Beyond Bamboo

Life is full of choices. Thankfully, that includes the hundreds of green flooring products available in the marketplace. Facility professionals have much more to choose from than bamboo, including luxury vinyl tile, rubber flooring, tile, wood, and carpet. Search the Internet for “green flooring” or “sustainable flooring” and the lists of sites to review could take days to access. When it comes to selecting sustainable flooring the key, as with any green product, is to carefully analyze green requirements — and that means going well beyond a product’s content.
Establish the Criteria
Fred Roche, president of Parterre Flooring Systems, says that facility personnel must consider a number of factors when selecting flooring. “There are sustainable options for every flooring type that will meet the U.S. Green Building’s Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental (LEED) requirements for Materials & Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality,” he said. “However, to fully analyze a product’s green attributes, architects and facility personnel must consider more than LEED requirements. In some ways, the questions they must ask today are the same as they were five years ago.”           

Current offerings include luxury vinyl tile (LVT) products that have 45 percent recycled content — 25 percent post-consumer and 20 percent post-industrial — which can be recycled after their useful life is over. These tile products are available in a variety of finishes including wood grains and natural stone designs, and have been used in higher education projects across the country.

“Three factors to analyze are life expectancy, maintenance requirements, and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ),” said Roche. “A product that is a little less green and lasts 10 years is better to use than a product that is mega-green and lasts five years when you consider all applicable factors.”

Roche pointed out that maintenance is very important. A product may be considered green, but it loses its green appeal if maintenance includes the use of harsh chemicals and extensive processes to keep the floor looking good. Harsh chemicals have an obvious impact on IAQ, and extensive processes, such as stripping and waxing, use more cleaning products and energy.
Common Sense Goes a Long Way
Carol Fudge, senior marketing specialist with nora systems, Inc., agrees with Roche regarding the areas that must be investigated. “Green flooring has many definitions,” she said. “Purchasers must consider how long a product will last, how well it serves the intended purpose, whether it negatively impacts IAQ, and if it can be easily maintained.”

Fudge believes choosing sustainable flooring hinges on using good common sense. “LEED has impacted awareness, and people are more conscious regarding a product’s green attributes today. A purchaser must consider more than a product’s content. Employing what are fairly basic evaluation tools will help result in the purchase of the most appropriate product.”

Rubber flooring options are extensive and are made from natural rubber (which comes from the sap of tropical rubber plants) and synthetic rubber. Products vary in their recycled content; some contain up to 50 percent (none of which comes from recycled tires) and some lines feature natural rubber. Products are available as rolled goods, tiles, and stair treads, and are available in existing systems and palettes or in custom designs.

“We believe that rubber flooring offers clients many advantages,” said Fudge. “Our content and manufacturing processes are sustainable; the products last a long time and require minimal maintenance.”

Muskingum College in New Concord, NH, installed rubber flooring in the College’s new Walter K. Chess Center. The facility, which includes fitness areas and social gathering spaces and links several residence halls, experiences extensive pedestrian traffic. Administrators selected the flooring because it would last long and because maintenance could be accomplished with natural cleaners and a damp mop.
Wood as a Sustainable Option
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a nonprofit group that promotes environmentally responsible forestry practices. Flooring companies can offer peace of mind by displaying the FSC's stamp of approval, which is awarded by third-party organizations that ensure certain stewardship standards have been met. Wood flooring options do not need to be sacrificed when you’re looking for sustainability. A wide range of flooring woods come with the FSC stamp, including cherry, maple, birch, ash, Douglas fir, oak, and more.

Reclaimed wood flooring options exist, as well. As the name implies, timber salvaged from old buildings, river bottoms, or even trees removed from urban settings can become a new wood floor. The finished product can have either a like-new or antique appearance, and comes in a variety of lengths and widths. Availability can be unpredictable, however, so planning in advance is advised.
Yet another wooden option is suppressed wood. From time to time, a forest can become overly dense, resulting in disease and fire susceptibility. Small trees in the forest's understory are the casualties of the unavoidable thinning-out process, but there's good news: They make excellent hardwood floors.
The Carpet Side
Carpet manufacturers, like their counterparts for other flooring types, have sustainable products that are appropriate for use in residence halls, athletic facilities, classrooms, offices, and other college and university facilities. Jaime Lanier, vice president of sales for higher education for InterfaceFLOR, said that the company has a strong environmental commitment, which is reflected in the company’s products and processes. “Our goal is to be 100 percent closed loop (zero impact on the environment) by 2020,” he said. “This mission impacts all of our decisions.”

Lanier also agrees with his peers that a product’s content alone does not make it green. “Products alone aren’t the answer, and there is no easy fix when it comes to sustainability,” he said. “A holistic view is required.”

Lanier encourages higher-education officials to thoroughly evaluate a carpet’s ratings, to review third-party data, to review existing installations before specifying a product, and to ask for product mock-ups. He contends that there is no perfectly green carpet or other flooring product, but there are companies that come close with their products. “Fortunately, there are a host of carpet companies committed to offering products with great recyclable content and who are working to lessen their environmental impact to the greatest extent possible. That is great news.”

According to Lanier, the facility personnel at the University of Richmond in Virginia took this course when they increased their environmental focus several years ago. They reviewed products from several manufacturers and conducted their own due diligence, including mock-ups from several companies, before selecting their new carpeting.

Whether it’s carpet, LVT, wood, rubber, or another flooring type, higher-education facility professionals have numerous sustainable flooring options form which to choose, and more are coming to market every year. Good news for us all.