Resilient's Improving Eco-Profile - Aug/Sep 2010

By Darius Helm

Three years ago, the U.S. resilient industry was largely ambivalent when it came to sustainability. There were no significant recycling or reclamation programs, no bio-based ingredients, no certifications beyond indoor air quality, and no real environmental agendas to speak of. Today, however, the industry is in the midst of a transformation, looking a lot like the carpet industry did a decade ago.

Actually, in some ways resilient producers have an advantage, because even though the claims by today’s resilient producers in scope and volume bear a close resemblance to what carpet producers were introducing around the turn of the century, resilient flooring manufacturers have the benefits of roads paved and territories defined by those pioneering carpet mills.

For instance, less than three years since the release of NSF-140, the first sustainability assessment standard designed specifically for carpet, NSF-332, the sustainability assessment standard for resilient floorcoverings, has been completed.

On the product side, post-industrial recycled content has become fairly common, and post-consumer content is cropping up all over the place. Reclamation and reuse programs for VCT are annually returning to the loop close to 30 million pounds of recycled material. And in terms of process, we’re seeing increased use of green energy, water and waste reduction programs, and other examples of company-wide sustainability initiatives.

The big news this year is probably NSF American National Standard 332: Sustainability Assessment Standard for Resilient Floor Coverings. The standard was finalized by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) last March, essentially following the same process used to develop NSF-140. The standard applies to all types of vinyl flooring, rubber flooring, linoleum, cork, and polymeric flooring made from materials other than PVC (for example, Amtico’s Stratica).

First on board is Mannington, whose Inlaid and Premium Tile products have achieved NSF-332 Gold, and already the firm is preparing other vinyl platforms and its rubber programs for certification to the standard. And while Mannington may have been the first, most of the other major firms are already in the process. Tarkett should have its first line certified to the standard within a month or two, with more to follow in the coming months, Centiva’s in the middle of the process, and others are close behind.

NSF-332, like NSF-140 before it, was developed through a rigorous process involving a wide range of stakeholders, including a two-year public comment and voting period. It’s a multi-attribute standard based on a point system, covering environmental impacts on products from their manufacture to the end of life scenarios. Both standards do their best to cover the ingredients that go into a product, how the product is manufactured, greenhouse gases and pollutants, end of life options, and the track record of compliance of the flooring producer, and both also address the social equity side of sustainability.

The resilient standard comes in four levels—conformant, silver, gold and platinum—while NSF-140 starts at silver.

NSF International, the creator of the standard, is an independent, not-for-profit, non-governmental standards developer, accredited by ANSI, and separately is also a certifying organization. While NSF International certifies both NSF-140 and NSF-332, other third party certifiers, like Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), which currently certifies NSF-140, will also be certifying to the resilient standard. 

Products are evaluated against the standard using a handful of key criteria: product design, product manufacturing, long-term value, end-of-life management, corporate governance, and innovation. Compared to single attribute approaches, NSF-332 assesses the product’s overall environmental preferability. It might not be a comprehensive lifecycle analysis, but it’s a major step in the right direction and it should play a big role in moving the entire resilient industry into a green-focused future.

If use of the standard develops like it has on the carpet side, few products will be certified at the entry level, and most will shoot for the top two levels, gold and platinum. 

According to the EPA, commercial resilient flooring goes to U.S. landfills at a rate of about a billion pounds a year, and now that resilient flooring producers are thinking green, they’re starting to see that volume not just as a landfill burden but also as an opportunity—a potent new stream of raw materials.

Two of the leading producers of commercial resilient flooring are also leading the charge in product reclamation and reuse. Both Tarkett and Mannington are running VCT reclamation programs, diverting millions of pounds from landfills and putting it back into new VCT products. 

Globally, Tarkett’s ReUse/ReStart programs reclaimed 154 million pounds of material last year, including commercial flooring, installation waste and product samples. Most of that volume was in Europe, largely from sheet flooring. In the U.S., Tarkett reclaimed 19 million pounds of material, all VCT, which was turned into new product. This year the firm expects to reclaim 35 million pounds domestically, nearly doubling last year’s haul.

Mannington launched its reclamation program midway through last year, capturing about nine million pounds of VCT. So far it’s managed to incorporate two-thirds of that into new product in its higher end VCT lines. This year the firm expects to just about double its reclamation volume.

Beyond VCT, there isn’t much going on in terms of reclamation loops—though Centiva has started using post-consumer vinyl in its luxury vinyl tile.  Certainly, there are several firms with post-consumer recycled content in their tiles and sheet goods, but that material is largely harvested from other sources, like pool liners. Nevertheless, it is recycled vinyl and it has a valid environmental impact, but the next big step will be to start turning old sheet vinyl and luxury vinyl tile into new flooring.

They’re recycling post-consumer flooring in Asia through firms like LG Flooring, and they’re doing it in Europe, largely through Germany’s AgPR recycling operation, which collects products manufactured by many of Europe’s vinyl producers. However, new chemical restrictions in Europe are making the difficult job of reclaiming viable vinyl even more difficult.

One barrier to vinyl reclamation lies in chemical compositions. Different firms use different ingredients, including metals as stabilizers and phthalates as plasticizers, and some are better than others. A firm with an environmental focus faces many challenges when looking for a high standard of material from consolidated waste streams.

The rubber side faces a different set of challenges, first and foremost being its own chemical nature. Unlike PVC, rubber is a thermoset, which means that it can’t be remelted to form the same kind of product. However, it can be ground up and used as filler content or in the back of a new rubber product. Or it can be adhered together to form tile and sheet goods, much like EcoSurfaces uses reclaimed automotive tires.


The reclamation drive has even hit the porcelain tile industry, with Crossville's investment last year in a high efficiency crushing machine for recycling tile from both the post-industrial and post-consumer waste streams. While the firm is still streamlining its post-consumer process with a handful of projects in the region and more in the works, the machine has already crushed about 4.5 million pounds of manufacturing waste.

Crossville also captures a lot of waste from the water used to clean and wash its equipment, water that is loaded with filtrate material. Last year, six million pounds of sludge were processed into new tile. Crossville has been drawing product out of its waste water since 2004, and it got certification from SCS in 2006. The firm's Echo Glass also has high post-industrial recycled content, up to 70% depending on the color, and its biggest imported line, sourced from Argentina, is certified by SCS for 20% post-industrial content.

Ecore International, the manufacturer of EcoSurfaces Commercial Flooring, is one of the most effective recyclers in the entire arena of petroleum-based products, annually converting over 80 million pounds of scrap tire into flooring products at a rate ranging from about 21% to 93%, depending on the coloration of the product—the blacker the product, the higher the recycled content.

Last year, the firm came out with EcoRx, with an attached underlayment designed for comfort underfoot. It’s ideal for jobs where people have to stand all day, like in pharmacies or cashier stations, or where more cushioned environments are called for, like in the assisted living market. The attached back has nearly 90% post-consumer content.

While EcoSurfaces captures a waste stream, Roppe’s Impact program is based on finding outlets for its own waste stream. The program, launched at NeoCon 2009, has so far funneled three million pounds of rubber flooring through its recycling partner, who turns it mostly into mulch, pavers, asphalt filler for roadways and wall insulation filler. The recycler can handle rubber with attached adhesive, most of which can be ground off during the recycling process.

The program has expanded beyond the one recycling facility in Minneapolis to another in Milwaukee. Next year, one will be started up in Fostoria, Ohio, where Roppe is based. The firm is also working with Resource and Starnet members to actively promote the program.

Roppe also offers renewable and post-industrial recycled content in its products. All of its rubber flooring is 10% natural (bio-based) rubber, and its vinyl flooring has 10% post-industrial content. Its SafeTCork line has 10% post-consumer content.

Johnsonite, Tarkett’s commercial division, is in the beginning stages of a recycling loop for its rubber flooring. The pilot program, which is running in about five states around Ohio, where Johnsonite does its manufacturing, is currently capturing installation waste—wall base, treads and tile—that is returned in color-coded bags. The firm will use the material for new product, likely in the backing, and intends to find other uses for the material as well.

The firm’s new Ecolibrium line recaptures two unexpected waste streams—walnut shells and oyster shells—which together make up about 8% of the product. While both oyster and walnut shells are waste material, and both are naturally occurring and naturally renewing, only the walnut shells are technically rapidly renewable, since the classification only applies to bio-based materials. The walnut shells are also classified as post-industrial. Johnsonite is working on additional ways of incorporating the two waste streams into its rubber lines, possibly in conjunction with cork.

Over the last few years, Centiva has made great strides in using recycled content in its products. Its three product lines, Victory, Contour and Event, all have both post-industrial and post-consumer content. Event is 28% post-industrial and 4% post-consumer, and Victory is 26% post-industrial and 4% post-consumer, while Contour, also with 26% post-industrial content, has pushed its post-consumer content to 5% and now it all comes from flooring.

In the past, the firm has used vinyl from other sources, like piping, siding, decking composites and pool liners, all processed through its recycling partners, who freeze and pulverize the material to attain levels of purity of at least 96%. About a year ago, Centiva started sending its own product to the recyclers and incorporating it back, for now, in the Contour line.

Beyond its VCT reclamation program, Mannington has a resilient sheet line called Relay RE with 35% recycled content, including 20% post-consumer, made out of reclaimed carpet—it’s the only resilient product in the market with recycled content from carpet. The firm is also looking at ways of using its various waste streams in its Burke rubber products. It already has a recycled tire rubber line called ReSet.

Armstrong, the biggest vinyl player in the U.S. market, has been selling a PVC-free VCT equivalent for a couple of years now. Migrations replaces the PVC content in VCT with a polyester that includes corn polyols. Total bio-based content is about 2%.

CBC Flooring goes to the commercial market with several brands, including Toli, Halo, Ceres, Indelval and Salto. The biggest and oldest is Toli, and it has a number of products with recycled content. Mature, a heterogeneous sheet vinyl that’s been in the U.S. market for over two decades, is made up of 16% post-industrial content and 10% post-consumer content. And its Fasol Plus, Linotesta and Viale homogeneous tile lines all feature 50% post-industrial content. LL300, an extra thick tile sized to work with raised access flooring, has a backing largely made with post-industrial filler for a total recycled content of 65%.

Salto’s Unica is a VCT construction with filler from post-industrial limestone and a third of its PVC content is post-consumer—translating to around 3% to 4% of the total weight of the product. Sequoia, from the Ceres brand, is a polyolefin resilient plank (no PVC) with 38% post-industrial content in the backing.

Anyone who follows the environmental movement, and green manufacturing, knows that reclamation and recycled content are only a part of a true sustainability program. However, it’s usually where the movement starts, and for good reason. There are three prongs to sustainability—ecological, social and economic—and it’s that economic prong that largely determines the course a manufacturer takes. Reclamation and recycling are very visible initiatives, and they’re easy to market and attach to a brand identity. They give firms a competitive advantage.

VOCs are another simple, precise environmental issue, and that’s why just about all the resilient players are FloorScore or Greenguard certified for low VOCs. Again, it’s a good thing, but it’s only a small piece of the puzzle.

Many of the resilient flooring producers have other environmental initiatives, but they’re still at the early stages, with little quantifiable results to report.

Armstrong, for instance, has come up with a range of goals, including reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and fresh water use 10% by 2015 using 2006 as a baseline. At its corporate campus in Lancaster, the firm has installed an energy efficient chiller that reduces CO2 emissions by 485 tons a year, and it also uses wind power. Its hardwood business includes FSC certified facilities and a range of green initiatives and partnerships. And its ceiling business has diverted from landfills over 80 million square feet of material.

Roppe has a community recycling program, where anyone from the area can drop off cardboard, aluminum, plastics and other recyclables, and the proceeds go to Roppe scholarships for local students enrolling in four-year college programs. Last year the firm gave 35 scholarships worth $1,000 each.

Mannington’s 600 kilowatt solar array is being expanded, adding 1.4 acres of solar panels to the 2.2 acre array already in place for an additional 285 kilowatts.

Gerflor, which has two facilities in France and one in Germany, recently built a new production line with no solvents, and since April all of its Taralay heterogeneous flooring has been made on that line. Its facilities recycle all waste and have closed loop recycling systems. And this coming year the firm is doing lifecycle analyses on its entire range of products.

Centiva is upgrading its facilities with Energy Star compliant motors. It has also upgraded its steam lines with internal holding vessels that serve as temporary storage units for a more modular use of energy, and it’s going through the testing phases for a grid-networked photovoltaic solar system. The firm has even created and tested a product with a phthalate-free clear wearlayer, and now it’s a matter of seeing what sort of demand it will generate. 

Also, both Armstrong and Johnsonite, along with Forbo, offer linoleum, a product so green it’s practically edible. Manufacturing for all three is done in Europe. Linoleum is virtually 100% bio-based from rapidly renewable products, including linseed oil, cork flour, wood dust, jute, natural resins and color pigments.

Forbo’s linoleum has been certified to the Platinum level for the SMART standard, a multi-attribute standard covering renewable energy, energy efficiency, bio-based and recycled materials, public health and the environment, reclamation and end of life management, innovation, and manufacturing processes. 




Copyright 2010 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Mannington Mills, Roppe, Starnet, Tarkett, LG Hausys, Coverings, Crossville, Armstrong Flooring