Soft Surface Sustainability - Aug/Sep 2012

By Darius Helm with Ruth Simon McRae


The carpet industry has long been a leader in building sustainability mechanisms and developing technologies for lowering environmental footprints, and despite the protracted economic slowdown, this movement has continued to grow, a clear indication that environmental sustainability offers a competitive advantage, regardless of the state of the industry.

By the same token, it’s also true that the sustainability movement is not yet a well-oiled machine. It’s a fractured culture, with no shortage of internal divisions, suspicions, grievances and, consequently, inefficiencies. Many of the most powerful engines of green growth are constantly under siege. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program, for instance, is often a target of critics. During these tough economic times, one of the biggest problems end users and specifiers have with the LEED program is the cost of certification, and these days it’s not uncommon to find architects and designers constructing spaces that meet LEED standards but that are not submitted for certification because the cost sends projects over budget.

Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see innovation after innovation lowering environment footprints. In the carpet industry, reclamation and recycled content are of particular importance because of the product’s reliance on fossil fuels. For a long time it was all about backing systems, but in recent years we’ve seen Shaw reclaiming and reconstituting nylon 6 at its Evergreen facility, and Universal reusing nylon 6,6, and the big news over the last couple of years has surrounded Aquafil’s Econyl 900 denier nylon 6 fiber, with 100% recycled content from a combination of post-industrial and post-consumer waste. 

Led by Interface and now Shaw, installation systems that do away with traditional full spread adhesive have further lowered environmental impacts and made reclamation that much easier. And now bio-based content has started to make a mark—in both hard and soft surface flooring.

Certifications have been developed and constantly fine-tuned, and over the last couple of years there’s been a focus on developing standardized systems of codifying and certifying environmental impacts. Over the last year, much of the talk has been about environmental product declarations (EPDs).

Earlier this year, NSF International, which is both a third-party certifier and a standards developer, unveiled the new product category rule (PCR) for the North American market. The PCR, which identifies environmental impact categories to be used in conducting lifecycle assessments (LCAs), was developed in collaboration with all of the flooring industry groups.

Using this PCR, all flooring manufacturers can now create standardized lifecycle assessments and put together reports based on those impact categories in the form of EPDs. The idea is that specifiers can compare EPDs from various products in order to make informed decisions in line with their own sustainability agendas. It’s not unlike the nutrition labels on foods, where the equivalent impact categories are elements like fat, cholesterol, protein, sodium and carbohydrates. 

Some flooring producers have expressed concern about the risk of releasing proprietary information in EPDs, and this has generated some wariness. While it’s certainly true that EPDs will reveal more information than manufacturers are often prone to release—though most experts agree that they won’t be giving away their secrets—the case can be made that the problem lies with what is arguably the obsolete philosophy of the manufacturing industry. After all, building green is all about using products with reduced environmental impacts, and to do this specifiers need to know what it is that they’re specifying. They need a certain amount of transparency.

It’s not uncommon, for instance, for manufacturers of carpet tile or vinyl flooring to introduce PVC alternatives. However, they’ll tend to describe those alternatives as “thermoplastic polymers” or other descriptions of the class of material that their alternative belongs to—which is hardly useful, considering that PVC is itself a thermoplastic polymer. Few environmentally minded specifiers would be satisfied with such a description. But tell them that it’s a thermoplastic polyolefin with a fiberglass mesh, and they’ll probably be able to make an informed, environmentally responsible decision.

The point is that the game has changed. In the past, manufacturers had reason to feel confident that they were on solid ground in withholding the ingredients of their products. But in the past, people exposed to vinyl monomers developed liver sarcomas, and people who inhaled asbestos ended up with mesothelioma. The fact is that we’re not in the past; we’re in the present, and living for the future, and we’re more cognizant of the risks that manufactured materials can pose, if not to us directly then to the environment, and to the atmosphere. And in the present, it’s the manufacturers willing to be sufficiently transparent that secure the contract, that compete effectively, that gain marketshare, that secure the future for their companies and their employees. That’s sustainability’s triple bottom line right there: people, planet, profit.

However, there’s still plenty to debate about when it comes to EPDs. For instance, foreign producers as well as the handful of U.S. manufacturers that already have EPDs derived from PCRs developed in Europe question why a separate North American PCR had to be developed. After all, the idea is that there be a standard of some sort, so that EPDs can be compared, apples to apples. Nutrition labels, for instance, would have little value if one listed only polyunsaturated fats while another only listed partially hydrogenated fats, or if one listed sodium and another one didn’t. Several manufacturers have expressed concern that this is the situation we are in now. (And in Europe, meanwhile, the focus has been on consolidating PCRs from different countries into a single unit, EN 15804, the new European harmonized standard, with 22 impact categories.)

According to NSF International, the PCRs are not in conflict, and a single EPD can be created using both the European and North American rules, if necessary. Furthermore, NSF points out that the European PCR does not cover all flooring categories. Specifically, ceramic tile and hardwood are not included, while the North American PCR covers all types of flooring.

In addition, NSF claims that European tile manufacturers could theoretically use NSF’s PCR to build their own LCA and come out with product EPDs, or, if they feel that the rule doesn’t sufficiently address their situation, NSF would work with them to develop a Module PCR, which would be an add-on to what the standard developer has already put together.

The good news is that all the major U.S. carpet mills have openly expressed commitment to creating third-party verified EPDs, and most of them will be doing this within the next year or so—and some will be completing EPDs in the next few weeks and months.




In October the U.S. Green Building Council will open up the proposed LEED 4 rating system, originally called LEED 2012, for the fifth round of public comments. The idea is for the updated LEED system to be approved next June by the USGBC's membership. The changes require a super-majority vote overall and approval of the sub categories.

The new version of LEED will mark the first overhaul since 2009. The public comment periods have generated 22,000 comments, and changes to the basic framework have been incorporated because of them. It's likely that this fall's comment period will also result in revisions.

According to the USGBC, many of the proposed changes have been made to reduce the complexity of complying with the guidelines as well as to take a more holistic approach. For example, in previous versions energy efficiency was scored on individual components, but the new version scores overall energy efficiency and the details of how a project arrives there are not so important.

One area that will have an impact on the flooring industry is in the MR Credit: Material Disclosure and Optimization. The new guidelines, the USGBC says, are designed to reward greater transparency and knowledge about product lifecycles. A credit can be earned by using non-structural materials that meet certain criteria regarding certification, and these materials must reach at least 20% of the overall cost of non-structural materials. LEED guidelines specify how much of the cost of these materials can be used in the calculation, and they range from half to twice the cost. For example, products with a generic environmental product declaration (EPD) can be used at 100% of cost. However, products with a product-specific EPD can be used at 200% of the cost. Finally, products with a lifecycle assessment but no independent outside verification are valued at half their cost.

Another area where flooring could have a direct impact is in the MR Credit: Interiors Life-Cycle Impact and Reduction. Points can be earned when at least 50% of non-structural materials are reusable or recyclable. And flooring can also contribute to overall indoor air quality. These are not the only areas where flooring can contribute in the LEED system.

Both the USGBC and the federal government have come under attack this year by a group calling itself the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition. One of the founders of the group, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in July that the General Services Administration is harming many businesses by giving its stamp of approval only to LEED as a green rating system. The proposed changes, if said, will effectively keep many businesses from working with the government, even though they have proven and beneficial products. The coalition, which includes the Resilient Floor Covering institute, said it was formed to promote and support the development of sustainable building standards, which are based on consensus and scientific performance data. The ACC said the proposed LEED update is "poorly grounded in science."


Over the last year, Shaw, the nation’s largest carpet producer, has come out with an ambitious set of sustainability goals covering everything from energy to safety. Shaw, which has dozen of manufacturing and distribution facilities in the U.S. and employs 23,000 people, has a plan to achieve 100% reduction in landfill waste, hazardous chemicals and injuries by 2030. In addition, the firm intends to reduce water use by 50% and energy and emissions by 40%.

One of Shaw’s biggest initiatives is to get cradle to cradle certification for all of its products. So far, it’s at about 55%, covering all contract carpet, residential Anso nylon carpet and, most recently, hardwood. Next up will likely be the firm’s substantial PET residential carpet line. Shaw recently added vinyl flooring to its offering, though it’s not yet clear whether the outsourced line will be cradle to cradle certified. The firm is in the process of developing EPDs on products; it’ll start with carpet tiles.

Last year, Shaw reclaimed and recycled 111.6 million pounds of carpet, down 8% from 121.3 million in 2010. According to Shaw, volume was down last year because of a fall in the value of reclaimed materials coupled with an increase in reclamation costs. The good news is that the condition appears to be improving.

Another major green development at Shaw over the last year was the introduction of its LokDots, a carpet tile adhesive system that replaces full spread liquid adhesives. Use of LokDots, which are installed at intervals along the back of the carpet tile, vastly reduces the environmental footprint of carpet tile installations, and is also makes for easy installation with little downtime, no VOCs and extremely simple reclamation. LokDots are fully recyclable, just like the EcoWorx carpet tiles to which they attach.

Just last month, Interface announced that it was divesting itself of Bentley Prince Street, the California based broadloom and carpet tile manufacturer that has been part of the firm since 1993. By divesting, Interface once again becomes a carpet tile specialist, and it further reduces the firm’s water intensity, since Bentley Prince Street does much more yarn dyeing than Interface, which is heavily focused on solution-dyed products. Interface does a small amount of yarn dyeing in its European operations, and in the U.S. about 5% of its products are space-dyed.

Interface reports that this year total recycled content within its U.S. operations was up over 10%, with half the increase from post-consumer content and half from post-industrial. It should end up at over 50% for the year, which means that the average U.S. Interface product should be more than 50% recycled. About two-thirds of that content is post-industrial. All told, the annual rate of recycled content running through its plant stands at approximately 110 million pounds. 

Interface’s products range from 30% total recycled content to close to 80%, depending on the backing and the yarn type. The introduction of Aquafil’s 100% recycled Econyl fiber has boosted the firm’s use of nylon 6. However, nylon 6,6 is still an important fiber for the firm, and its average content, using Universal’s fiber, is currently around 30%, but Interface expects that percentage to rise over time. 

In terms of carpet reclamation, the firm tries to focus on carpet tile, but there’s also a lot of broadloom in its mix. Also, reclaimed product has a higher proportion of nylon 6,6 than what is produced now, so Interface’s reclamation system is designed to handle that as well. Right now the firm is focusing on increasing the efficiency of its reclamation system by consolidating materials in regions, then transporting them to recycling centers, in order to transport heavier loads. The goal is to establish partnerships in different regions. So far, Interface has a partner in California (Carpet Recyclers) and another in Canada, and by the end of the year it should have five regional partners. 

That regional focus also extends to the firm’s global production strategy with mills in Europe, Asia and Australia to serve regional markets, rather than shipping product all over the world from a single location.

Interface was already creating EPDs for its products using the PCR developed for the ISO standard, so it’s still figuring out how to address the North American PCR in its EPDs. 

Mohawk Industries, the world’s largest floorcovering manufacturer, is a major producer of everything from carpet and rugs to laminates, hardwood and ceramics—with nearly 26,000 employees. Mohawk has committed to reducing energy, greenhouse gas, and waste to landfill intensity by 25% from 2009 to 2020. So far, energy intensity is down nearly 10%, greenhouse gas intensity is down just over 10%, and waste to landfill intensity is down nearly 20%.

The goal for water intensity is a 25% reduction by 2020 with 2008 as a baseline. From 2008 to 2010, water intensity fell about 12%, but then it jumped up 5% last year as a result of sales growth, and much of that was in its residential carpet division, which uses a lot of water in the dyeing process.

One of Mohawk’s most interesting products is SmartStrand fiber, used heavily on the residential side and more recently under the Karastan and Lees brands on the commercial side. The fiber is made from DuPont’s Sorona triexta polymer, which is 37% bio-based. On the commercial side, the firm is using the fiber in both solution-dyed and space-dyed formats, as well as some printed SmartStrand for hospitality applications under the Durkan brand. According to Mohawk, solution-dyed SmartStrand has some clear advantages over solution-dyed nylon; most notably, it doesn’t need stain protection. Like nylon, triexta is a thermoplastic, with a melting point around that of nylon 6.

Mohawk makes a lot of product in Europe—mostly laminate from its Unilin brand—and most of those products already have EPDs. There’s a mandate in Europe that all products have EPDs based on a PCR that is standard across all countries in the region. Mohawk intends to have EPDs for all its European products by the end of the year, and it’s also planning on having EPDs on its North American products, but a schedule has not yet been determined.

Tandus Flooring, which manufactures carpet tile, six-foot Powerbond and broadloom, is currently getting ready to publish EPDs on Powerbond and modular carpet using the Ethos backing system, which uses polyvinyl butyrate instead of PVC. The LCAs have already been completed. UL Environment is the program operator for the EPD development, and verification is coming from PE America. Following EPDs for the Ethos products, Tandus intends to add other carpet lines.

To date, the firm has reclaimed 215 million pounds of carpet, largely turning it into its ER3 backing. Tandus also has a program for taking back architect folders and samples, and it’s crossed the half a million mark on that front. Recycling volume nearly tripled from 2010 to 2011 due to investment in new equipment. Carpet tile with Ethos backing now features 26% to 50% recycled content, of which 19% is post-consumer. Powerbond with Ethos backing has overall recycled content of 37% to 61%.

The firm began tracking its metrics back in 1993, and has since reduced water by 65%, an impressive feat considering it does all its dyeing in-house. And last year 50% of its electricity was offset with renewable energy certificates.

J&J Industries has been busy on the environmental front. In 2011, the firm partnered with Aqua Chem on a water filtration system, filtering dyehouse effluent for reuse in the system. The water actually comes through the system about 25º F warmer than water from the utility, so less natural gas is needed to heat up the water as well. The system is currently being fine-tuned before bringing it up to maximum capacity, which will recycle 30 to 35 million gallons a year. In the next month or two, the system should be operating at close to capacity, and will take care of 80% to 90% of the firm’s beck dyeing needs.

At this summer’s NeoCon show in Chicago, the firm previewed a new product called Kinetex that weighs about 50 ounces a yard. It’s a soft surface product, but not tufted like carpet tile, with post-consumer recycled content of more than 60%, and it’s fully recyclable. It doesn’t feature the design capabilities of carpet tile but has a lot of the same performance attributes, so it will probably be specified for utilitarian applications.

Also new is an installation system called Tile Tabs that works with both of the firm’s carpet tile programs, Eko and Nexus, obviating the need for full spread liquid adhesive. J&J Industries, like the other big carpet producers, intends to quickly follow the process for generating EPDs for its products.

Mannington Mills, the only firm with established commercial resilient and carpet businesses, makes both carpet tile and broadloom. Its carpet tile is produced through a joint venture operation with J&J Industries. Carpet tile accounts for about 60% of the firm’s carpet sales, and it comes with both PVC and polyolefin backings—the bulk of demand is for PVC.

Particulary notable are the firm’s efforts to reduce water and energy. Water intensity is down over 30% since 2007, and part of that is a result of recycling dyehouse water. The firm also has a large solar array at its facility in Salem, New Jersey, where it also plays a big role in the conservation of the surrounding wetlands. Earlier this year, the firm received the 2012 Business and Industry Award from the Water Resources Association of the Delaware River Basin in recognition of its partnership with the New Jersey Audubon and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary to promote environmental stewardship of the area.

Bentley Prince Street, no longer part of Interface, produces both carpet tile and broadloom. Historically, its standard carpet tile has been cushion backed, but now the firm is moving ahead with its Select RC hardback tile, which uses a polyolefin instead of PVC. The tile features an average of 30% post-consumer content. 

The firm is part of the Department of Energy’s ISO 50001 Energy Management Standard. It’s the only carpet company in the program, which helps firms improve their energy management. Certification should be complete by the end of the year. Bentley Prince Street was also one of the winners of the 2012 EPA Climate Stewardship Award, alongside firms like Ford and Intel. And it recently won the GSA Evergreen Award for the third time.

Bentley Prince Street is currently undergoing recertification of its mill in City of Industry, California for LEED EB, shooting for Gold. Reclamation numbers were about flat from 2010 to 2011, but they’re projected to go up at least 25% this year to over three million pounds. Since 1994, water intensity is down 55%, nonrenewable energy intensity is down 41%, greenhouse gas emissions are down over 48%, and waste to landfill is down a stunning 97%. By the end of this year, about 90% of the firm’s products will have EPDs.

Milliken is best known for its carpet tile program, which features a non-PVC cushioned backing. And the firm had no PVC products until it acquired Constantine toward the end of 2009. The firm reports that all of Constantine’s products now come with ComfortPlus cushion backing, which is largely made of latex, polyurethane and a nonwoven felt.

Milliken is a carbon negative company, and all the products on the carpet side are carbon neutral. The firm plans on coming out with EPDs on its products in the near future. Milliken recently revamped its carpet landfill diversion program to provide a simple means for customers to divert old carpet from landfills. The process, which involves finding the highest form of recovery—from recycling into new carpet to downcycling into alternative products and donating to charity—requires customers to request a quote for landfill diversion and submit a small sample of carpet to help determine the best method for recovery.

One of the most innovative players in the commercial carpet market is Universal Textile Technologies (UTT), a backing specialist known for its high recycled and bio-based content. In recent years, the firm has also been focusing on partnerships with national parks for PET drink bottle reclamation. The program was launched at Yellowstone. Now the firm is part of the formal Yellowstone Strategic Plan for Sustainability, which sets goals for operational and infrastructure improvements that reduce environmental impacts while enhancing visitor experiences and employee living and working conditions. 

Toward the end of last year, UTT also launched an initiative to collect PET bottles from Grand Teton National Park. The products are converted to nonwoven fleece material to make environmentally friendly backings for carpet and synthetic turf. The plan is to continue expanding these programs to other national parks. Not only do these programs protect the environment and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, but they also help create jobs for Americans.

Two of UTT’s sister companies, Global Textile Services and Textile Coatings, which have latex operations, have been incorporating BIOH-fusion polymers—a liquid dispersion made from vegetable based renewable ingredients that directly replaces latex. So far, the program, which is the result of a collaboration with Cargill, replaces up to 30% of the latex content, and the firms feel that they’re not far away from a 50% bio-based content. It’s priced competitively with traditional latex.

Aquafil’s Econyl fiber has a minimum of 25% post consumer content. Its remaining 75% post-industrial content is derived from fabric, carpet and polymer plant waste from global sources, primarily Asia, Europe and the US. Aquafil maintains reclamation partnerships with its mill customers, who sell their post-industrial waste back to the fiber producer at fair market value. Post-consumer content is growing steadily and Aquafil is on track to meet its goal of 100% post-consumer content by 2020.

The environmental impact of transportation to its recycling plant in Slovenia is factored into the portfolio of data within Aquafil’s lifecycle information. Shipping container density is maximized in order to minimize fuel consumption and cost. 

Aquafil USA’s plant in Cartersville, Georgia is not yet depolymerizing nylon 6, though it generates compounded polymer from post-industrial waste that is recycled into engineering resins. The firm’s goal is to double depolymerization capacity at the Slovenia plant first and then add additional capacity in the US, where business is growing and the bulk of its carpet source for recycling exists.

Aquafil recently installed a 520,000-kilowatt hour solar panel array on the Cartersville plant. The array began generating power in May, and will initially provide 2% green energy for the manufacturing operation. In 2010 significant investment in Reactive Power Correction technology and low energy lighting across the factory reduced electrical energy requirement approximately 8%. So within the last two years Aquafil USA has proactively invested and reduced the electrical energy footprint of its yarn by close to 10%. Aquafil’s Italian plants also use alternative energy sources, including solar and hydroelectric.

Universal Fibers, the first company to offer nylon 6,6 with recycled content, has two primary fiber platforms. Its nylon 6,6 fiber includes 30% recycled content, currently 20% post-industrial and 10% post-consumer. A second platform, the Refresh yarn system, is based on its 600 fiber, which is a highly desirable denier building block due to its styling attributes (design flexibility, plus the ability to develop lower weight products). Available in both nylon 6 and 6,6, the Refresh fiber system contains 20% post-industrial and 25% post-consumer content. Revolve, an exciting new yarn system introduced at NeoCon 2012, will be available in either of these sustainable fiber options. 

Universal has the ambitious goal of producing 95% non-petrochemical sourced fiber content by 2020; it is on track to reach the intermediate goal of 70% by 2015. The firm reports a greater than 20% reduction in operating scrap, resulting in a reduction in electrical energy consumption per unit of fiber made.

Sales of DuPont’s Sorona, with 37% bio-based content, have shown good growth in tough times, with sales increases in the double digits. DuPont is continuing to expand capacity for Sorona production. In addition to its partnership with Mohawk, Sorona is offered through Pharr Yarns. Global partners include Godfrey Hirst in Australia.

This year saw DuPont’s acquisition of Danisco, a Danish company. One of Danisco’s subsidiaries is Genencor out of Palo Alto, California. A new business unit, DuPont Industrial Biosciences, was created out of the integration of DuPont’s own biofiber operations with those of Genencor, With the addition of Genencor’s technology, DuPont expects to be a catalyst for more innovation in the flooring industry.

Invista is expanding the reach of its TruBlend solution-dyed fiber by increasing capacity at its plant in Kingsport, Ontario and adding new sources of post-consumer recycled content. It’s currently offered in a limited colors, but Invista’s goal is to increase recycled content over time across the full Lumena palette. TruBlend currently contains 25% post-industrial and 5% post-consumer recycled content.

With the launch of BioLegacy, Invista was the first company to bring bio-based materials in synthetic nylon to the commercial marketplace. The next stage in its bio-materials journey will result from its R&D efforts involving intermediate chemicals.

Invista has recently unveiled a new technology for producing adiponitrile, a key ingredient in the production of nylon 6,6. The new technology will improve product yields, reduce energy consumption, lower CO2 emissions, enhance process stability, and reduce benzene.





The Carpet America Recovery Effort went back to the future this month as it named Bob Peoples executive director. He replaces Georgina Sikorski, who resigned the post in April after three years on the job.

Peoples was CARE's first executive director from 2004 to 2008. He's leaving the American Chemistry Council, where he served as executive director of the Green Chemistry Institute.

Peoples returns to an organization that has grown substantially in his absence. CARE's 2008 annual report lists 50 members. Last year the non-profit grew to over 400 members, an increase of 17% over the previous year. In 2008 the organization diverted 292 million pounds of carpet from the landfill, recycling 243 million pounds, while last year's total was 333 million pounds diverted, a 1% decline from 2010. Of that total, 250 million pounds were recycled back into carpet or other products.

The organization has also seen its stature grow. CARE, the only non-profit dedicated to carpet recycling, began its service as the stewardship organization for California's new carpet recycling law, which imposes a 5¢ fee on every yard of carpet sold in the state. Among its many responsibilities, CARE has to collect and distribute the funds and essentially make sure the program works. California could become a model for other states. In the second half of last year, 80 manufacturers were participating in the stewardship plan, and 60 million pounds of carpet were kept out of landfills, a diversion rate of 15%.

CARE says that since 2002 its members have diverted 2.3 billion pounds of carpet.

Copyright 2012 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Interface, Mannington Mills, Karastan, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Lumber Liquidators, Mohawk Industries