By Steven Feldman
NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF.—The Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) continues to grow, both in terms of numbers and viability. The group, which held its fall meeting here Oct. 17 and 18, currently represents nearly all resilient flooring manufacturers and products sold throughout North America, and its impact is being felt from many standpoints.
Fundamentally, there are two current strategic areas in which RFCI plays: (1) advocacy/defense of vinyl flooring products and (2) sustainability initiatives. “We defend where any flooring products are faced with deselection,” said Dean Thompson, president of the group. That includes everything from a federal regulation to state legislation to non-governmental organization (NGO) standards such as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) proposing to award credits within LEED for the non-use of certain materials, such as PVC.
The other focus for RFCI is to proactively drive sustainability initiatives in the marketplace. The three most significant are:
1. The organization’s Floor Score indoor air quality (IAQ) certification program
2. NSF/ANSI 332—Sustainability Assessment for Resilient Floor Coverings
3.The development of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)
“FloorScore is the pre-eminent IAQ certification program for hard surface materials,” Thompson said. “That was our initial foray into sustainability initiatives.” FloorScore’s significance is illustrated in the program’s growth from five companies representing 25 lines in 2005 to 68 companies representing over 1,000 product lines today.
NSF 332, created in 2010, is a multi-attribute product certification program that allows manufacturers to certify their products against the standard under four categories ranging from Conformant to Platinum. “This is an important indicator of environmental impacts, and helps specifiers and purchasers weigh the relative attributes of one resilient flooring product versus another,” Thompson said.
“Consumers are also becoming more concerned about the health and safety of products they bring into their homes,” he added. “It’s important for flooring retailers, contractors and distributors to provide reliable third-party information and be able to explain it to customers.”
NSF 332 has six criteria: product design, product manufacturing, long-term value, end of life management, corporate governance and innovation. “It’s important to realize it’s not just products that are examined but the entire company and its comprehensive manufacturing operations,” Thompson said.
Resilient flooring manufacturers that have certified products to NSF 332 are committed to reducing the environmental impacts of their flooring products. Multiple levels of achievement provide an incentive for manufacturers to continue reducing environmental impacts, allowing the industry to continually improve.
The latest initiative on which RFCI is working addresses the market’s request for more transparency of product data. That is its EPD initiative that started in 2011 and will be completed shortly.
An EPD is a voluntary, comprehensive disclosure of a product’s life cycle environmental impact based on predetermined parameters and validated by an independent, third party. It assesses a range of impacts from raw material acquisition to energy use and efficiency, materials, chemical substances, emissions and waste generation. It allows end users to compare the environmental impacts of different products, giving them a way to identify those with specific sustainability benefits.
EPDs are similar to the nutrition labels on food. Instead of calories and grams, a flooring EPD shows a product’s ingredients and their associated environmental impact. To develop an EPD, manufacturers and suppliers must fully disclose how products are made and distributed. In addition to sharing product ingredients, companies must perform a comprehensive life cycle assessment following ISO 14040 standards.
“It’s all based on collecting life cycle analysis (LCA) data from the participating companies and then publishing an EPD for each of six product categories—VCT, LVT, heterogeneous sheet vinyl, homogeneous sheet vinyl, rubber flooring and linoleum,” Thompson said. “There is a great deal of interest in this, including LEED, encouraging the LCA approach and proposing credits for a company that develops an EPD.”
Advocacy and defense
Just like any successful team, a good offense must be supported by a strong defense, and RFCI excels here as well. Bill Hall, the group’s outside counsel with Venable LLC, cited three current areas of active engagement.
The first area is the LEED update process to ensure PVC- and phthalate-containing products are not subject to material avoidance credits. USGBC is in the process of developing the next version of its LEED green building rating system, known as LEED v4. 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 are based on single-attribute concerns about alleged health concerns from infrequent 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 based on limited animal studies of questionable relevance which allegedly show reproductive defects.
In the third draft of the LEED update issued in February 2012, credits were proposed if materials were used that did not contain PVC, phthalates (used as plasticizers in flexible vinyl products) and chemicals listed under California Prop 65, according to Hall. Because flexible vinyl products (e.g. vinyl flooring, carpet with vinyl backing) contain PVC and many contain a specified phthalate, the use of those products would not be eligible for the proposed credit.
“But through the strong advocacy efforts of vinyl and chemical industry groups, including RFCI, USGBC was persuaded to drop from the third draft a materials avoidance credit that slated PVC and phthalates for avoidance,” Hall said. “We can be justifiably proud that our efforts contributed to USGBC’s decision to reconsider the next version of LEED, which could have unjustifiably harmed U.S. companies or discouraged the use of PVC products.” However, the LEED v4 process continues with a subsequent draft, including proposed credits which have a PVC and phthalate-containing material de-selection impact which the industry will continue to fight.
The second area in which RFCI plays defense is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) DfE (Design for the Environment) process, where the goal is to ensure phthalate-containing products are not improperly blacklisted or stigmatized in the marketplace.
Finally, RFCI is actively engaged in the General Services Administration’s five-year review of green building rating systems for use by the federal government to ensure only consensus-based and transparent systems are used, such as Green Globes.
RFCI is part of the American High Performance Buildings Coalition, which includes nearly three-dozen trade associations representing hundreds of companies. The mission of this group is to advocate green building rating systems be developed pursuant to a consensus-based decision-making process. The coalition has raised serious concerns about whether LEED meets these criteria. The LEED decision-making process will also be an important criterion and GSA will consider in its upcoming recommendation to the Department of Energy of a green building rating system for use by federal government agencies.
According to Roger Marcus, RFCI’s chairman, all this ensures the playing field is not improperly tilted against resilient products, “which win in the marketplace on their own. We function as a group to maintain the viability of resilient flooring within the industry and to make sure our category—the growth segment of the flooring industry—can continue.”