Retail education: The new green frontier

Home Columns Retail education: The new green frontier

Second of two parts

by Kelly Kramer

My prior ignorance about cork had led me to sell away from it because I believed it was a very soft, easy-to-damage floor. But in the last few years the amount of buyers requesting cork flooring has been too big for me to pass over. It was time I took another, more educated look at cork.

So, we brought in a new display rack from APC Cork of Pompano Beach, Fla. Fortunately for me, the display came with a book about cork facts and, as a writer of training manuals myself, I found this book highly educational and very non-promotional toward APC Cork.

I contacted the director, Anne, at APC to congratulate her on the book and get her approval to reprint some of the facts. Anne emphasized that providing sales advisors with facts about cork’s positives was the first step to understanding and properly presenting the product. I was right on board, because I write about educating yourself enough to help put your buyers with the best product for their given situation. Cork is no different: There are some applications that it is not good for, but there are many more positive applications than I had previously ever thought of.

If you want to sound like a know it all, call the cork oak tree quercus suber, its botanical name. Otherwise, call it cork bark. The bulk of cork oak trees are grown in regions native to Southwest Europe and Northwest Africa with Portugal and Spain being the largest producers. Cork trees help reduce green house gases in these regions. Trees are grown for 25 years before the first harvest. After that, its bark can be extracted about every nine years and a typical tree will live about 200 years. For once, the word “sustainable” is finally under-used.

For your sensitive customers cork is anti-microbial and a natural insect repellent. Cork does not off-gas and is a fire inhibitor, slowing the spread of any fire. Cork is resistant to moisture because its main component is suberin, a waxy material that makes up the cellular structure. Cork is a natural sound absorber, so it will not sound hollow like other floating floors and when used as a floating floor, it can be an efficient choice for radiant heated floors.


Cork has been used for centuries as wine bottle closures, insulation, sound barriers, and sub flooring. When cork is harvested it is separated much like the grading of hardwoods. The premium cork is kept for wine bottles, the tougher and more decorative looking pieces for flooring and design, and plain looking bark is for sub floor and sound barrier products. But all of those different looks you see in your cork samples come from different sections of the same tree bark. Like hardwood mills, cork producers use every last piece of what is harvested. An example is like when scraps are used for parquets in hardwood and when the sawdust is used for composite boards and energy production.


Cork is an extremely durable product, but it can still be scratched. Cork is subject to denting with prolonged, large heavy furniture and stiletto heals. Most cork flooring manufacturers provide a durable factory finish, but an additional finish of varnish or urethane can be added after installation to areas that get very high traffic or an unusual amount of moisture.

Thanks to Anne Reynolds’ book on cork, I’ve changed my mind about the material. For more information on cork call APC at 866.222.3241 or go to

Thanks for reading.

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