Embracing the transition to a circular economy in Australia is a significant step toward achieving a better future for people and our planet. Businesses and organisations that do not adopt a circular approach will be left behind. The good news is that environmental labels are globally recognised tools that can strengthen your circular strategies.

Australian industries, including the flooring sector, must now move beyond a benchmark of ‘least harm’ and toward one of adding ‘more good’ by designing to replenish our planet rather than merely replacing resources we’ve used.

The circular economy is a transformational framework that forces organisations and individuals to rethink how they work and live in this global community and on this planet. It is based on three principles, driven by design: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials (at their highest value), and regenerate nature.

According to Planet Ark’s Australian Circular Economy Hub, 88% of Australian senior decision-makers think the circular economy will be critical to the future of their business. Federal and State governments have also made it clear that business as usual is no longer an option by publishing circular economy policies, statements, and resource recovery strategies. At GECA, we’ve published our GECA Solutions for a Circular Economy action paper to showcase how we can help manufacturers, procurement, and sustainability stakeholders achieve their circular targets via three forms of environmental labelling.

The term ‘environmental labelling’ refers to a voluntary method of environmental performance certification that provides information about a product or service’s overall sustainability benefits. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has created global principles and procedures for environmental labelling, which GECA follows. The purpose of voluntary labelling is the communication of verifiable and accurate information.

The lifecycle ecolabel is the most impactful circular solution showcased in our action paper. A true lifecycle ecolabel follows ISO 14024 principles and is globally recognised as the most robust and credible form of environmental labelling, including by the United Nations. Lifecycle ecolabels look at multiple impacts across a product or service’s entire lifecycle, from the extraction of raw materials to the end of its life.

At GECA, we’re proud to have developed over 25 lifecycle ecolabel standards for various product and service categories. These are then independently assessed by our third-party Assurance Providers. We have an array of lifecycle ecolabel standards specifically for flooring, including Floor Coverings, Hard Surfacing, Carpets and Adhesives, Fillers & Sealants. These are critical materials for Australian buildings and infrastructure.

GECA standards include circular criteria such as recyclability, replaceable parts, design for disassembly and product stewardship or take-back services. For example, when a carpet has reached the end of its life, it should ideally be recyclable. To achieve this, the backing should be easily separable from the rest of the carpet, and the manufacturer or retailer should have take-back or recycling schemes for their products.

Since 2006, one of GECA’s carpet licensees, Shaw Contract Australia, has reclaimed and recycled almost half a billion kilograms of EcoWorx carpet tile through their re[TURN]™ Reclamation Program. Another GECA carpet licensee, modulyss, uses recycled materials, including their production waste. They have also developed ecoBack, a recyclable backing which can be disassembled and recycled into new products.

Certified under GECA’s Floor Coverings standard, REGUPOL Australia and Gerflor contribute to a circular economy by manufacturing flooring solutions using recycled materials. And Forbo Flooring Systems’ GECA certified Marmoleum linoleum flooring aims to regenerate natural systems with every square meter of Marmoleum 2.5mm produced, relieving the environment of 40 grams of carbon dioxide. These are just a few examples of how flooring manufacturers and specifiers can positively impact Australia’s circular economy.

Another powerful tool, particularly for avoiding ‘circularwashing’, is to have environmental claims verified by an independent third party. GECA’s Claims Authentication service follows ISO 14021 principles. This type of environmental label is beneficial for companies who are not ready to achieve lifecycle ecolabel certification but want to show commitment and transition toward specific circular elements such as reusability or recycled content. Third-party verified claims can help add legitimacy, specificity, and transparency to circular economy targets.

Finally, when making gains for a circular economy, Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are critical supporting services. An EPD or LCA does not imply that a declared product is environmentally superior to alternatives. However, data gathered via an LCA can provide a robust baseline for designing circular economy strategies, including product circular design improvements, identifying circular economy solutions, creating sustainable resource management and recovery, and strengthening circular business models. GECA’s LCA Suite of services provide EPDs registered with EPD Australasia, which are publicly available and internationally recognised.

Whether you collaborate with GECA or any other reputable organisation, now is the time to integrate trust and transparency into your organisation, products, and services.

Article by Kendall Benton-Collins, Strategic Communications Manager at GECA