It still makes good sense (for your health and for the sake of the planet) to use green flooring products, but there are so many other reasons that make a great business case for only using green flooring. Especially when you consider what is now available and compare them against other ‘Business as Usual’ flooring products out there in the market. Regarding price point (there’s often little difference these days) we really all need to get past the perception that green flooring (or any green products for that matter) only belong on exclusive ‘up market’ projects whose sole aim is to push green building program boundaries. Health (human and planetary) is everybody’s’ business, and it is increasingly easy to find and select healthy, sustainable flooring given the flooring sector dominates the certified products lists of Global GreenTag, one of Australia’s Top 25 ‘Most Recognised Ecolabels’ (as recognised by the Living LOHAS 2018 consumer research report) and that label has recently introduced ‘In-use healthiness’ ratings for flooring and other sectors.
The bottom line is, green and healthy flooring can and should be used on every project.
Green-focused flooring design, prompted both by the Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star green building rating tool, the International WELL Building Standard and rating tool, and the availability of product rating-style (rather than pass/fail type) ecolabelling programs like Global GreenTag that manufacturers are encouraged to improve with enhanced rating outcomes. As they improve the products, there have been leaps in the sustainability and health outcomes of the flooring sector that have led to some incredible product outcomes, such as the major initiatives launched in product stewardship (recycling from building sites) in the PVC flooring sector. Epitomised by the 2017 awards received by Karndean and Tarkett for their PVC recycling outcomes and dramatic changes in composition in phasing out ortho-phthalate plasticisers in PVC by Tarkett and others.
Progressive flooring manufacturers are not only achieving a lighter environmental footprint over ‘business as usual’ products, many of which don’t even have an end of life product takeback scheme in place. They are also pushing the boundaries of performance, resilience and durability.
Critically, green designed flooring products are pushing boundaries in product health and safety, which is a huge factor to consider in minimising professional risk. We know that there have been a number of indoor environment studies that have revealed concerning levels of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that have been attributed to sub-par flooring products, affecting indoor air quality and subsequent respiratory problems for building occupants. That, and the issue of leaching chemicals present in flooring found in other studies, presenting the problem of toxic chemicals taken through the skin – and crawling age children being at most risk.
Social behavioural studies are confirming that end users are becoming wiser to these product related problems as well and progressive flooring manufacturers like Karndean Design Flooring here in Australia agree. Technical Consultant Graham Caldwell recently spoke to GreenTag about the growing need in today’s retail market to provide end users as well with “compliance evidence.” He said that the Karndean retail sales force who visit retail flooring shops and face the public at home exhibitions are reporting “that mums and dads are very environmentally aware before they purchase a floor covering, particularly asking about VOC compliance and phthalate free evidence.” Trust in that evidence is also important, he says.
You want to avoid flooring products that are making false green product claims. The quick answer to that selection is made easier by flooring manufacturers who have taken the care to qualify their product manufacturing processes and have put third party certification in place and ensured that certification also defines HOW it is compliant and relevant to building rating systems with pertinent sustainability criteria addressed in detail.
Be careful also to distinguish when certification only covers raw materials and not the manufacturing and ingredient toxicity. An example of this is when a manufactured timber product makes much of its FSC, AFS or PEFC certification to the exclusion of all else. While this is nonetheless important, such certification only covers the supply of the raw timber and completely ignores the toxicity of the other ingredients, volatile organic compound and formaldehyde emissions in use, worker safety, employment conditions and disposal and recycling fate, i.e. overall life cycle impacts.
Essentially, a good certification system will assess and rate the performance of all these issues together with the products’ relevance and compliance to local Green and Healthy Building rating tools. To assist professionals to make exacting sustainability and health related decisions, the Global GreenTag certification system was created to penetrate product claims at this deepest level and rate them.
GreenTag decided to go down this road from the beginning because we find that one of the biggest issues in sustainable procurement is making sure that the products you are buying or specifying are actually delivering real and measurable sustainability outcomes. Once it is realised that the vast majority of ecolabels are just that i.e., ‘eco’ labels (assessing health and environmental outcomes only) it is easier to understand that only certain aspects of sustainability are being assessed by ordinary ecolabels and most don’t ‘measure’ all outcomes at all.
This is increasingly important with the recent NSW and Federal Modern Slavery legislation that came into force in 2019 and will require action by many companies not directly caught by the $50 million or $100 million respective thresholds of the two Acts. Even though below the thresholds, companies above the thresholds are highly likely to start requiring Modern Slavery reporting from their procurement partners and building supply chains, so many flooring manufacturers will be needing to produce reports. Product Certification that assesses the risks of their supply chains can help prepare for those reporting requirements. Government Procurement is caught by both pieces of legislation, so expect requests from Government Agencies as well.
Specifying and planning for green flooring
Essentially, a good certification system will clarify the relevancies of flooring product certification and reporting outcomes and their relevance and compliance to Green Building rating tools. The two product rating schemes of GreenTag LCARate and GreenTag GreenRate can be applied in Australia and globally and are compliant with a number of green building rating and infrastructure rating schemes, including Green Star, WELL, LEED and BREEAM. Flooring manufacturers whose products are aligned and compliant with these schemes will seek out GreenTag’s certification program and their two Transparency Reporting services; GreenTag’s Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) and its Product Health Declaration (PHDs) to provide the high level of scientific support, transparency, quality endorsement and one-stop certification that these schemes and global manufacturing needs.
In Australia, most green building projects seek to meet the Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star system and to achieve Green Star credits, flooring product needs to meet the building sustainability criteria, as set out under the Green Star tools and credit system. All surfaces, including paving, resilient flooring, timber, laminates, ceramic tiles and carpets are now encompassed in different Green Star tools that include:
- Design and As Built (D&AB-base buildings and integrated fitouts)
- Interiors (all interior fitouts)
- The Performance Tool (building operations) require ‘Sustainable Products’ credit compliant certification.
- Both D&AB and Interiors tools also have a ‘Life Cycle Impacts’ reduction credit that involve a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of the project. The compliance ‘currency’ for projects with these LCA credits is for the products they certify to have a GreenTag EPD (a summary LCA report) available as well.
Referring to the green flooring product registry table, attached to this article, it is possible to track which products would comply with these Green Star categories. Accessing information about a flooring product under the GreenTag LCARate certification system, for example, also enables you to compare a product over its full life cycle, from raw material acquisition, manufacturing, transport, packaging to cleaning, maintenance and end of life fate.
This means that anyone can validly compare the overall sustainability performance (including cleaning and maintenance) of say, broadloom and tile carpets, rubber, vinyl and other polymer, timber, cork, laminated, ceramic and stone tile and polished and epoxied concrete.
After this, more confident specification or purchasing decisions can be made because the most sustainable flooring is determined by considering not only just cost but also initially the highest certified rated product from Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum LCARat outcomes.
Once the highest rated outcome product is determined then the most sustainable product is the one with the lowest GreenTag EcoPOINT score. Metrics like the lowest EcoPOINT per Dollar/Pound/Euro can then be developed to assist in assessing tenders. These EcoPOINT scores are displayed on all GreenTag certified product certificates, scorecards and web pages on the www.globalgreentag.com and other international regional websites such as globalgreentag.us, globalgreentag.co.za and globalgreentag.cn.
A similar but easier process can be used when end users or consumers want to focus solely on the health aspects of products with GreenTag’s HealthRATE product ‘In Use Healthiness’ rating TAGs (BronzeHealth, SilverHealth, GoldHealth and PlatinumHealth TAGs) which sit under Global GreenTag’s WELL recognised and LEED compliant PHDs. The GreenTag PHD and HealthRATE programs are the first system globally to assess the health impacts of the final product – and not just the hazards of the ingredients. GreenTag and its PHDs are now formally recognised in the WELL rating tool that is being used extensively in Australia now. GBCA has also formally flagged the introduction of health related transparency reporting credits being developed for the next iteration of Green Star, and GreenTag PHDs will be ready.
Article by David Baggs, CEO and Program Director of Global GreenTag