Greenbuild 2009 - December 2009

By Darius Helm and Kemp Harr

It’s a testament to the commitment and focus of all those in the sustainability industry that in the midst of a severe downturn in the commercial market, never mind three plus years of residential reversal, the national green building trade show was energetic, purposeful and, most importantly, crowded.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), at this year’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, held in Phoenix, Arizona’s Phoenix Convention Center, November 11 to 13, there were 28,000 attendees, nearly as many as last year, and around 1,000 exhibitors, up 25% from last year’s 807. In a year when all the major trade shows—or at least the ones that relate to flooring—are down 30% or more, to have an expo showing anything that resembles growth is more than simply wonderful. It’s a sign that sustainability is no longer a movement—it’s a revolution. 

It’s taken Greenbuild just eight years to become bigger than Surfaces and Coverings, and this year it even had more exhibitors than Chicago’s NeoCon, but it’ll be a few years before it can top the sheer number of attendees to the Merchandise Mart’s annual design show. The first Greenbuild, in 2002 in Austin, Texas, featured about 4,000 attendees and 220 exhibitors including a handful from the flooring industry, but with 110 flooring (and flooring related) exhibitors at this year’s Greenbuild, it’s not a show that any floorcovering professional can afford to miss.

This year, instead of a keynote speaker at the plenary session on the first morning of the show, the USGBC rented out Chase Field, the baseball stadium for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and on the evening after the first full day of the show, it was the scene of speeches by Al Gore, USGBC chairman Rick Fedrizzi, Kohler president and COO David Kohler, World Green Building Council partners from all over the world, and finally a performance by Sheryl Crow. 

While some speakers, particularly Rick Fedrizzi, were energetic and dynamic, too many of the speeches were recitations of goals and accomplishments, hardly the kind of talks that get crowds fired up. The crowd was also disappointingly small, numbering less than 10,000.

This year’s Greenbuild was light on unveiling new ideas and innovations, at least in terms of flooring—hardly a surprise in a year when most businesses are focused on surviving and making it to next year—and most of the exhibitors were showcasing recent developments that are being expanded and improved. However, there have been plenty of dramatic developments over the last couple of years, and even earlier this year, including renewable nylons and reclaimed vinyl flooring and porcelain tile, and flooring manufacturers have made great progress in following through on the promise of all these new technologies.

Resilient Flooring Highlights
Forbo, a global leader in one of the naturally greenest floorcoverings, linoleum, focused its energies on greening its trade show strategy. For the second year in a row, the firm took a leadership position in waste reduction at the show by using the bare essentials and still making a splash. 

One key area where Forbo cut back was in booth personnel. Attendees were greeted by a live person but were invited to sit down in front of one of the many computer monitors linked back to the firm’s home office in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Not in person but still face to face, company personnel chatted with visitors and answered their questions. According to a carbon footprint chart on a nearby column, this initiative has cut its employee travel by over two-thirds.

Mannington, which launched two major green initiatives in the last year with the largest solar array in the flooring industry as well as the nation’s first VCT reclamation and reuse program, chose to sponsor trips for designers and conduct live webcasts rather than exhibit at the show. The firm hosted designers from three firms, including RTKL.

Mannington’s VCT reuse program reclaims VCT from the region around the firm’s New Jersey facility and puts it into its premium tile for a 25% post consumer content. Next year the firm hopes to expand its use of reclaimed VCT into other categories, including backing and filler applications. It will also be expanding its solar array next year.

Another resilient firm making big strides toward sustainability is Alabama based Centiva, which makes high design vinyl tile. The firm has post consumer and post industrial content in all of its tiles, including some post consumer flooring from reclaimed Centiva products. Its Stria tile has 51% recycled content, including 4.5% post consumer content. Centiva’s vinyl does not contain heavy metals or phthalates.

Centiva is also examining solar technologies as part of its stated mission to be 30% off the grid by 2015.

Rubber flooring producer EcoSurfaces unveiled its EcoRx, a specialty rolled good for applications where people have to spend all day standing in a specific area—pharmacies being the most obvious application (hence the Rx). 

EcoRx comes with a prelaminated layer of cushioned rubber backing. In the past, to achieve the same result would require a preliminary installation of the cushioned rubber with time to set before installing the floorcovering itself, so the new product cuts down on labor and downtime. In addition, the cushion is made of at least 90% recycled car tires.

Johnsonite, which produces a wide range of commercial vinyl and rubber flooring products, was at the show with its new line of Harmonium xf linoleum, made at parent firm Tarkett’s Italy facility, in a broad palette of 73 colors ranging from neutrals and earth tones to highly saturated and vivid hues. Linoleum, which is made from linseed oil, cork flour and jute, is currently the only resilient product on the market that is almost entirely bio-based.

CBC Flooring serves the North American market with a number of commercial resilient brands, including Toli vinyl flooring and PVC-free Ceres, and at Greenbuild the firm introduced its two latest brands, Salto and Indelval. 

The first product in the Salto brand is Unica, a limestone composition tile made of 70% post industrial limestone and 30% “polymer,” a third of which is post consumer. So all told Unica is 80% recycled, and it’s a good looking product too, with a convincing stone look and texture on 18”x18” tiles—and no two tiles are alike. Unica is made in Mexico.

The other brand is a rubber flooring line produced in Argentina by Indelval, Latin America’s largest rubber flooring company. Indelval products are made of a blend of natural and synthetic rubber, and the flooring has other green characteristics, including eco-friendly color pigments and manufacturer programs like waste recycling that lower the family owned company’s environmental footprint. 

Resilient flooring producer LG Hausys Floors came to Greenbuild to promote its Naturalife commercial sheet flooring that features a minimum 20% post consumer recycled content. The product looks like real hardwood but without the seam or wear issues, making it ideal for hospitals or other healthcare facilities. The company also offers Decowood and Decostone LVT, which come as 4” strips or 18” squares, respectively, and include 16% recycled content. All of these products are FloorScore certified for indoor air quality.

Nora, which makes product for markets like healthcare, was at the show to talk about the longevity of rubber flooring products. Nora’s flooring, made from both synthetic and natural rubber, also benefits from low maintenance and a no-wax finish, which further lowers its environmental profile. The firm is also working on products with higher natural rubber content.

Also exhibiting was Armstrong, the nation’s largest vinyl producer, which also offers linoleum and hardwood in the commercial market, and its bio-based Migrations commercial tile, a non-PVC limestone based tile with about 2% bio-based content. The firm also has two FSC certified hardwood facilities, one in Mississippi and the other in Texas. Its greenest line is linoleum produced from its facilities in Europe. 

Amtico, a commercial resilient specialist, makes vinyl under the Amtico and Spacia brands, and Stratica PVC-free flooring. Stratica, a laminated product whose composition includes DuPont’s Surlyn, the same material that coats golf balls, is a high performance flooring that has been doing well in healthcare markets.

Green Carpet Update
The greening of the flooring industry started out on the carpet side, and one of the early leaders was Milliken. Milliken Carpet is part of Milliken & Company, which has a significant chemical business. For the fifth year in a row, Milliken & Co. was certified carbon negative by Leonardo Academy for all of its global operations. All Milliken products, including carpet, are marketed as carbon neutral.

Milliken announced that its Milliken Contract and Milliken Hospitality broadloom and carpet tile products will be certified to the NSF-140’s gold level and the SMART Consensus Sustainable Product Standard’s platinum level by midyear 2010. Part of the firm’s challenge is to integrate recently acquired commercial carpet mill Constantine into its green strategy, which includes getting all of Constantine’s carpets NSF certified.

This year Milliken again helped Greenbuild offset its emissions with 12,500 metric tons of certified carbon offsets from carbon sequestered from its forest holdings. Also helping Greenbuild reach that goal was WindCurrent, which donated 3,100 MWh of renewable energy certificates.

Mohawk, the largest flooring producer in the world, focused its open space exhibit at this year’s Greenbuild on two highly visible case studies. Most visible was the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum headquarters that opened this year in Washington DC. Most of the flooring in this 75,000 square foot facility is covered with carpet tiles manufactured at Mohawk’s Lee’s facility in Glasgow, Virginia. A second case study focused on Global Green USA project in New Orleans that used a formaldehyde free wood flooring product produced by Columbia under the Purebond brand. This project is a green housing initiative that is part effort to rebuild the right type of housing after the Katrina hurricane.

Not only does the firm divert over three billion PET bottles from the landfill annually for use in carpet but it also converts old post consumer carpet into polymer for new uses at its Greenworks facility in Chatsworth, Georgia. Mohawk is also the only carpet producer to manufacture residential carpet that uses fiber produced from 37% corn sugar—further minimizing the demand for petroleum based polymer. 

Shaw is another company that has so many sustainability initiatives and green product categories to talk about that it has to be selective in its message so as to not overwhelm the typical Greenbuild attendee. This year, Shaw’s main theme in its open, café style presentation was “waste is beautiful.” 

Many of the beautifully styled products on display were second generation carpets made from recycled nylon repolymerized at its Evergreen facility in Augusta Georgia. And for those thirsty to hear the whole Shaw story, which includes cradle to cradle, waste to energy, recycled bottles, and biodiesel, Shaw had extra copies of its sustainability report and a coffee table quality hardbound book that told the entire Shaw green story. Shaw gained added visibility throughout the entire exhibit hall by committing to take back all the exhibit hall carpet after its useful life and turn it back into new carpet. 

InterfaceFlor announced at the show that it will be off oil by 2020 as part of its Mission Zero promise. The firm has already reduced energy use by 38% since 1996 and has reduced its use of virgin materials by 46%. Recapturing product is key to meeting that goal in just over a decade, and so far the firm has diverted more than 170 million pounds of product back into the technical stream.

The Convert line, made from the firm’s ReEntry 2.0 process, includes at least 32% post-consumer recycled carpet content and total recycled content of 64% to 75%, as well as reclaimed nylon 6,6 in partnership with Universal Fibers. The line now has about 70 styles. All of the firm’s Convert products have Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)—InterfaceFlor is the first North American carpet manufacturer to receive third party verified EPDs. EPDs are different from standards that require certain criteria to be met. Instead, it offers transparency so that all the detailed information relating to a product’s lifecycle assessment is accessible.

Another green leader is Tandus, which makes commercial broadloom, carpet tile and six foot goods. This year Tandus has extended its Ethos backing, made from polyvinyl butyrate reclaimed from the film sandwiched within safety glass and introduced on its six foot goods in 2004, to its carpet tile offering, enabling the firm to offer both PVC and PVC-free backings on its modular tile.

To better understand all the issues in the sustainability revolution, Tandus CEO Glen Hussmann took the tests and became LEED accredited earlier this year. The firm is also continuing to work with bio-based materials with Cargill, following the successful introduction last year of ErgoStep, a rapidly renewable cushion backing for broadloom.

The big topic at the booth of California carpet producer Bentley Prince Street was transparency. For instance, the firm publicly reports its greenhouse gas inventory annually through a third party certified system. Earlier this year, the firm received a third party verified Environmental Product Declaration for its broadloom products.

Bentley Prince Street’s New Gotham line of broadloom uses Antron’s Bio Legacy nylon featuring 10% bio-based content derived from castor beans.

J+J/Invision’s new non-PVC carpet tile backing, eKo, has received NSF 140 certification at the platinum level. The polyolefin backing is made through its joint venture with Mannington Mills. The firm has also extended its R4 (Return, Reuse, Recycle, Reduce) strategy and expanded into Canada—Toronto and Vancouver. 

Invista came to Greenbuild touting its new EPP (Environmentally Preferable Product) certification for its Antron and Stainmaster carpet fiber.  EPP products, as sanctioned by Scientific Certification Systems, are defined as having a reduced effect on the environment compared to competitive carpet fibers. This new certification takes into account all aspects of the product from raw material usage to lifecycle analysis.

Hard Surface Highlights
Expanko was at the show with its range of stunning cork products, including solid cork and veneers, which is cork laminated to cork. Its solid cork products can be used in high performance commercial environments thanks to resilience from the compression of the cork. Expanko’s products also include Reztec, made of EPDM and rubber with high recycled content. Reztec’s recycled content is SCS certified. The firm also offers cork/rubber flooring blends.

US Floors, a market leader in cork, bamboo and FSC certified hardwood, came to Greenbuild this year to roll out its USF Contract brand of commercial grade products. All three of its product categories are inherently recognized as having a sustainable message due to their natural origin. Mark Brunelle, formerly with Milliken and Alloc, has assembled an assortment of products that can withstand the rigors of commercial traffic for this new contract division of US Floors. 

Just prior to coming to Greenbuild, US Floors was awarded Greenguard certification for its cork and bamboo products. In the last year, US Floors has built a manufacturing facility in Dalton, Georgia that derives part of its energy from a solar panel array on the roof. The company’s long term plans are to import the raw cork and bamboo from Asia where it is grown and do most of the product manufacturing in Dalton. 

Teragren, a leading bamboo flooring producer based in Bainbridge Island, Washington, showcased its range of bamboo flooring and accessories. The firm also makes panels for cabinetry and countertops, and even parquet butcher block. Flooring constructions include horizontal and vertical in both solid and engineered constructions, as well as strand bamboo in a range of dynamic looks. 

Made primarily from natural clays, all porcelain tile products score relatively high on the sustainability front, especially when you dial in their usable lifecycle. But this year, Tennessee based Crossville Tile is differentiating itself even further by being the first tile manufacturer to offer a post-use take-back program. 

With this new program, Crossville has committed to take back and recycle its tile products removed as part of remodel or renovation project. The firm is able to offer this service thanks to a new recycling line it has developed that efficiently crushes its old tile back into dust so that it can be blended into new tile products. The machine’s capacity is four million pounds annually.

The biggest news at the booth of commercial bamboo producer Smith & Fong was the announcement about SoyBond, the soy-based adhesive developed by the firm after two years of research. The firm anticipates the full conversion of its bamboo products to this adhesive by the second quarter of 2010. The firm’s palm flooring products will also be converted to the new bio-based adhesive.

The firm also came out with a hardwood line called Sideways that features a brilliant design innovation—the grain of the product runs perpendicular to the direction of the 4’ planks, which creates a dynamic, well balanced look. The hardwoods, including maple, beech, birch, cherry and hackberry, are all FSC certified and urea formaldehyde free.

Other Highlights
The Starnet group of commercial flooring contractors took a small booth at the show to promote its membership’s commitment to divert old flooring removed from their commercial remodel projects and keep it out of the local landfills. With roughly 170 different members, this group touches many large-scale commercial remodel projects, and its reclamation commitment puts a large dent in the amount of flooring that used to end up at the landfill. 

This year, Starnet announced that all its members would become active members of the CARE organization. As part of their longstanding relationship, CARE provides building end users with framed certificates anytime a Starnet member removes their old flooring and recycles it. This presentation helps to build goodwill for end users with their own employees, customers and the community.

Universal Textile Technologies (UTT) came to the show with a new product for the residential market, EnviroCel Home. The first firm to use the green backing is Southwind, a division of Cherokee. EnviroCel is largely composed of bio-based and recycled content.

In response to inquiries about its position on coal fly ash—60 Minutes recently ran a piece on heavy metals in coal fly ash—UTT released a letter from Boral Material Technologies, the supplier of its Celceram brand coal fly ash, detailing the extensive procedures the firm uses in securing a clean source of coal fly ash, as well as details on all the testing that accompanies its use. Celceram’s concentrations of heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, beryllium and lead (all mentioned during the 60 Minutes broadcast) are well below drinking water standards using standard testing procedures established by the EPA.

MP Global Products, a leading underlayment manufacturer, came to the show with FiberBacker, its tile and stone underlayment. FiberBacker has third party certification from Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) for 100% post industrial content as well as Indoor Advantage Gold for indoor air quality. The firm’s Insulayment, with sound deadening characteristics, is also 100% derived from post industrial content.

QuietWalk, a slightly thicker product that is designed to go under laminate flooring, features 95% post industrial content, also certified by SCS.

Scientific Certification Systems was also at the show, talking about the various standards it certifies, including the Forest Stewardship program, its Indoor Advantage air quality certification, and its recycled content certification.

The firm also discussed the product declarations for its Environmentally Preferable Product certification. SCS’s new approach looks at product through 24 impact categories, like water resources depletion, terrestrial habitat disruption, oceanic acidification, and a range of chemical exposures that impact human health.

EcoScorecard, which offers clients like flooring manufacturers a software technology platform that enables specifiers to create with the push of a button paperwork for a range of standards like LEED, now also offers Google SketchUp integration. This means that designers can upload their preliminary 3D design sketches and EcoScorecard will seamlessly derive from the sketch the calculations for the paperwork.

EcoScorecard now works with most of the major flooring brands, including all of Mohawk’s brands, Beaulieu’s contract brands, all of Shaw’s commercial brands, Armstrong commercial and residential brands, J+J/Invision, Flexco, Tandus, Roppe and Azrock.

Copyright 2009 Floor Focus

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