Flooring industry continues to stand out
by Matthew Spieler
San Francisco—From reclaimed wood and tile sources to recycled and recyclable carpet and resilient products to natural materials such as wool, cork and bamboo, the flooring industry once again showed why it remains among the leaders in the green building movement at the 11th annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo.
Sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council (USG-BC), Greenbuild has become the annual event for all that is green in the building industry. And with the show back on U.S. soil after taking place in Toronto last year (FCNews, Oct. 10/17, 2011), along with being held in one of the most environmentally pro-active areas in the country, the event saw jumps in both attendance and exhibitors. Final figures were not available at press time but estimates put the crowds upwards of 35,000 with more than 1,000 exhibitors taking part, not to mention the plethora of educational opportunities available. In fact, while the exhibit hall was only open for two days, Nov. 15 and 16, USGBC began offering classes as early as Nov. 12 and tours of green buildings within San Francisco as late as Nov. 17, making it a full-week event for those who couldn’t get enough green.
Though much has been made of its proposed changes in and additional time given to comment on its latest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green rating system, known as LEED v4, once the exhibition hall opened it was all about companies from every walk of the interior and exterior building industry. Exhibitors showcased and discuss their latest environmentally friendly products and sustainable solutions. LEED v4 was widely discussed and referenced but most of those conversations were saved for the seminars and after hours events.
While LEED v4 certainly played a part in the large amount of interest around the show, as did the location of Greenbuild in California, the eco-building movement is far from slowing down. Instead it is accelerating—even as the global economy continues to struggle in many ways.
A study released at an event by McGraw-Hill Construction, in partnership with United Technologies, not only pointed to the growth of the green trend, it noted “a shift in the global construction market,” with many organizations now viewing green as a business opportunity rather than a niche market.
The top two reasons cited in the study by architects, engineers, contractors, consultants and building owners for doing green work were client demand (35%) and market demand (33%), followed by lower operating costs (30%) and branding advantage (30%). In contrast, the study noted the top reason in 2008 motivating the green building market was “doing the right thing” at 42% and market transformation at 35%, followed by client and market demand.
“It is clear green is becoming an important part of the future landscape of the global construction marketplace, and firms will need to be prepared for that transition,” said Harvey Bernstein, vice president, Industry Insights and Alliances for McGraw-Hill.
From third-party certifications to numerous awards from government and non-government agencies, the flooring industry has consistently been recognized as a leader and key driver in the green building movement. This was once again evident throughout the exhibit halls as manufacturers gave attendees plenty to see and think about as they came to Greenbuild armed with numerous ways to help make a commercial or residential structure more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
In recent years, there was a great deal of talk around third-party certifications in recycled content and green processes as well as product category rules (PCR) and environmental product declarations (EPDs). And while these discussions continued to be at the forefront of many presentations, this year saw a slight shift toward design and how green is incorporated into the concept.
For example, Interface devoted not just its discussions, but a lot of its marketing, to biophilic design. Biophilia translates as the “love of life” or “living systems” and suggests there is an instinctive bond between human beings and natural environments.
At its booth, the mill hosted a “dialogue” with Bill Browning, co-founder of Terrapin Bright Green, a green building and real estate consultancy and design firm. He said humans have an “inherent connection with nature” and bringing the “outside in” has many proven benefits. This is why “some places feel better than others and when we take a break, we tend to go outside.” It’s more than just psychologically feeling better as “neuroscience shows the body reacts differently and the effect is a lingering one,” such as a reduced heart rate.
Consequently, Browning noted, “we’ve been doing this type of design for years by bringing nature inside” with such things as plants and fish tanks. But there are two other key ways to incorporate biophilic design. The first method is to use products that resemble nature. He pointed to the carpet in Interface’s booth resembling a mossy field. “That’s no accident.” The second key is to use the form and nature of the space itself, noting how “certain landscapes make you feel better than others.”
At the Shaw booth, David Wilkerson, director of sustainability and environmental affairs, discussed the concept of space and how it worked into the booth’s theme, “Design is Good Energy.” He noted creativity is not just a technical concept. When it comes to green, it is also associated with design. “Everything we do ties into sustainability, from our cradle-to-cradle philosophy to emulating nature to the use of the ingredients that go into our products.”
That is why he feels Greenbuild remains an important show, because “it is an opportunity for us to tell our story and meet with many of our major commercial customers. This has always been an educational show, and while the A&D community is familiar with floor covering and Shaw, there is a large audience that needs to be educated on how our products help contribute to a healthy building—from carpet to hard surface.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum in both size and type of soft surface products presented was Nature’s Carpet—making its first appearance at Greenbuild. Brian Cox said the company was showcasing its lines of 100% New Zealand wool products to attendees and was receiving “a very positive reaction, despite the fact we don’t have recycled content, only because wool is all natural and biodegradable—it actually provides nutrients to the soil as it breaks down.”
Hard surfaces companies large and small were also on hand. Diane Martel, environmental planning and strategy for Tarkett North America, said the company was highlighting its four environmental pillars—good materials, resource stewardship, people friendly spaces and reuse/recycle—which not only provide for a closed-loop process, but incorporate the importance of good design. “The idea is that sustainability is about creating balance.”
Crossville’s Lindsey Ann Waldrep, vice president of marketing, noted how “attendees are asking hard questions. They don’t just want to know if you have recycled content, but want to know where it is coming from, for example.”
As such, she noted the reason behind the company’s partnership with sanitary manufacturer Toto, as Crossville has been taking its pre-consumer materials and recycling them into new porcelain floors for over a year. “This is not just a cross-industry partnership—something Crossville needs to do in order to find other sources of material for our green programs—it’s a true partnership in every sense of the word. That’s why a show like Greenbuild is important as it is the one place we can showcase how our two companies are working together to better our environment and the communities in which we live and work.”
Similar to Crossville is Fireclay Tile, a California company that takes used porcelain sanitary products from the San Jose landfill for use in some of its products, in addition to car windshields and even glass from solar panels. Owner Paul Burns and his team “literally pulls material from the landfills” to use in their products.
Lastly, there were the wood companies, including bamboo and cork, and companies who seek out old or discarded wood that can be repurposed into new, decorative floors. For example, Viridian, which sources from places like truck beds and ships that use the material to separate other cargo, while IndoTeak purchases old buildings in Indonesia scheduled for demolition that are made of teak.
It wasn’t all about product as Globus Cork’s Ken Bollella pointed to the company’s socially conscious program for affordable housing. “No one is doing anything to help in this area,” he told FCNews, “so we decided to create two packages consisting of a limited number of products and colors but are still made with the same high-grade cork and constructed the same as our other offerings. So, even if you have less readily available funds, there is no reason you can’t be part of the green movement.”