David Baggs puts together a strong case for using environmentally-friendly, sustainable flooring. He is well-positioned to do this as the CEO and program director of Global GreenTag. David is a passionate advocate for the development and use of sustainable products in building design and construction.

It 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 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 belongs on exclusive, up-market projects whose sole aim is to push green building program boundaries. Health (human and planetary) is everybody’s business. The bottom line is, green flooring can and should be used on every project.

It is because of green-focused flooring design that there have been developments in the flooring sector that have led to some significant product outcomes. For example, major initiatives have been launched in product stewardship (recycling from building sites) in the PVC flooring sector. This is epitomised by the recent awards received by Karndean and Tarkett for their PVC recycling outcomes.

Critically, green designed flooring products are pushing boundaries in product health and safety, which is an important factor to consider in minimising professional risk. We know there have been a number of indoor environment studies that have revealed concerning levels of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). These 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, present the problem of toxic chemicals taken through the skin – with crawling age children being at most risk.

Social behavioural studies confirm that end users are becoming wiser to these product related problems and progressive flooring manufacturers like Australian-based Karndean Design Flooring agrees. Technical consultant Graham Caldwell recently spoke to GreenTag about the growing need to provide consumers and professionals with “compliance evidence”. He said the Karndean sales force who visit flooring retailers and face the public at home exhibitions are reporting that the “mums and dads” are very environmentally aware before they purchase a floor covering. In particular, they are asking about VOC compliance and phthalate free evidence. Trust in that evidence is also important, said Caldwell.

Naturally, most people want to avoid flooring products that are making false green product claims. Selection is made easier by flooring companies who have taken care to qualify their product manufacturing processes and put third party certification in place. They have also ensured that certification also defines how it is compliant to building rating systems with pertinent sustainability criteria addressed in detail.

Be careful 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, VOC and formaldehyde emissions in use, worker safety, employment conditions and disposal and recycling fate, i.e. the overall life cycle impacts.
An effective certification system will assess and rate the performance of all these issues together with the product’s relevance and compliance to local green and healthy building rating tools.

To assist professionals in making sustainability and health related decisions, the Global GreenTagCertTM certification system was created to penetrate product claims at this deepest level and rate them beyond the typical binary “Pass/Fail” of Type 1 ecolabels that have until recent times prevailed.

GreenTag decided to take this approach 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, “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” specific outcomes at all.

Specifying and planning for green flooring

Essentially, a good certification system will clarify the relevancies of flooring product certification and reporting outcomes and their compliance to Green Building rating tools. The two product rating schemes of GreenTag LCARateTM and GreenTag GreenRateTM can be applied and are compliant  with a number of green building rating and infrastructure rating schemes, including Green Star®, LEED® and BREEAM® .

Flooring manufacturers whose products are aligned with these schemes will seek out GreenTag’s certification program to provide the high level of scientific support, transparency, quality endorsement and one-stop certification required.

In Australia, most green building projects seek to meet the Green Building Council of Australia’s 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 fit outs); and
  • Interiors (all interior fit outs); together with
  • 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 an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD- a summary LCA report) available as well.

Referring to the green flooring product registry table, following 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 LCARateTM certification system, for example, also enables you to compare a product over its full life cycle.

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 the highest certified rated product from Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum outcomes.

Once the product with the highest rated outcome 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 www.globalgreentag.com and other international websites such as globalgreentag.co.za and globalgreentag.cn.

A similar process can be used when focussing on the health aspects of products with the rating scores (BronzeHealth, SilverHealth, GoldHealth and PlatinumHealth) which sit under Global GreenTag’s recently launched Product Health Declaration™ or PhD tool.

The GreenTag PhD is the first system globally to assess the health impacts of the final product – and not just the hazards of the ingredients. The Green Building Council of Australia in 2018 has flagged that it will be introducing its new product health compliance tools under Green Star 2018 – and GreenTag will be ready.

David Baggs is a multi award winning architect and consultant with over 35 years experience. He is also a qualified Exemplar Global Lead Auditor and both a LEED® and Green Star® Accredited Professional as well as CEO of Sustainable Design and Green Compliance Certification consultancy Integreco Pty Ltd.