State of Sustainability 2015: Manufacturers adapt to market transformations

 

By Darius Helm

 

Over the last couple of years, a lot has changed in the sustainability arena. How to measure and communicate about sustainable products has shifted toward full lifecycle assessments and chemical transparency, ushering in as many solutions as fresh challenges, and most recently a sharp focus on wellness in the workplace has expanded the domain of sustainability into a massive territory that’s largely uncharted. 

On top of that, the drop in fossil fuel costs has diminished the appeal of going green and dealt a heavy blow, as it always does, to recycled material streams, which were already under pressure. And the growing presence of LVT in the commercial market, particularly coming from major carpet mills, has forced the industry to really pull back the curtain and examine PVC through a green lens.

It’s worth it, every now and then, to take a step back and look at the larger picture of sustainability. What is driving the movement? It goes beyond creating healthy products or cradle to cradle strategies, and it’s not about renewable energy sources either. And to the cynical: it’s not even about gaining a competitive advantage. When it comes right down to it, sustainability exists in the flooring industry because of a drive to mitigate the damage done to our planet by 250 years of industrialization and population expansion, and it’s about trying to develop industrial models that can be sustained in the planet’s delicately balanced eco-system. And flooring is right at the heart of industrial development, as a big consumer of natural resources and a major contributor to the waste stream. Consequently, the progress that the industry makes is meaningful and measurable. 

Outside of the flooring industry, the private sector is engaged in significant initiatives. Just last month, many of the largest corporations in the world—Google, Apple, Coca-Cola, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Microsoft, Cargill, GM, UPS, PepsiCo, Walmart, Alcoa, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America—took a pledge with the White House to spend $140 billion on “new low-carbon investment and more than 1,600 megawatts of new renewable energy,” according to a White House fact sheet, along with a range of company-specific goals like huge reductions in water intensity, cutting emissions by up to 50% and purchasing 100% renewable energy.

These sorts of initiatives are common among the bigger players in the flooring industry, but these 13 companies are massive in comparison. They employ millions of people. Combined, their 2014 revenues topped $1.3 trillion. And considering how much square footage these companies use, and how buildings use a third of the energy consumed in the U.S., this seems like the sort of initiative that could really move the needle.

Google and other tech firms, including LinkedIn and Facebook, are also leading the way in the design of corporate interiors. Google in particular has been at the forefront; its concept for its campus on the edge of San Francisco Bay is about as futuristic as you can imagine, with a focus on nature, sustainability and, in particular, on the work force.

WELLNESS IN THE WORKPLACE
The hot topic at this year’s NeoCon surrounded the experience of the worker in the corporate environment. While much of it was about acoustics, privacy, the health benefits of switching between sitting, standing and walking and other aspects of the worker’s relationship to the built environment, the role of biophilia was largely expressed by the flooring community.

Part of the focus at the Interface showroom revolved around a study the firm commissioned called The Human Spaces Report into the Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace. The report studied 7,600 workers across 16 countries, and it examined a range of issues, including what sorts of environments workers are looking for, how much natural light is generally available, and what percentage of workers want privacy compared to those more comfortable in an open plan office. 

About 85% of surveyed workers are in urban settings. Overall, 15% of workers reported that they are more creative and have a higher level of well being in office environments with greenery and sunlight, and 6% said they’re more productive. However, 47% of their environments have no natural light and 58% have no plants. Workers most wanted, in order, natural light, indoor plants, a quiet working space, a view of the sea and bright colors in the environment.

At the AIA convention last May, a report by the World Green Building Council was presented, and it attempted to answer a central question: Can we reliably quantify the human benefits of green building? The report asserts that staff costs, on average, are 90% of corporate operating costs—by contrast, energy is just 1%. The report also claims that absenteeism in U.S. businesses on average costs over $2,000 per employee. In addition, it cites productivity improvements in high single digits as a result of better air quality, as well as improvements from sunlight and views of nature. And according to the report, active architectural design improves wellness, and even the shapes and proportions of objects in the workplace impact overall wellbeing.

A recent white paper commissioned by Armstrong uses research from a Penn State professor to examine issues of daylighting, which is about how daylight can be driven into a building’s interior. The most interesting thing about the report was how important the floor can be in transmitting daylight deeper into a space, since that’s the biggest surface that sunlight hits. Different reflectivity levels on flooring can determine how natural light infuses a space, and LEED v4 recognizes the benefit through its IEQ Lighting Quality Credit.

Then there’s the Well Building Standard, developed by the International Well Building Institute and published in February. It’s the first building standard exclusively devoted to human health and wellness, and it establishes performance requirements in seven categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. The certification, which is based on measurable performance and includes project documentation of on-site audits, requires a minimum score in each of the seven categories.

The Well Building Standard is third-party certified by Green Business Certification, which administers LEED certification and LEED professional credentialing.

Central to the development of these wellness programs and certifications is the science of evidence-based design. It’s best known in the medical community as the cutting edge analytic tool that seeks out improved patient outcomes and staff wellness and efficiency through evaluation of everything from acoustical impacts to design of the space, natural light, biophilia and comfort underfoot.

So the big question is what role flooring can play in human wellness in the workplace. The low-hanging fruit are issues like air quality and comfort underfoot, and of course non-toxic ingredients. Products like carpet can have a big impact on acoustics.

Also, flooring should facilitate the activity for which the space is designed, and that means extra care around the appropriate materials, the right level of comfort, and whatever else optimizes the flooring in the context of the application. 

In terms of design, this can mean anything from using pattern and color to define spaces and for wayfinding if necessary, and it also means using the floor to express biophilia. Evidence strongly suggests that elements that mimic nature have a similar impact on the body to using actual elements of nature, like plants. So this means that shapes and textures derived from nature can impact wellness. And while textures are often easier to convey on ceilings and walls, dimensionality is also important underfoot—slight variations are more natural than perfectly flat surfaces, and they engage the worker because the subtle feedback from walking on an uneven floor engages the mind and strengthens its relationship with the environment.

So for anyone wondering, for instance, about all the pile heights and shifting textures in Interface’s Near & Far collection, that textural biomimicry was carefully designed in consideration of human wellness and the benefits of being connected to the surrounding environment.


THE IMPACT OF CHEAPER FOSSIL FUELS

The surge in domestic oil and natural gas production may have moved the nation closer to energy independence, but not without a price. And that price, interestingly, comes in the form of lower prices at the pump. OPEC nations have leveraged their power to keep crude oil prices low, and while that may benefit the American consumer, it makes sinking new wells in North Dakota and fracking for oil too costly. That’s because shale oil is difficult to extract and expensive to process, while oil from places like the Middle East is the opposite. So, until crude oil starts to climb back up to $60 or $70 a barrel, there won’t be that much investment in developing more U.S. production.

The other downside to cheap oil is that it reduces the financial incentive to go green. And many synthetic materials get cheaper too, narrowing the delta with recycled synthetic materials, so the greener products start to look less appealing. The same thing happened when oil prices fell, around 2008-2009. Unfortunately, too often sustainability has to also boost profits in order to be a high priority.  


LVT DEVELOPMENTS
Another major focus in flooring sustainability has to do with luxury vinyl tile, the fastest growing category in both the residential and commercial markets. As things stand, its momentum will lead it to be the second largest commercial flooring category, after carpet tile, a few years down the road. As such, the pressure is on to improve the environmental profile of LVT in much the same way that carpet’s profile has been enhanced over the last 15 years.

Most commercial LVT producers have focused on switching from ortho-phthalate plasticizers to terephthalates or bio-based alternatives. That includes firms like Tarkett, Mannington, Shaw, Armstrong, Metroflor, Gerflor and Novalis. And at this point it’s inevitable that all producers will convert from ortho-phthalates. 

However, this has created an interesting situation when it comes to recycling used PVC flooring. Recycling and reclamation is a complex and messy business, and most flooring producers are reluctant to make serious commitments to such enterprises. It can be a logistical nightmare, and it’s certainly a challenge when it comes to chemistry. 

The position of many of the leading LVT producers is that they will focus on green ingredients—a position that sits nicely with the new focus on transparency and red lists—and avoid recycled product because of phthalate content. Currently, the exceptions are Mannington, Tarkett and Armstrong—the three market leaders in vinyl flooring—which already recycle VCT, to varying degrees, and which all have the capital and the 

infrastructure to handle LVT. In general, the recaptured LVT is used on the back of new vinyl floors. Another firm that recaptures vinyl is Interface, for its GlasBac RE. Interface has also shifted away from ortho-phthalates for virgin GlasBac material, as has J+J Flooring with its Nexus carpet tile backing.

In April, Home Depot announced that it would discontinue using flooring containing ortho-phthalates, in response to pressure from consumer groups. The firm has demanded that about six suppliers, accounting for 15% of Home Depot’s vinyl products, phase out ortho-phthalates by the end of the year.

The real question going forward is whether it is reasonable for manufacturers to relinquish any real responsibility for the LVT that is already installed, with its dubious phthalates embedded in the PVC. It’s a massive waste stream, and if those ortho-phthalates are really capable of migrating out of the PVC, then they’ll certainly have a much easier time of it in a landfill, where they can also leach into the water table. If it’s a hazard, the burden falls on the manufacturer—no different from hazardous materials from the past, like asbestos. So how will manufacturers solve this problem? Segregated waste streams? New technologies? Waste to energy? And will they come together to form a cooperative enterprise? How the industry responds in the next couple of years will be critical.

While it’s certainly easier for large players to find ways to handle such waste streams, how manufacturers respond to their responsibilities reflects on a firm’s sustainability philosophy, and the details won’t be lost on other stakeholders in the community.

PRODUCER ROUND-UP
Mohawk Industries, the largest flooring producer in the world, is a $7.8 billion business, and over the last 15 years the firm has acquired some of the most prominent flooring manufacturers, including Dal-Tile, Unilin, Columbia, Pergo, IVC and Marazzi. One of the firm’s major sustainability challenges has been in adding such large firms into its green framework, and simply amassing and organizing the volume of data, including historical data, can be a daunting task. 

Also, the firm, which is 80% residential and 20% commercial, does 20% of its business in western Europe, which is generally more stringent when it comes to sustainability and often operates under different regulations. The firm is steadily increasing the product categories for which it has HPDs and EPDs and Declare lists. So far, it has EPDs and HPDs for commercial carpet, EPDs for laminate and hardwood solid in the European Union, and EPDs and HPDs for ceramic tile produced in the U.S. 

At Dalton State College in mid July, Mohawk participated in the inaugural meeting of the Alliance for Innovation and Sustainability, which was open to any manufacturer or supplier in the 15 counties in northwest Georgia. On the initial board are firms like Mohawk, Shaw, Beaulieu, Cargill, Dalton Utilities, Georgia Tech and Dalton State College, and the plan is to work with those schools to attain grants and government funding for green innovations.

Now that Mohawk is in the vinyl business, with operations in the U.S. and Belgium, it is working on enhancing the sustainability of its products. IVC already uses DOTP, a well established terephthalate, on some of its products, but other products use DINP, an ortho-phthalate, and that plasticizer is being phased out.

Shaw Industries, which is the largest carpet producer in the world, also makes a range of hard surface flooring, and it’s building an LVT facility that will be manufacturing product by the end of the year, using non-phthalate plasticizer. And at the NeoCon show in Chicago earlier this summer, the firm introduced resilient tile made of its EcoWorx polyethylene backing, a PVC-free product. 

However, the big sustainability news at Shaw this summer surrounds the shuttering of Evergreen Augusta and the opening of Evergreen Ringgold. At Augusta, the firm used to buy post-consumer nylon 6 carpet, remove the face fiber and depolymerize it as a raw material stream for new nylon 6. However, the process was inefficient and the machinery was increasingly prone to breakdowns, and the firm has been reducing output for months.

Over the last decade, Shaw has played a critical role in carpet recycling. Not only was its first Evergreen facility the biggest consumer of post-consumer nylon 6, but the firm also has a history of stepping up to help stabilize the reclamation infrastructure, on one occasion warehousing large volumes of nylon 6,6 while the industry struggled to find end-use markets.

The new Evergreen won’t be depolymerizing nylon 6. Instead, it is designed to accept baled reclaimed carpet, and to process nylon 6, nylon 6,6 and polyester face fibers to a high level of purity to make the recycled polymers, mostly in pellet form, as appealing as possible for the engineered plastics market. And while in the long run total volume may approach the 100-million-pound capacity at Evergreen Augusta, initial volumes will be significantly lower.

Other sustainability achievements by Shaw in the last year include the introduction of a bio-renewable adhesive for use with its commercial carpet tile. According to the firm, it’s the first Cradle to Cradle Certified wet flooring adhesive. The Shaw 5000 and Shaw 5001 pressure sensitive adhesives achieved a Silver C2C certification. And in June of this year, Shaw reported that it had achieved a LEED-NC Silver certification for its carpet tile facility in Nantong, China.

Currently, 66% of the flooring manufactured by Shaw is Cradle to Cradle Certified. That covers the bulk of the products Shaw sells, but doesn’t include its tile and stone line and its outsourced LVT and sheet vinyl. And last year Shaw reclaimed and recycled 113.7 million pounds of carpet, up significantly from 74.6 million pounds in 2013 and more on par with 2012 and 2011, when volumes were 109.5 million pounds and 111.1 million pounds, respectively. The firm’s EcoWorx carpet tile recycling is done in Cartersville, Georgia, using an elutriation process.

Interface, the only carpet tile specialist in the U.S. market, is a global manufacturer with carpet mills in four continents. The firm, a leader in sustainable manufacturing for nearly two decades, embraced EPDs before the USGBC incorporated the system in LEED v4, and it has also been proactive with green chemistries. According to Interface, it is the only carpet mill currently offering 100% PFC-free yarn with no added cost, having eliminated the topical stain resistant treatment (perfluorinated compounds) from its entire fiber offering. It started in early 2011 by eliminating the treatment from its Aquafil and Universal nylon fiber, which together account for 90% of its fiber offering, and last year it completed the process by eliminating PFC treatments from its Invista fiber. 

PFCs are a family of manmade chemicals with nonstick properties that are bioaccumulative, resist degradation and are detectable just about everywhere in the environment, including inside the bodies of nearly every American. Studies in laboratory animals have revealed links between high levels of PFCs and a variety of health problems.

And this year Interface eliminated DINP plasticizer from its GlasBac PVC carpet tile backing, replacing it with DOTP. However, DINP will continue to be recaptured by GlasBac RE, though concentrations will steadily fall over time.

Interface has also partnered with Biomimicry 3.8, a biomimicry innovation consulting firm co-founded by Janine Benyus, a visionary biologist. The firm is starting with its new carpet tile facility in Picton, Australia. The strategy is to assess the ecological role of the footprint of the facility in order to build a restorative program that at minimum operates in a manner that contributes to the local and global environment to the same degree as if the land had been left untouched.

Interface is also a partner with the Zoological Society of London and Aquafil in the Net-Works program, which works with small fishing communities to recapture nylon 6 fishing nets through a synergistic system that simultaneously adds another source of capital to these impoverished communities, cleans up the environment (including coral reefs) and provides feedstock to Aquafil as an alternative to virgin material derived from fossil fuels. The program was originally launched in a fishing community in the Philippines, and has recently been expanded to multiple collection hubs in three regions in the Philippines as well as four villages on Lake Ossa in Cameroon. As of June, nearly 150,000 pounds of nets have been reclaimed.

With Shaw’s decommissioning of Evergreen Nylon Recycling in Augusta, Aquafil is now the only producer of repolymerized nylon, through its Econyl nylon 6 fiber program. Econyl is 100% recycled, and half of that content is post-consumer, recaptured largely from carpet and fishing nets. 

The Italian firm, which has a depolymerization facility in Slovenia (bordering Italy) as well as a facility in Cartersville that shears face fiber from reclaimed nylon carpet, is looking to build a depolymerization facility in the U.S. It seems like an obvious choice, since the bulk of the recycled carpet that makes up 40% of the feedstock in Slovenia is reclaimed in the U.S. and half of Slovenia’s Econyl product is sold back to the U.S. Fishing nets make up another big chunk of recycled nylon 6, and apparel and other sources account for a smaller volume.

Econyl fiber is solution dyed, but advancements in purity levels have enabled Aquafil to offer piece-dyeable Econyl, which will likely launch in the U.S. in the next month.

Tarkett, a $3 billion firm headquartered in France, is best known for its resilient flooring in the commercial, residential and sports markets. In the U.S., its commercial business is divided between its Tandus Centiva operation, which goes direct to specifiers, and its Tarkett Commercial/Johnsonite business, which is sold through wholesale distribution. 

Tarkett’s ReStart program reclaims all of the firm’s products, including vinyl, rubber and linoleum floorcoverings, and the different materials go to a variety of uses. For instance, its linoleum is used for mulching or as waste to energy. And while it reclaims vinyl flooring with phthalates, its virgin content is made with non-phthalate plasticizers.

The biggest chunk of Tarkett’s reclamation volume is from its VCT, though it is a logistical challenge. The firm is working on developing consolidation points across the country through distributor partners, and so far it has the Northeast covered by NRF, as well as Fishman for the mid Atlantic, E.J. Welch in the Midwest and Diamond W on the West Coast. Total post-consumer flooring waste collection in 2014 reached 24 million pounds, up marginally from 2013.

Tandus Centiva is made up of a commercial carpet division and a commercial LVT division. Last year, the firm’s Ethos carpet tile, which uses polyvinyl butyral instead of PVC, was Cradle to Cradle Silver Certified, and the Venue LVT collection, introduced at NeoCon 2014, has been certified NSF 332 Silver. And earlier this year, Tandus Centiva was also named CARE Recycler of the Year, having recycled over 284 million pounds of post-consumer carpet in the 21 years of its reclamation program, including approximately ten million pounds in 2014.

Tandus Centiva was an early leader in the greening of LVT, with post-consumer content on most of its lines going back several years. More recently, it has led the industry in moving away from ortho-phthalates. And the firm is currently recapturing LVT for use on the back of its Event, Contour and Venue lines, as long as any recycled phthalate content does not exceed 1,000 parts per million. Its homogeneous Victory line does not use post-consumer recycled content and is entirely phthalate free.

Mannington, a global leader in LVT, also manufactures hardwood, laminates, VCT and vinyl sheet, rubber and both broadloom and carpet tile. At the end of last year, the firm completed its transition away from ortho-phthalates in its VCT, sheet vinyl and LVT (except in the LVT print film layer) as well as in its PVC-backed carpet tile, shifting to both terephthalates and bio-based alternatives. 

In addition to its carpet takeback program, Mannington also recycles VCT, and last year, with the expansion of the LVT facility in Madison, Georgia, the firm also launched an LVT takeback program. The recycled vinyl will be used for the base of new product, effectively sequestering the vinyl with phthalates and leaving virgin material on top. 

The firm has full EDPs on its commercial carpet tile, both PVC and polyolefin backed, as well as its LVT, VCT, rubber tile and sheet flooring, both homogeneous and heterogeneous.

Earlier this summer, J+J Flooring Group, which specializes in commercial soft surface flooring, was certified as a Zero Waste to Landfill manufacturer by GreenCircle Certified, a first for the carpet industry (see Environmental Impacts, starting on page 50). Over the preceding years, the firm had made great strides in waste reduction, with its waste intensity going from around 5% in 1991 to just 0.3% last year. What remained was a mix of waste that could not be recycled, so the firm entered into a partnership with Covanta, which converts the waste material into energy in Huntsville, Alabama for the Redstone Arsenal, a military installation.

The firm recently came out with its third annual sustainability report, detailing the EPDs and HPDs on its product lines, as well as company wide programs for waste, water and energy reductions and 2020 goals. The report also includes an update on the firm’s Aquafinity on-site water reclamation system, which was installed in 2011 and has enabled J+J to recover and reuse 65% of dyehouse water.

Bentley Mills, a commercial carpet mill based in City of Industry, California, originally had a goal of achieving a 25% reduction in energy intensity by 2020 from a baseline of 2010, but when the firm hit its goals in 2014, it decided to go further, and it set a fresh goal of 25% energy intensity reduction in the next ten years.

In terms of certifications and declarations, the firm has EPDs and HPDs for its product lines, as well as Declare labels, and it is currently updating its Cradle to Cradle Certification to the latest version. And Bentley is also a LEED certified manufacturing facility.

From 2013 to 2014, Bentley recorded an 11% reduction in nature gas usage intensity, a 9% reduction in electricity intensity and an 18% decrease in water usage intensity. And it diverted 95% of its waste.

Invista, the largest independent face fiber producer, is best known for its Stainmaster residential brand and Antron commercial brand of nylon 6,6 fiber. Last year, the firm doubled its capacity for making its recycled nylon fiber, which features 30% total recycled content—10% post-consumer and 20% post-industrial—third-party certified by Scientific Certification Systems. Its green solution-dyed commercial fiber, Antron Lumena with TruBlend technology, is now being expanded from 16 colors to between 50 to 60, and the offering will be available by the end of the year.

The firm has also just completed a “robust” LCA, using GABI software, with Thinkstep (formerly PE International) providing third-party validation. The LCA covers the firm’s nylon extrusion process in Camden, South Carolina, where the majority of the firm’s bulk continuous filament nylon is extruded.

Looking ahead, Invista’s research is most heavily focused on coming up with bio-based solutions for making the copolymers that go into nylon 6,6—adipic acid and hexamethylenediamine. The firm is working on a solution in the U.K. with Plaxica, a chemical technologies firm that is concentrating on developing technology for the affordable production of lactic acid from bio-based sources.

Universal Fibers, which extrudes all of the major carpet face fibers—nylon 6, nylon 6,6, PTT and PET—through operations in the U.S., U.K., Thailand and China, has been making its Refresh nylon 6,6 with post-consumer content for several years. Earlier this year the firm completed an inhouse LCA on its Refresh 30 product. Refresh comes in Universal’s palette of nearly 300 solution-dyed colors. All of Universal’s fibers are solution-dyed.

This summer, Universal had its Bristol, Virginia produced Prisma 20, Refresh 30 and Refresh 75 fiber certified under Green Circle’s multi-attribute certification program, and next the firm will pursue the same certification for its facility in China.

Beaulieu is a carpet producer that goes to both the commercial and residential markets, with the bulk of its business on the residential side. Its commercial Bolyu brand includes both broadloom and carpet tile, and the firm also makes a soft surface tile called Level that’s 99% PET, at least 70% of which comes from post-consumer content. Its standard carpet tile backing is also largely made of recycled PET.

In addition to using the PET bottle waste stream—for both Level and its residential broadloom—Beaulieu also takes back some nylon 6 that it extrudes internally. And the firm has a range of initiatives for waste, water and energy reductions. Because at least 90% of its carpet uses solution-dyed fiber, its water needs are not as vast as some of the other carpet mills. 

Last year, Beaulieu completed five HPDs, for nylon 6 broadloom, nylon 6,6 broadloom, Level tile, and carpet tile with both nylon 6 and 6,6.

Milliken, which is best known as a commercial carpet producer, is now also in the LVT business with a collection showcased at NeoCon. Milliken also goes to the residential market with both carpet and rugs. The firm has moved quickly in the last couple of years with transparency initiatives, and it now has EPDs and Declare labels for all of its carpet tile manufactured in North America, along with EPDs for its Milliken MTZ carpet, produced in Asia, as well as Declare labels for soft-back carpet made in China. In addition, Milliken now has EPDs and Declare labels for its new LVT offering.

Milliken & Company, which is also a chemicals producer, is a carbon-negative manufacturer, third party certified, achieved in part by the carbon sequestration of its 130,000 acres of forest as well as the offset of emissions from its renewable energy, which includes hydroelectric generation and use of landfill methane. And the firm has a goal of reducing its manufacturing footprint 20% by 2020 from a baseline in 2010.

Looking ahead, Milliken is working on the publication of its first sustainability report, which promises to offer concrete evidence of reductions in waste, energy and emissions. Also, Milliken will be increasing the total recycled content of its carpet tile later this year.

In recent years, Universal Textile Technologies (UTT), a long-time supplier of bio-based polyurethane backing technology to the commercial carpet market, has proven itself to be an effective, high profile advocate of green programs. The firm is a partner in a range of initiatives, including bottle collection in the national park system, and it was invited to Earth Day 2015 at the Kennedy Space Center, which features carpet and synthetic turf using UTT products. Along with the United Soybean Board, UTT assisted a review of the space center’s sustainability program.

In addition, UTT has recently increased the soy-based content in its polyurethane foams. Its products also include recycled coal fly ash and a secondary backing made of PET from recycled drink bottles.

HARD SURFACE SPECIALISTS
The largest hard surface flooring firm in the U.S. is Armstrong, which is the market leader in both resilient and hardwood flooring. Armstrong is made up of two divisions, flooring and ceilings, and the firm is splitting in two, a process that is scheduled for completion next April. Armstrong has also built its second U.S. LVT facility—the firm makes its high-end Alterna LVT in Kankakee, Illinois—in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, right next to its resilient sheet facility, and it will start producing LVT for the market later this year.

Armstrong has a VCT reclamation program, which recovered approximately four million pounds of material last year, including 1.6 million pounds through Kroger, its biggest partner. And in early 2015, the firm also launched its LVT reclamation program. So far this year, it has already reclaimed over five million pounds of vinyl flooring. Armstrong tests the vinyl it reclaims to ensure that it doesn’t recycle material with DEHP, an orthophthalate, though it will recycle material using DINP, a larger molecule, and that will go into its VCT flooring. The firm no longer uses ortho-phthalates in its vinyl manufacturing; it mostly uses terephthalates like DOTP.

At the beginning of 2015, Armstrong had its global headquarters in Lancaster recertified as a LEED Platinum building, and it also launched Armstrong Product Declarations, which include EPD summaries, other certifications and an ingredients lists for all products to 1,000 parts per million (also known as 0.1%). And it has won awards in Illinois, Pennsylvania and California for its recycling and waste reduction efforts.

Metroflor, a producer of a range of LVT lines manufactured in Asia, introduced its Aspecta commercial LVT in early 2014 and has worked diligently to prepare its offering for the sustainability requirements of specifiers. Last year, Aspecta was certified NSF 332 Platinum, and earlier this summer the firm also completed an HPD for Aspecta. 

The firm recently opened an innovation and design center in Calhoun, Georgia, which attained a three (out of four) Green Globes rating. The firm’s existing call center, built on the same campus in 2011, is a LEED Platinum building. 

Metroflor uses DOTP terephthalates on its LVT, and it also uses bio-buckets for its Prevail adhesive—an additive called EcoPure goes into the buckets after use, which generates a biological breakdown in the microbe-rich landfill environments. Prevail 6000 also features up to 21% recycled content in the form of powdered glass, and the firm is working on rolling out the recipe into other adhesives.

One of the firms most focused on transparency is the Forbo Group, a Swiss producer of flooring and industrial belts. In the U.S., it’s best known for its linoleum flooring, but it’s also a major producer of vinyl sheet and tile, in addition to PVC-backed carpet tile and a flocked nylon floorcovering called Flotex. The firm, which has 15 flooring manufacturing sites in six countries, publishes extensive HPDs, EPDs and lifecycle assessments, and it addresses issues of exposure through its participation in UseTox, a system of addressing toxicity impacts. And it comes out with two different annual sustainability reports. 

By the end of this year, Forbo will have replaced ortho-phthalates from all of its vinyl flooring with terephthalate plasticizers. And last year the firm finished construction on a new cross-docking warehouse at its worldwide transport hub in Assendelft, the Netherlands, which is LEED Gold certified. In fact, it’s the first Dutch warehouse to attain that certification.

Crossville, the privately owned Tenneessee based porcelain producer, has been operating a recycling partnership with Toto, a sanitaryware manufacturer based in central Georgia, since 2011. A post-industrial waste stream of discarded toilets is regularly shipped to Crossville, which uses a crushing machine to pulverize it before using it to make porcelain tile. 

In 2014, Crossville recycled a record 8,054,380 pounds of Toto toilets. And this year, through June, the firm has already recycled 4,467,740 pounds, putting the firm on track to end the year at close to nine million pounds. Since the program’s inception, the firm has recycled the equivalent of 900,000 toilets.

US Floors, which goes to the commercial market as USF Contract, offers a range of wood flooring, along with cork and bamboo. The firm has recently become best known for its Coretec LVT with a unique waterproof core of bamboo and limestone and a cork backing. 

At this year’s NeoCon, USF Contract introduced its Scan it Forward program, which is designed to counter the waste generated from all those little trade show giveaways. Each time the firm scanned a badge, it would use funds set aside for giveaways to make a donation to a local charity.

Ecore, which produces a range of commercial and sports flooring in brands like EcoSurfaces and Everlast, makes its products from ground-up tire rubber. In fact, it’s the largest user of scrap tire rubber in the U.S., annually converting more than 70 million pounds of tires into its recycled rubber flooring.

Ecore is also upgrading its Nike Grind program, which had been using post-industrial shoe rubber and incorporating it into its Everlast Fitness Flooring for 2% content—last year, Ecore turned 222,000 pounds of Nike Grind into flooring. Later this year, Ecore will start using post-consumer Nike Grind (from worn shoes) to create a product line called Training Ground with Nike Grind.

Roppe, which produces rubber and vinyl flooring products, mostly in the U.S., is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year (see Roppe Celebrates 60 Years on page 68). The firm, based in Fostoria, Ohio, channels reclaimed rubber flooring into its Impact recycling program, which grinds up and repurposes the rubber. To date, the program, which was launched in 2009, has diverted approximately 10,600 tons of product from landfills. 

The firm has an ongoing reclamation partnership with Starnet to encourage its dealer members to participate in the reclamation initiative, much like many members already do on the carpet side.

Gerflor, a French resilient flooring producer, has been in a growth mode in the U.S. with its commercial, transportation and sports flooring for the last few years. And late last year the firm purchased Connor Sports, which goes to market with a range of materials, including hardwood. 

In the U.S. commercial market, Gerflor’s most prominent products are its Mipolam vinyl sheet and Creation LVT, both of which are now available with phthalate-free plasticizers. The firm’s Mipolam Symbioz homogenous sheet uses a bio-based plasticizer called Polysorb ID 37.

Indoor air quality is a big focus at Gerflor, whose products exceed FloorScore certification levels by 60% to 80%, according to the firm. Also, its Evercare treatment eliminates any waxing and eases maintenance, and its loose lay and proprietary click systems both improve air quality and reduce downtime from installation. Gerflor’s products feature an average of 25% post-industrial content.

Novalis, based in Hong Kong, is a major LVT producer with a long heritage as an OEM supplier. The company, which also serves the residential and commercial market with its Novafloor and Ava brands (respectively) has spent the last year or so demonstrating its commitment to sustainability. Last summer, the firm eliminated ortho-phthalate plasticizers and converted to a bio-based alternative. And since then, the firm has come out with two EPDs, certified by UL, covering its entire LVT offering. And Novalis has also published HPDs, and it uses Declare labels from the Living Building Challenge as another transparency tool to demonstrate the health and safety of its ingredients. 

CBC Flooring, which supplies the North American market with a range of commercial resilient products through a handful of brands, has declared that it will have HPDs for its entire product offering by the first quarter of 2016. Already, the firm has published HPDs for six of the firm’s 13 commercially rated flooring products. 

The existing HPDs cover Asento, Free, Woods and Stones & More from the Halo LVT brand, along with Wels sheet from Takiron and Ceres’ Sequoia plank lines. While calcium carbonate is the major ingredient in these products, the polymers vary. Sequoia is a PET product, while Wels sheet is largely composed of EVA and ethylene-hexene copolymer. Asento is a PVC tile with DEHP plasticizer, while Wood and Stones & More, both of which are also PVC tiles, use dinonyl phthalate plasticizer. Halo Free, like Sequoia, is a PET product.

Next in line for HPDs are Takiron’s Pathways, a sheet vinyl, and the entire line of Toli products, which includes sheet goods, homogeneous tiles and vinyl planks.


ESCALATING COMPLEXITY

Over the years, much has been made of the seemingly endless escalation in the complexity of measuring, managing and communicating sustainability—one certification after another, increasing transparency, growing lists of chemicals of concern—and it has led to some skepticism. It’s just another way to make money, some people have said. 

But there’s a straightforward reason for why it’s so complicated. It’s the same reason why 21st century physics is so complicated, why modern medicine is so complicated, why the weatherman so often gets it wrong. It’s because the closer we look at reality, the more we realize how interconnected everything is. And interconnectivity is complicated.

It can also be counter-intuitive, and it goes against ways in which we naturally interpret reality and our place within it. It’s natural, for instance, to think that our skin separates our body from the outside world, but in fact the outside world is already under our skin. Pounds of bacteria live inside of us (and we wouldn’t be alive without them). And in sheer number those bacterial cells outnumber human cells ten to one. Lucky they’re so small. Also inside us, by the way, are large manmade molecules, like perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)—uninvited guests with unclear intentions.

It’s no wonder, then, that it all gets more complicated as we go beneath the surface. Modern civilization has accomplished spectacular things, from harnessing the power of the atom to giving sight to the blind to building the International Space Station and the Panama Canal. But no matter how you rank them, what would easily top the list in the history books would be the massive focused effort of humanity to reverse the incredibly complicated, massive scale processes already in motion—from greenhouse gas concentrations to species collapse—and to return the planet to a state of equilibrium.

We’re only in the early stages of this journey. Impacts on the environment are still accumulating, though here and there the damage has slowed. But if we think it’s complicated now… well, that’s just because we can’t see what’s coming next.  

Copyright 2015 Floor Focus 

 


Related Topics:Mannington Mills, The American Institute of Architects, Mohawk Industries, Daltile, HMTX, Interface, Metroflor Luxury Vinyl Tile, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Crossville, Beaulieu International Group, Starnet, Armstrong Flooring, Tarkett, Coverings, Roppe, Marazzi USA, Novalis Innovative Flooring