by Steven Feldman
Pebble Beach, Calif.–The Resilient Floorcovering Association (RFCI) converged on one of the most beautiful spots in the countryhere last fall to update members—both resilient manufacturers and their raw materials suppliers–on the key issues impacting the industry as well as the plethora of initiatives in which the group is currently engaged.
First and foremost is combatting a number of misperceptions about resilient flooring and its environmental impact. As well, it is in a constant battle with some groups as to issues such as de-selection and product avoidance.
Bill Hall, the outside counsel to RFCI for 25 years and a partner at Venable LLP in the firm’s environmental practice group, outlined RFCI’s initiatives for 2012. They include:
1. Avoid vinyl flooring product de-selection based on government phthalate concerns. There has been a move to list eight phthalates as Chemicals of Concern under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Two of the phthalates (BBP, DINP) are used in most resilient flooring products as plasticizers to make them flexible. While the original concern about phthalates arose from their use in children’s teething toys like pacifiers, the potential exposure to phthalates from resilient flooring is dramatically lower. Moreover, phthalates have been used safely and without incident in resilient flooring and similar products for 50 years.
2. Oppose federal legislative and regulatory activities that adversely affect vinyl flooring. Examples include:
* EPA, PVC Resin MACT – Proposal would eliminate current PVC resins used in vinyl flooring.
* Oppose exclusive use of Green Committees Criteria, which contain a vinyl flooring avoidance credit, in federal programs (HUD).
* Monitor implementation of Sustainability Executive Order 13514, which sets sustainability goals for federal agencies and focuses on making improvements in their environmental, energy and economic performance.
3. Monitor state and legislative activities. For example, ensuring that Green Globes, Floorscore and NSR 332 certifications are considered in purchasing decisions and not just LEED. “At least 26 states recognize Green Globes,” Hall said. “It’s important there are competing green building rating systems for builders to choose from.”
4. Oppose Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) activities that discourage PVC products, such as:
* LEED pilot credits 2 (anti-PVC), 11 (anti-phthalate) and 54 (anti any prop 65 chemical). Almost from the creation of the LEED rating systems, there has been a vocal faction of USGBC that has sought to de-select the use of PVC building materials through efforts to adopt LEED credits for not using PVC building materials. These de-selection efforts have been based on single-attribute concerns about alleged health concerns from accidental landfill fires of PVC products that may release minute amounts of dioxins, as well as the use of phthalate plasticizers in flexible vinyl products that allegedly cause adverse reproductive effects in certain circumstances.
In 2010, the LEED Steering Committee approved two pilot credits that can only be fairly described as PVC material avoidance credits. Indeed, they are the only two credits in all the LEED rating systems that reward the avoidance of particular products because they contain specified constituents.
The first is Pilot Credit 2: PBT Source Reduction: Dioxins and Halogenated Organic Compounds which provides a credit for using materials manufactured without halogenated compounds in certain building applications. Because halogenated compounds include PVC, the credit is not available for using any PVC material in the specified building applications.
The second is Pilot Credit 11: Chemical Avoidance in Building Materials which gives a credit for using building materials that do not contain phthalates. Because most flexible vinyl products (e.g. vinyl flooring, carpet with vinyl backing) contain a specified phthalate, the use of those products would not be eligible for a credit, while the use of any non-phthalate product would earn this credit.
* Google Red list. Google is no longer using building materials containing PVC or phthalates. PVC is one of about a dozen materials targeted for avoidance in the Living Building Challenge’s list being used by Google. Google’s decision was also partially driven by EPA’s new Chemicals of Concern list, which has targeted phthalates for regulation. This comes at a time when Google is opening 40,000 square feet of office space a week.
* Kaiser Permanente, a major West Coast healthcare provider, is replacing vinyl flooring with rubber and linoleum to avoid using PVC.
5. Seek completion of GSA spec for resilient flooring.
6. Further develop resilient flooring recycling initiatives. Many resilient manufacturers already have their own initiatives, such as Johnsonite, Tarkett, Roppe, Azrock, Mannington and more.
Completion of PCRs
The resilient flooring industry has joined with other segments of the flooring industry to create Product Category Rules (PCR), which are key to providing transparency to the sustainability process. According to Bill Freeman, technical consultant to the RFCI, the PCR document is an important first step toward creating Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) used by purchasers to understand the environmental impacts of flooring materials. Similar to the nutrition labels on food, it assesses a range of impacts from raw material acquisition to energy use and efficiency, materials, chemical substances, emissions and waste generation. It allows customers to compare the environmental impacts of different products, giving them a way to identify those with specific sustainability benefits.
PCRs define the information to be reported to evaluate a product’s environmental footprint. Groups of products usually differ in their environmental performance, requiring specific rules to be developed. The PCR provides a set of specific rules, requirements and guidelines for developing EPDs. PCRs are being developed for all resilient products: VCT, LVT, homogeneous sheet, heterogeneous sheet, rubber and linoleum. Freeman said it is not just a matter of comparing products. “It’s telling the A&D community everything about the products we make. How much water was used, etc.”
The flooring PCR document is being developed by NSF using a consensus-based process. Resilient flooring is sold internationally, so attention has been devoted to ensuring that this PCR document harmonizes with those created in other countries.
Guest speaker Harvey Bernstein, vice president, Industry Insights and Alliances, McGraw Hill, provided the RFCI with a green building outlook, identifying the trends driving business benefits and growth.
One of the key issues surrounds globalization, he said. “I believe we are on the verge of another industrial revolution. “By 2050, we estimate that 86% of the world population will be in emerging economies. Therefore, the biggest issue you have to keep your eye on is natural materials. We will be competing with other countries where building is going at a much higher rate to access those materials.” As an example, he cited China as being the largest construction market in the world. By 2020. And a survey of the top 200 design firms reveal 12% growth in Latin America, 14% growth in Africa and 21% in Asia.
Bernstein also outlined the importance of new construction vs. remodeling. In terms of number of projects in 2010, 64% were renovations. But on value, it was 57%-27% in favor of new construction because of the size of project. “That will only continue,” he said.
With this as the backdrop, green construction grows in importance. (Green is defined as LEED-type business, or natural resource material selection, energy efficiency, indoor air quality or water efficiency.) In 2005, it was just 2% of the market. Last year it was 38% and in 2015, 50% of all new construction will be green. And green renovation projects valued at $1 million or greater will be 25%-33% of the market, or $57 billion. “Revenue is going up for firms focused on green construction,” Bernstein said. “This will be driving business.”
State of the industry
Roger Marcus, president of the RFCI, acknowledged that 2011 was not an exciting year for the resilient flooring industry, but he told the group’s raw materials suppliers there could be light at the end of the tunnel. “When business is bad, distributors reduce their inventories. We as manufacturers reduce our inventory. With everyone’s inventories at record lows, as things start to get better, not only will we have to carry more inventory but so will our distributors.” As such, Marcus told suppliers they will see more business. “We just don’t know when it will happen.”
Tyrone Johnson, president of Amtico North America and RFCI vice president, reported that there is not much new construction on the commercial side. He classified 2012 and 2013 as “uncertain,” adding that commercial will grow, but not at the rate originally projected. That growth will be driven by renovation with some segments performing better than others. For example, he cites healthcare and retail as the strongest categories for renovation because of pent-up demand.
“Recent bankruptcies—Circuit City, Blockbuster, Linens & Things, etc.–prevent the need to build because there are plenty of vacancies. Although personal consumption will start to grow, it won’t translate into construction of retail structures.”
He said healthcare has been a bright spot for resilient throughout the downturn because of America’s aging population. “Healthcare is a very important segment for resilient products. We are projecting low, single-digit growth in 2012.”