State of Sustainability 2020: Transparency initiatives have helped create a climate of expanded producer responsibility - Aug/Sept 2020

By Darius Helm and Jessica Chevalier

In the early days of the green movement, when the flooring industry, along with other industries manufacturing for the built environment, considered the sustainability of their products, they tended to focus on the product’s final form and the use phase of its lifecycle-VOC emissions in the workspace, recycled content, bio-based materials instead of polymers. But it turned out that the finished product in its use phase was only one frame from a larger story. And the writing was on the wall from the word “go,” as soon as manufacturers started looking more closely at their green programs.

Recycling, for instance-recycled content, recyclability-opened people’s eyes to cradle-to-cradle philosophies, designing for reuse, and of course, a close look at materials and chemistry-a more transparent look. It didn’t take long for the movement to develop lifecycle assessments, product declaration labels and other transparency tools that really fleshed out a comprehensive model for sustainable industry. Over the last decade, the movement has unfolded to include a whole host of issues and impacts up and down the supply chain in a quest for a truly comprehensive sustainability model.

Transparency is anathema to manufacturers. If there were a rulebook for manufacturing, rule one would be: don’t share your secrets. And, in fact, manufacturers of all sorts have struggled with this concept. And it has led to the development of programs and certifications that can share what’s necessary without giving away the secret sauce-for instance, products can be declared red-list free, meaning that they’re free of chemicals of concern (and the rest is not your concern!), and other systems can categorize a product’s chemistry without getting too specific.

The focus on materials has led to comprehensive reviews of supply chains, putting them under the same scrutiny as the product manufacturers themselves, and the same burden of responsibility. Toxic emissions from suppliers is a shared responsibility up and down the chain. So are unsafe working conditions, child labor and wellness.

As you’ll see from the highlights from flooring producers, sustainability today is a multifaceted endeavor. Manufacturers are reducing their use of water and energy; they’re reducing their solid waste tonnage and greenhouse gas emissions; and they’re lowering the embodied carbon of their products. They’re also choosing their partners carefully, looking at suppliers that treat their local environments and local workers with care. And they’re being transparent, but not too transparent.

The U.S. Green Building Council, founded in 1993, launched LEED five years later. LEED-Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-offers programs for building responsibly, efficiently and sustainably, covering the residential and commercial built environment. In the 22 years since LEED was first introduced, a wide range of LEED programs have been created, with more being added all the time. And the standards have steadily been updated to accommodate new developments and the deepening understanding about how to drive the greening of the built environment.

To date, there are 49,300 LEED-certified commercial projects, more than two million residential units use LEED, and there are more than 100 LEED-certified cities and communities. LEED is used in 178 countries. According to USGBC, 2.6 million square feet are certified every day.

Late last year, the USGBC announced a new initiative, USGBC Equity, designed to highlight social equity work done by the organization and its community and to elevate social equity activities going forward. And it has recently released six LEED Safety First pilot credits in response to the COVID-19 pandemic covering sustainable best practices relating to cleaning and disinfecting, workplace reoccupancy, pandemic preparedness and response, and more.

Georgia-based carpet tile and rubber flooring manufacturer with LVT programs
• In 2019, further reduced its global average cradle-to-gate carbon footprint for carpet, for a total 74% reduction since 1996.
• Assimilated the environmental footprint of Nora, the German rubber firm that it acquired in 2018, resetting Interface’s overall green profile: for instance, in 2019, 46% of the material Interface used to make its products came from recycled or bio-based sources, down from 62% in 2018; and 75% of energy used in manufacturing in 2019 came from renewable sources, down from 90%.
• With Nora included, still achieved 100% renewable energy for electricity used at its manufacturing facilities.
• Retired 549,000 metric tons of verified emission reduction credits, maintaining carbon neutral status for its products.
• Is poised to launch its first carbon-negative carpet tile, with a backing based on CircuitBac Green, sold in the European market and largely made up of recycled limestone filler and bio-based plastics and oils.
• Is including its Scope 3 carbon emissions in its next environmental report; while Scope 1 and 2 include everything from emissions from commuting to electricity consumed in business locations, Scope 3 captures both upstream and downstream emissions, a much larger number-in the case of Interface, 620,000 metric tons of carbon, compared to 15,000 in Scope 1 and Scope 2.
• Further reduced carbon footprint of carpet in 2019 for total reduction of 74%.
• Increased recycled content of LVT from 25% in 2018 to 39% last year; recycled content is pre-consumer in the form of calcium carbonate.

Georgia-headquartered manufacturer of hard and soft surface flooring
• Reduced Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 by 50% since its 2010 baseline; and reduced greenhouse gas intensity (per unit of finished product) by 37% since the same baseline.
• Reclaimed and reused over three billion PET bottles in 2019.
• Assessed for material health over 1.6 billion pounds of raw material.
• Maintained carbon neutral status for all commercial carpet globally for a second consecutive year.
• Reduced water usage intensity by 39% since its 2010 baseline.
• Offering PVC-free resilient options, including its Bio-Based Polyurethane that comes in sheet and tile form; its PET Resilient tile is still in development.
• At Greenbuild 2019 held in Atlanta, Georgia in November 2019, introduced its Comfor3t trade show carpet, which uses PET face fiber with 60% to 80% recycled content. The product is designed to be reused in expo settings multiple times and is also designed to be fully recyclable.

The Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), which is the organization that guides all U.S. carpet recycling, had just about its best year ever in 2019 in California, hitting a recycling rate of 22.5% in the fourth quarter, barely missing California’s requirement to hit 24% by the beginning of 2020. And were it not for a couple of unrelated issues-PG&E was unable to deliver power to Aquafil’s California recycling operation, which was ready to roll last summer, and a permit delay for LA Fibers also held back activity-CARE would have easily hit the mark.

In fact, things were looking so rosy that the theme for its annual May meeting, which was to have taken place in Portland, Oregon, was “Carpet Recycling Comes of Age.” But the pandemic put an end to both the meeting and the prospects for a stronger year.

For 2019, the California recycling rate was 19.1%, and it was about 5% for the rest of the country. While California has a robust system of fees for selling carpet and subsidies for collecting and selling recycled material, along with grants, the rest of the nation has had to rely on a voluntary product stewardship program that doles out smaller subsidies from a $4 million annual fund supplied by the mills. However, the mills eliminated the VPS fund this June.

CARE took a series of actions to support the recycling community, including one-time monthly payments to qualified recyclers based on their monthly averages, faster payment of earned subsides and a temporary boost to subsidy rates. In early August, CARE again reached out to subsidy recipients to inform them that effective for the third and fourth quarters, certain key subsidies have been increased: nylon 6 Tier 2 has been increased by $0.15/lb., nylon 6,6 Tier 2 by $0.03/lb., PET Tier 1 by $0.05/lb. and polypropylene Tier 1 by $0.05/lb.

Despite these challenging conditions, the recycling landscape is looking better than it has in years, in terms of new technologies for end-use markets of carpet fibers, particularly the troublesome PET, and also in terms of demand in the market. For instance, major brands like Coke and Evian are pushing their bottle suppliers to increase recycled content in bottles and packaging. And the auto industry is pushing for more recycled materials. Also, processing facilities are coming up with cleaner waste streams. And, critically, chemical recyclers from Eastman to Arropol to Loop Industries have developed and are scaling up processes to turn recycled PET from carpet into a raw material for a range of polymer applications.

While there are signs that the carpet market is finally making some gains, it’s unlikely that the rest of the year will balance out the slowdown of the last few months. But all the big recyclers, including newer operations like Circular Polymers, Aquafil and Planet Recycling’s carpet tile recycling line, remain committed to their missions, and substantial investments have helped establish viable markets for recycled materials. So, assuming a return to relative normal, 2021 could be the year that carpet recycling finally comes of age.

Georgia-headquartered manufacturer of hard and soft surface flooring
• Launched LBC-Red List Free Declare labels for two residential broadloom lines, Everstrand and Smartstrand, featuring PET and triexta fiber systems.
• Brought online a combined heat and power system for its new Dickson, Tennessee ceramic tile facility.
• Decreased greenhouse gas emissions to boost the total reduction over the last decade-during which time the firm has acquired over 20 companies and integrated their environmental footprints-to 18.8%.
• Added zero-waste-to-landfill in-house certifications to three new facility locations, bringing the total to 50; at its hard surface distribution center in Northwest Georgia, the firm’s busiest distribution center, efficiency was improved by 57% to attain zero waste to landfill.
• Has achieved Living Product Challenge certification on all carpet tile using solution-dyed nylon and EcoFlex backings, which accounts for most of its carpet tile, and some broadloom.
• Repurposed 42 million pounds of shredded tires for decorative rubber mats.
• Pivoted in the early months of the pandemic to produce PPE, peaking at 25,000 items a day, ending in early June; manufactured a total of 155,000 gowns and 235,000 face shields.

Italian-headquartered fiber firm with recycling operations in the U.S. and Slovenia
• Reduced Econyl global warming impact by up to 90% compared to product derived from oil.
• Steam from operations now comes from biomass.
• Expanded brands using Econyl to include Pottery Barn rugs, Noho Move chairs, Zanotta poufs and Napapijri jackets.
• Poised to launch its second U.S. recycling center, this one near Sacramento, as soon as PG&E can get power to it-Aquafil has been waiting for over a year.

Connecticut-based resilient flooring producer through Chinese manufacturing partnerships
• Earned JUST label for all of HMTX Industries.
• Received BES 6001 certification; the certification, a framework for responsible sourcing, was created by U.K.-based BRE, which also created BREEAM, a sustainability benchmark used globally.
• Expanding PVC-free Naturescapes, made of calcium carbonate and polyurethane with high bio-based content.
• Adding embodied carbon data to its Declare labels, a first for Declare and HMTX.
• Carbon-neutral sample shipping expanded from Aspecta to Teknoflor and Metroflor brands, with UPS as partner, through its Carbon Neutral Shipping program.
• Hosted webinar in June, The Role of Flooring in Indoor Healthy Spaces, covering everything from tactical aspects of cleaning and disinfection to overuse of cleaners to the exposome, which the CDC defines as “the measure of all the exposures of an individual in a lifetime and how those exposures relate to health … exposure begins before birth and includes insults from environmental and occupational sources.”

Chinese producer of LVT and rigid LVT, with U.S. plant under development
• In 2019, diverted over 18,000 tons of LVT scrap from landfill at its facility in Zhenjiang, China and reused over 174,000 tons of production water.
• In early 2020, released new EPDs detailing progress in global warming potential, ozone depletion potential and more; and released new EPDs for rigid LVT products.
• Was one of the first manufacturers to achieve Assure rigid LVT certification through SCS.
• Is building a plant in Georgia for on-shore production of resilient flooring.

French-headquartered manufacturer of hard and soft surface flooring products with U.S. production
• Assessed 98% of raw materials for health and environmental impacts, according to cradle-to-cradle principles; 67% of raw materials determined renewable, recycled or abundant.
• Integrated new methods into its dyeing process at its Dalton, Georgia facility to decrease water consumption by 86% from 2017 to 2019.
• Working to reduce energy and water usage as well as waste and greenhouse gas emissions at all 33 of its facilities.
• In 2019, 12% of total global raw materials in purchased volumes were recycled, toward a goal of 30% by 2030.
• Reduced water use intensity by 50% since 2010.
• Globally, increased renewable energy to 28% of energy consumption; and decreased Scope 1 and 2 emissions 15% from 2010.

Pennsylvania-based resilient flooring manufacturer
• Launched MedinPure with Diamond 10 technology, a PVC-free homogeneous polyurethane sheet that comes with an LBC Red-List Free Declare label.
• Issued LBC Red-List Free Declare label for its Migrations and Striations PVC-free polyester composition tile with 2% bio-based content.
• Increased recycling through its On and On Recycling Program for a cumulative total of 150 million pounds.
• Selected by DOE for a Best Practices award for its “Zero Kilowatt Challenge” that reduced energy use by 50% during plant shutdown.

South Carolina-based carpet mill with LVT programs
• Expanded Milliken annual sustainability report from just flooring to cover the entire company-chemicals, textiles, flooring; the firm has 42 manufacturing locations, of which eight are for flooring.
• Reduced indexed greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 by 12.4%, doubled renewable energy use, including by adding to solar installation at headquarters.
• Chemical division made a big investment in PureCycle, a technology for producing a clean recycled polypropylene waste stream; the commercial-scale facility is slated to start up in Ohio next year with a capacity to recycle 119 million pounds and produce 105 million pounds of pure product.

Georgia-based producer of polyols for polyurethane made from recycled PET carpet
• Entered into partnership with GM to use its products in hard foam seat backings, replacing PVC; launch of production later this year will necessitate Arropol capacity expansion-current annual capacity is three million pounds.
• Three other automotive suppliers have expressed interest; discussions are ongoing.
• Product is going into turf applications and commercial carpet backings.

Tennessee-based manufacturer of porcelain tile
• Participated in USGBC’s Verified for LEED pilot program, designed to simplify the process of finding LEED eligible products, with its RetroActive 2.0 collection pre-verified for use in LEED v4 and v4.1.
• Recycled 7.95 million pounds of fired porcelain in 2019 for a cumulative total of nearly 134 million pounds since 2009: 57% from fired scrap at the Crossville plant; 41% from scrap porcelain through recycling partner Toto, which makes toilets; and 2% from post-consumer waste via Crossville’s Tile Take-Back program.
• Recaptured over 2.3 million pounds of filtrate solids from dirty water and recycled it back into tile production.

Georgia-based carpet mill with hard surface programs
• Introduced Sustaina carpet tile backing in 2019 with EVA pre-coat and a polyester nonwoven felt cushion that contains 95% post-consumer content from drink bottles.
• Increased total recycled content of EarthWise PVC carpet tile backing by 28% while reducing total PVC volume per square yard by 12%.
• Went from zero recycled content in its commercial broadloom latex compound before last year to 80% pre-consumer content in 2019.
• Finished out 2019 by diverting 90% of total waste byproduct from landfill.

Pennsylvania-based producer of rubber flooring and backing from recycled tires
• Reclaimed over 112 million pounds of tires in 2019 and produced 8.7 million pounds of waste for a net landfill diversion of 103.3 million pounds.
• Is rapidly growing its ItsTru technology, which fusion-bonds its ergonomic recycled rubber backings to just about any floorcovering in what the firm describes as “a zero-waste process with a carbon footprint that goes beyond carbon neutral.”
• ItsTru’s cushioning and acoustic abatement properties are driving demand in healthcare, from acute care to senior living, and other health and wellness applications; the technology is mostly used with heterogeneous sheet goods, but it’s growing fastest with LVT and rigid LVT.

Georgia-based specialty backing producer
• In the process of launching new foam pad products to push bio-based and recycled content close to 70% from approximately 60% right now.
• Utilizes Arropol polyols for polyurethane, which is derived from PET recaptured from carpet fiber and bottles.

Georgia-based carpet mill with LVT programs
• Transitioned its 100% PET Kinetex product from recycled content of 16% post-consumer and 40% post-industrial (56% of total content recycled) to 45% post-consumer content (45% of total content recycled); one box of Kinetex incorporates the recycled content of 492 recycled bottles.
• Obtained Declare labels for Nexus modular product line and another third-party verified LBC-Red List Free Declare label for its Kinetex product line.
• Working toward moving Kinetex into infinite closed-loop recycling process.

California-based carpet mill with LVT programs
• Working toward PVC-free offering as alternative to LVT.
• Investment in social portion of triple bottom line approach through support of local artisans.

New Jersey-headquartered manufacturer of hard and soft surface
• Moved rubber production from California to Calhoun, Georgia and achieved ISO 140001.
• Continued focus on procuring material disclosure documentation from over 100 suppliers to optimize environmental profiles. Completed process for two tile backings, hoping to complete a hard surface product within the next couple of months.
• Working to integrate the Phenix/Pharr acquisition into the company’s culture and systems.

Switzerland-based manufacturer of hard and soft surface flooring
• Working toward achieving carbon neutrality throughout product line.
• Reduced CO2 emissions by 50% in three years on Colorex product; using a portion of waste energy for heating.
• Using 2019 as a benchmark, committed to reducing energy use by 25% by 2025.
• Shifting to bio-gas.
• Recently joined three-year study in partnership with the EU Circular Flooring Project to study reclaiming virgin PVC from used vinyl flooring.
• Improved process control in linoleum production and installed new cutting machines in vinyl facility to reduce waste.
• Enforcing the elimination of 1A/1B substances with suppliers.
• From 2016 to 2019, reduced total waste to landfill from 8% to 5%; moving towards zero ultimately.
• Awarded Eco Lighthouse 2019 designation for Nordic countries.
Pennsylvania-based hardwood manufacturer with LVT program
• Now manufactures over 90% of its product, including all solid hardwood, from its six U.S. facilities; in the U.S. net hardwood growth exceeds the net removal rate.
• Is establishing markets for 100% of offal dust to eliminate landfill diversion.

Italian-owned porcelain manufacturer with U.S. production
• Began the process of updating all plywood display units with the use of new panels with low formaldehyde emissions in all display tools used worldwide.
• 95% of waste (56,477 tons) recycled in 2019, company-wide.
100% of wastewater from production cycle reused, company-wide, in 2019.
• 80% of all electricity consumed was produced in-house, company-wide, in 2019.
• Launched a trial project intended to eliminate the use of disposable plastic water bottles through the installation of a water dispenser providing free access to micro-filtered drinking water for employees.
• Purchased two post-combustion systems with regenerative heat recovery for the Mordano, Italy plant.

Ohio-based parent of commercial resilient brands Roppe, Flexco, Six Degrees, Procedo
• Achieved environmental goals six years early; the goals were set in 2016 for completion by 2025: exceeded goals for water, energy and GHG reduction of 20%-with 40% to 70% water reduction achieved through the use of process water chillers; achieved 25% reduction of waste to landfill by reformulating Roppe and Flexco’s Tuflex product with recycled content from its Impact recycling program.
• Has reduced embodied carbon in products by 20% to 25% over the last five years.

Kansas-based fiber producer
• Completed Material Health Assessment and Cradle to Cradle certification eligibility level for over 600 Antron fiber colors as a prerequisite to earning Cradle to Cradle Certification.
• Published a sustainability and wellbeing report, “The Antron Brand on Sustainability.”

U.K.-headquartered LVT specialist
• Participated in Assure Certified pilot program by the Resilient Floor Covering Institute with its Korlok products among the first to become Assure Certified by SCS Global Services.
• Partnered with Material Bank to streamline sampling and reduce sample waste.
• Recycled more than 200,000 pounds of pre-consumer cutting waste in 2019 for reuse in products such as parking cones, garden hoses, rubber sheeting, roofing material and some interior car parts.

German-based manufacturer of engineered hardwood and resilient flooring
• Is bringing its PVC-free Disano Project sheet goods and Disano Saphir planks to the U.S. market this year; Saphir features a 4.5mm PET core and 30% post-industrial content; the Disano line goes mostly to the commercial market in Europe.

California-based producer of bamboo and palm flooring
• Introduced a new Durapalm flooring with bamboo core; its bamboo is rapidly renewable (five years) and its palm is produced from trees no longer producing fruit that are diverted from the waste stream.
• Both its Plyboo bamboo and Durapalm palm flooring contribute to LEED credits for low-emitting materials.

The Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI), under the leadership of Dean Thompson, has been at the center of some of the most important sustainability developments in flooring in recent years. Last year, the firm absorbed the Multilayer Flooring Association, formed in 2016 to represent the interests of rigid LVT producers, and it also took a leadership role in partnership with SCS Global Services in the creation of a new rigid LVT standard called Assure Certified.

In May of this year, the standard was finalized. Certification is based on meeting the performance characteristics in ASTM F3261-17, which includes recently added water-resistance tests, as well as a range of requirements relating to material suppliers, chain of custody, segregation of non-conforming materials, VOC emissions and more, and it requires an onsite audit. Third-party certification is currently available through SCS, and the early adopters are Novalis, Karndean, Shaw and HMTX’s Metroflor.

RFCI is also currently working on a pilot project with Building Transparency on the development of the EC3 embodied carbon database and tool. Jane Rohde, founder of JSR Associates and a leading consultant in healthcare and senior living design, works with RFCI as a technical consultant and has been leading the embodied carbon initiative along with RFCI’s Technical Advisory Committee members.

Copyright 2020 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Mohawk Industries, Mannington Mills, Armstrong Flooring, Tarkett, Crossville, Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, Novalis Innovative Flooring, AHF Products, Roppe, Interface, The Dixie Group, Engineered Floors, LLC, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Metroflor Luxury Vinyl Tile, HMTX, Florim USA