Greenbuild 2019: Elevating the roles of social equity and human health - Jan 2020
By Darius Helm
The theme at this year’s Greenbuild, “A New Living Standard”-which brings together green buildings and human health and wellbeing-reflected a deeper and more far-reaching ideology, articulated through different lenses by several of this year’s speakers, that we will only succeed on this mission to reverse climate change if we all succeed together, or to put it another way, that environmental sustainability and social equity must be united into a single mission.
There are many reasons why this perspective has risen to prominence so quickly, not the least of which is the societal reaction to the accelerating gap between the ultra-wealthy and just about everyone else, along with the growing awareness of global mutual reliance-that no group or nation can succeed in isolation. As one keynote speaker, Dr. Bernice King, declaimed, “It is critical that we acknowledge that environmental justice and economic justice must go hand in hand.”
Other keynote speakers included architect Jeanne Gang, meteorologist Dr. Marshall Shepherd and, representing the youth movement, 17-year-old Jamie Margolin, founder of Zero Hour, but the most prominent was President Obama, who took to the stage on the second morning of the event-Greenbuild was held from November 19 to 22 at Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center-for a conversation with USGBC CEO Mahesh Ramanujam. The line to get in was so long-a queue of thousands snaking back and forth across the floor outside the entrance-that in places it crossed its own path, and people were still filing in through much of the discussion.
The talk lacked intensity-there’s a big difference between a speaker sitting down and engaging in a dialogue or standing and addressing a crowd-but Obama made some incisive points, like the trickle-up effect of youth environmentalists. Regarding climate change, Obama said, “I know of no issue that is more urgent than that, and I would combine it with the challenge of how we construct a globalized capitalist economy that actually provides everyone opportunity and is not continually accelerating inequality.”
One flooring firm leading the charge on social equity is HMTX Industries, a resilient flooring producer whose brands include Metroflor, Teknoflor, Aspecta, Vertex and Halstead. The firm’s products are manufactured through long-term partnerships with two Chinese factories, both of which have Just labels. Just, developed by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), which also developed Declare labels, uses a range of social justice indicators to provide profiles of organizations. Rochelle Routman, the firm’s chief sustainability and quality officer, also presented an education session on the topic-“How Manufacturers Can Achieve Transparency in Social Justice”-along with Simon Xia, general manager of HMTX China, and Jane Abernethy, chief sustainability officer for Humanscale.
Getting to the nuts and bolts of greening the built environment, Thursday’s keynote speaker, architect and McArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang, detailed how her firm, Studio Gang, approaches sustainable development from local to global scales. “We want to create a world where big ideas can be articulated but at the same time they can be done in our lifetime,” she said.
George Bandy, Mohawk’s chief sustainability officer, who offered opening remarks before introducing President Obama to the stage, highlighted the importance of listening to each other, of pulling together as a large global family. And later, at the Mohawk booth on the show floor, he spoke about the importance of working cooperatively with other entities, including competitors, to drive sustainability developments.
Bandy also noted that all of the carpet tiles Mohawk manufactures now come with Living Product Challenge Petal certification. Mohawk’s first Living Product Challenge product was Lichen, just two years ago. And at Greenbuild, Mohawk showed a new biomimicry-inspired carpet tile collection called Owls, which, like Lichen, was designed in collaboration with Jason McLennan’s McLennan Design. McLennan is the founder of the ILFI. At the show, Mohawk announced that its innovative Airo residential carpet, made entirely of PET, now features a Declare label and an HPD (health product declaration).
Shaw Industries also had a lot of visibility at the show, from its Education Lab on the show floor-for the third consecutive year-offering a range of CEU-credit approved education sessions, to its vivid blue Comfor3t trade show carpet in the Mindful Materials pavilion. Session topics ranged from designing practical solutions for plastics to acoustical strategies to greening affordable housing, and much more.
Comfor3t’s recycled content, a mix of post-industrial and post-consumer, ranges from 60% to 80%, depending on the color, and it is fully recyclable. According to the firm, it offers more softness underfoot than typical trade show carpet, and it can be used multiple times before it needs to be replaced.
Also, 2019 marked the 20th anniversary of Shaw’s introduction of EcoWorx, the fully recyclable polyolefin backing that has underpinned the firm’s carpet tile recycling operation.
Interface also had an Education Lab at the show, where it covered topics like “How Can Buildings Become Carbon Sinks?” and “Legislation for the Circular Economy of Building Products,” along with “How to Own Your Entire Carbon Footprint (Including the Supply Chain)”-coinciding with the firm’s announcement earlier this year that its entire global portfolio (carpet, rubber and LVT) is now carbon neutral.
Interface also announced that it had completed its Mission Zero goals, eliminating its negative environmental footprint just ahead of schedule. Interface started toward Mission Zero in 1994.
There were more flooring manufacturers at Greenbuild this year than in recent years, largely because of the Mindful Materials pavilion, which hosted many of the big players, including Interface, Shaw Contract, Milliken, Patcraft, Armstrong Flooring and Mapei. Mindful Materials, powered by GIGA’s Origin material data hub, is a platform with information on over 8,200 materials used in the built environment, including certifications, VOC data, material ingredients and much more.
Amy Costello, Armstrong Flooring’s sustainability manager, was on hand to talk about the completion of HPDs on all of its commercial products over the last few months-Armstrong is now a resilient specialist, having split from its hardwood business at the beginning of the year. Another topic was its PVC-free composite tile offering, Migrations and Striations, which contain 2% bio-based content and now feature the firm’s proprietary Diamond 10 finish. According to the firm, the finish vastly reduces the high maintenance needs of traditional VCT, resulting in a much lower environmental footprint across the lifecycle of the product.
Milliken announced that it plans to publish soft surface HPDs by the end of the year, at the very least covering its carpet tile offering. In addition to carpet tile and broadloom, the firm also has a growing LVT program.
Patcraft’s exhibit included its new PVC-free resilient sheet and tile, EcoSystem, which replaces PVC with polyurethane that includes bio-based content from rapeseed oil and castor oil. The line, which comes in a range of designs and formats, features Exoguard+ finish for high performance and stain resistance.
Tarkett was also heavily involved in education sessions, covering indoor air quality and certifications for asthma- and allergy-friendly products, how healthy buildings impact the health of occupants, the movement toward a healthy and transparent materials economy and a session specifically for healthcare: Creating a Positive and Sustainable Impact for Patients and Practitioners.
And during the show, Tarkett announced that through its partnership with Aquafil, it is closing the loop on its commercial carpet tiles in Europe.
Tate, a leading manufacturer of raised access flooring, came to the show, displaying its range of finishes-any type of floorcovering can be adhered to the surface of its raised access panels. Most interesting was its use of concrete as a surface finish. The firm actually purchased a concrete manufacturing plant a couple of years ago in order to serve the market with a wide range of customizable designs and textures, including terrazzo.
One of the smaller flooring firms at Greenbuild, Centennial Woods out of Laramie, Wyoming, displayed its unique product line-reclaimed wood made from Wyoming’s snow fences. The fences, made of high altitude pine, along with spruce and fir trees, have a ten-year lifespan, after which Centennial harvests them, creating everything from flooring to siding, soffits, walls, doors, furniture and fixtures-at a rate of about three million feet a year.
CARE, the Carpet America Recovery Effort, which has been driving the development of a viable carpet reclamation and recycling infrastructure, had on display the growing range of products made from recycled carpet components. CARE is experiencing its best quarter yet and is expected to attain its mandated 24% recycling rate in California.
The Vinyl Institute, which always has a presence at Greenbuild, showcased its industry-wide sustainability initiative, called +Vantage Vinyl. Participating companies with U.S. operations commit to at least one goal from each of three impact categories-landfill diversion, health and safety, and emissions. And its Vinyl Sustainability Council now has 53 members-including trade associations and companies including Tarkett, Lonseal, HMTX, Interface and the Resilient Floor Covering Institute.
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