergreen plant’s ability to recycle nylon 6 carpet back into nylon 6 chip, along with its ability to convert used olefin backing back into new backing.

Another part of Shaw’s message was its nationwide recycling network built to get used carpet back to facilities where it can be processed. Shaw also showed how waste is converted to energy at one of its largest carpet plants and its use of biodiesel in its distribution fleet. That fleet is one of the 20 largest trucking fleets in the country and drives about 17 million miles per year. At the top of Shaw’s tower in the center of the space was an electronic sign that estimated the firm’s progress in its annual goal of diverting 300 million pounds of post consumer carpet from the nation’s landfills.

The Carpet & Rug Institute was also exhibiting at the show, focusing mostly on the Sustainable Carpet Assessment Standard, NSF 140, that it played such a central role in developing over the past five years. The standard was formally introduced at GreenBuild. It’s the first unified carpet standard out there, and it will replace the California Gold standard. Currently, 18 carpet products are certified by the California Gold standard and a further 11 are certified by the NSF 140 Draft standard.

The heavily vetted NSF 140 is ANSI approved and it measures sustainability in five areas: Public Health and Environment; Energy and Energy Efficiency; Biobased or recycled materials; Manufacturing; and Reclamation and end of life management. It’s the first multi-attribute ANSI approved green building product standard among all building products. It comes in three levels: silver, gold and platinum.

The industry should see its first NSF 140 certified products by the second quarter of next year. Currently, the only third party certifier is Scientific Certification Systems. If all goes well, the standard will be certified for commercial LEED standards.

Mohawk Industries’ new GreenWorks Center was the focus of the mill’s exhibit. The reclamation center, located in Chatsworth, Georgia, was designed to take back the three main waste streams that account for 90% of landfilled carpet—nylon 6, nylon 6,6 and polypropylene. The remaining 10% that cannot be reused goes to produce energy. The reclaimed product is used for the production of broadloom and carpet tile backing. 

Mohawk’s green carpet tile backing, Encycle, was also showcased at GreenBuild. According to the firm, Encycle is the first non-PVC carpet tile backing that’s fully recyclable back into itself. Other green programs include the reclamation of plastic (PET) bottles for reuse as fiber for residential carpet—Mohawk is the biggest user of plastic bottles in the flooring industry—as well as SmartStrand PTT fiber that’s 40% Bio-PDO, a corn based polymer. The firm also reclaims automotive windshield glass and grinds it up for use in carpet backings.

The GreenWorks Center concept is scalable and designed to be recreated in locations across the country for low environmental impact reclamation. 

As in years past, Milliken once again donated the majority of carbon credits for the U.S. Green Building Council to make the Greenbuild expo carbon neutral.  Now with over 20,000 visitors at the show, that gift has gotten much bigger. Top on the firm’s list of sustainability news for 2007 is its work with Leonardo Academy to develop a standard for assessing its carbon footprint.  Now, with the standard established by a third party organization, Milliken is in the process of assessing its worldwide operations against the standard with the long term goal of reducing its carbon use worldwide. 

Milliken was also promoting the fact that all of its modular products are certified to the NSF 140 green carpet standard. Bill Gregory, Milliken’s director of sustainable strategies, also mentioned that he has been serving in an advisory role with several of its key hospitality customers to help them focus their supply chain on sustainability issues.

The theme in Mannington Commercial’s Greenbuild booth was choices, highlighting the fact that we can all be part of the green solution if we make the right choices. Its booth, designed by Chattanooga based Tricycle, had an area where attendees could express their thoughts about sustainability for other show visitors to read.  

Mannington also rolled out a new thermoplastic modular backing called Revolve that not only contains 10% post consumer recycled content, but can also be reconverted into backing once it serves its initial useful life.

The world’s leading manufacturer of linoleum, Forbo, was at the show reminding attendees about the sustainability of its Marmoleum flooring. Made from natural ingredients (linseed oil and cork flour, wood dust and limestone), linoleum is initially a little more expensive than vinyl based resilient flooring, but due to its easier-to-maintain finish and durability, it has a lower lifecycle cost. To communicate this long term advantage, the company has developed a website, www.floorcostcomparison. 

Crossville, the leading domestic supplier of commercial porcelain tile, was the only player in the tile business at the show. And it was appropriately using this venue to launch its new EcoCycle series of porcelain stone products. Backed with 3rd party certification validating its 40% recycled content claims, Ecocycle has the rustic texture of natural stone and is available in eight earth tone colors. In addition, Crossville was previewing a new line of colorful post consumer recycled glass tiles that will be available by March 2008.

Commercial flooring brands Toli and Ceres, both of which are owned by CBC America, shared a booth at the show to promote their commitment to minimizing their environmental footprint through reduce, reuse and recycle programs and innovative  products. The floor of the striking new booth featured two Ceres products. Most noteworthy was its new commercial cork flooring with a ceramic oxide finish that features a five year commercial warranty. This product will be available next year in both tile and interlocking strip formats.  The other product was its Sequoia PVC-free resilient plank flooring with a wood grain look. Available in 12 faux species, this product is designed for use in high traffic commercial interiors. 

Amtico International was at the show promoting its Greenguard certification for its four core brands of luxury vinyl tiles. To achieve this certification, the Amtico, Arteca, Stratica and Spacia product lines passed third party testing that measures the products’ impact on indoor air quality.

Universal Textile Technologies introduced its new BioCel attached cushion backing system, developed specifically for the hospitality and high end residential markets. This new urethane based backing system contains polymers derived from domestically grown soybeans instead of the usual petroleum based polymers. (Look for our January backing feature for more detailed information on this new product.)

Tandus, another green leader, showcased its reclamation programs, including its Retrieve sample program. The firm sends out boxes to clients who have samples and they simply throw used samples in the box until it’s full, then send it back to Tandus at no cost.

The firm’s Inunison Virtual Sample Folder, developed with Tricycle, minimizes the need for physical samples by using tear-off pads of state-of the-art, color-accurate carpet images for each colorway. The sample folder is actually more functional than traditional sample books because there are 25 tear-off swatches per color, as compared to the single physical sample in traditional books. 

Since 1994, Tandus has diverted 120 million pounds of carpet from landfills, and it’s closing in on a rate of 15 million pounds a year. The firm is now focusing on technologies for reclaiming six foot goods, which make up nearly half the firm’s carpet production.

J&J Industries was at the show talking about its EnAct environmental program, which includes the firm’s carpet reclamation process, its R4 philosophy of return, reuse, recycle and reduce, and its eKo PVC-free backing, which is fully recyclable. J&J has pledged to reclaim all eKo carpet, which has 10% post consumer content, after its useful life and reuse it by recycling it into backing, and plans to eventually phase out all PVC backings. All new J&J broadloom has 10% post consumer content.

Like Armstrong on the hard surface side, J&J was the first commercial carpet producer to provide EcoScorecard to its clients. The firm also uses Tryks, from Tricycle, to replace physical samples, and will pay shipping for clients to send back samples and architectural folders. Returned samples can be from any carpet mill.

Azrock, Tarkett’s commercial vinyl tile brand, was at GreenBuild discussing its reuse of sample and installation waste. The firm uses distributors, including BPI and Diamond W, as collection points for reclaimed product. The firm has also started a pilot program in Texas, taking back used tile for reuse as road bedding material.

One of Azrock’s most interesting new products is a spray adhesive designed to reduce adhesive use for LVT and VCT products. The product, which is more moisture and alkali tolerant than traditional adhesives, is designed to pave the way for greater tile reclamation.

Also at the show was Tarkett’s linoleum division, Linoleum xf. Linoleum’s inherent green properties make it a strong choice for specifiers.

Smith & Fong Plyboo was the first operation to manufacture bamboo in China and sell it in the U.S. The firm has been producing bamboo since 1993 and is part owner of production facilities in China and Taiwan. A range of bamboo products, including some with innovative construction, are produced in China, while stunning coconut palm flooring is made in Taiwan. 

The firm is converting its plants to produce urea-formaldehyde free flooring, which will be available by the end of this year. The palm flooring, produced from “senile” palm trees—60 years or older—that no longer produce usable quantities of coconuts, is already formaldehyde free. Plyboo’s products are sold to both the commercial and residential markets (60/40). 

The Wood Floor Resource Group, the commercial division of Wood Flooring International, sources hardwood from all over the world, and its offerings include a range of green products. The group has a LEED accredited professional on staff, and its online program breaks down which products contribute to various LEED points. Spec sheets can be created online as well. The Green Exotic Series features only FSC certified hardwoods.

LG Floors makes the only vinyl on the market with a significant amount of post consumer recycled content. The firm’s sheet vinyl features post consumer content of 20% to 25%, and its luxury vinyl tile has 10% to 15% post consumer vinyl. The South Korean firm is able to reclaim vinyl because the installation process in Korea uses perimeter taping, so it’s not as difficult to take up floors as it is in the U.S. The firm is currently working on third party certification.

Antron, the commercial fiber division of Invista, unveiled 50 new Lumena colors with 25% post industrial recycled content. Lumena is the firm’s solution dyed nylon 6,6. The firm’s Lumena HRC and Legacy HRC both offer a minimum 90% post industrial recycled content.

Ultron, Solutia’s commercial fiber business, focused on its Ultron Renew fiber, both solution dyed and white dyeable, with 50% post industrial recycled content, as well as its new SCS Material Content certification. Solutia has also been involved with the Energy Star “Change a Light, Change the World” campaign as a pledge driver.

Nora Rubber Flooring, which was sold to two German investment firms in October,  has come out with Nora Dryfix, a tape roll that reduces the amount of adhesive used in installation. The double-sided sticky tape, with low VOCs, eases installation, and the floor can be walked on within a couple of hours. The firm also offers a take-back program for installation scrap.


The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Homes rating system, currently out for ballot, penalizes carpet by offering a half point for homes using 100% hard surface flooring.

So how could carpet be snubbed by the USGBC, even though the carpet industry is a leader in sustainability?

It turns out that all the carpet mills missed the two public comment periods over the last few months, despite the fact that, according to the USGBC, every USGBC member was notified. And all the major mills are members. However, not a single carpet mill acknowledges receiving the notification.

The confusion over the new residential rating system is compounded by the fact that NSF 140, the new Sustainable Carpet Assessment Standard, will probably end up contributing to LEED commercial points. To make matters even more confusing, the biggest residential carpet mills, Shaw and Mohawk, are just beginning to turn their focus to the residential market with an impressive range of green programs.

In spite of all this, LEED for Homes is now out for ballot and will be formalized soon. The negative positioning of carpet comes as a result of studies by the American Lung Association and the National Institute of Health, which say carpet exacerbates asthma. However, there are also current scientific studies suggesting that carpet is a sink which traps allergens and lowers asthmatic reactions.

The USGBC is aware of the problem, but hasn't yet said what the solution will be. But green carpets can still be given LEED points, even though it will take at least a year for any amendment to LEED for Homes. The USGBC has a system for case by case evaluation of requirements called a Credit Interpretation Request, or CIR. A CIR can be used to ensure that green carpets are given sufficient LEED points and it can also be used to introduce scientific studies refuting assertions that carpet increases asthmatic reactions.

Copyright 2007 Floor Focus

Related Topics:Starnet, Crossville, Mohawk Industries, Armstrong Flooring, LG Hausys, Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, Tarkett, Interface, RD Weis, Mannington Mills, Shaw Industries Group, Inc.