Greenbuild: Focus on human health, more talk of climate change

Home Inside FCNews Greenbuild: Focus on human health, more talk of climate change

November 30/December 14; Volume 30/Number 12

By Jenna Lippin

 Washington—Climate change may not typically come to mind when considering flooring, but it was certainly a topic of discussion at this year’s Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, held here Nov. 18 and 19. Exhibiting companies focused on products that positively impact human health in addition to manufacturing and reuse processes that ultimately affect global warming.

“You have to look at life cycle assessment and the terms of any type of manufacturing from raw materials,” said George Bandy, vice president of sustainability for Interface. “When you pull something from the earth that’s when you emit the most greenhouse gas. An average of 69% to 70% of a product’s life cycle’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from raw material extraction. If you’re eliminating that and using material that’s already out there you’ve reduced greenhouse gas emissions. You do this by using post-consumer recycled content and bringing materials back in.”

Figures in the commercial arena like architects, designers, specifiers, etc., are, in fact, looking for safe and healthy products that have a reduced impact on climate change. “The safety and health of the building and the safety and health of the planet are totally interrelated,” said John Stephens, vice president of marketing, Shaw Contract Group. “I do think here because of the Global Climate Summit and the relationship between the U.S. and China and the global climate agreement that [there is] opportunity in discussing the impact of climate change. Sustainability economically and environmentally have to be intertwined. You’re not going to have a sustainable environment unless companies are sustainable long term and are able to make money. Shaw recognized that back in the 1990s when we invested in Cradle to Cradle products.”

With that, Cradle to Cradle had a significant presence at the show—not only with various offerings bearing its certification seal, but also with products installed in this year’s Unity Home, a 1,620-square-foot LEED Platinum, WaterSense certified, net zero-energy demonstration show home on display at the expo. The Unity Home featured flooring products from Shaw (hardwood and carpet), Tarkett (linoleum) and Mosa (tile).

In terms of how Cradle to Cradle is keeping up with sustainable trends, Stacy Glass, vice president, built environment, explained, “Because material health has become such a hot topic to both consumers and commercial specifiers, we’ve allowed [manufacturers] to break out material health and pursue just that aspect if that’s where their interest is. It’s not a label, but more of a business-to-business information sheet.” Cradle to Cradle’s Material Health Certificate provides manufacturers with a vehicle to share their work toward “chemically optimized products.”

Casey Johnson, Marmoleum business development manager, North America, Forbo Flooring Systems, also noted the importance of addressing health issues within our built environment. “If we’re going to spend 90% of our time inside of buildings we should make sure that they’re as safe as possible. Transparency is just the start; we should also address health issues, whether from poor air quality, deferred maintenance, etc., and what is coming out of our products. We have to be concerned about the health of the occupant.”

To address such, Forbo is focused on discussions with end users to find out what aspects of health are important to them. Johnson explained the company’s approach helps address the divide in the market between health product declarations (HPDs) and environmental product declarations (EPDs). “The EPD is all about the planet and the HPD is all about the person. We want to make sure it’s all covered. From our sustainable massaging standpoint we have our ‘creating better environments’ [theme] that talks about the triple bottom line and our commitment to the health of one.”

Forbo’s “health of one” initiative is a method of outreach for each end user’s health concerns. A focus for the company is the conversation with the customer to determine what is most important to that particular person. “The big picture is to have that conversation with the customer so we understand what is important to them, what defines health for them,” Johnson noted.

Similarly, Tim Cole, vice president, marketing, Nora Systems, noted the importance of the contribution to human health. Nora’s norament xp product was featured in the GreenZone demonstration building that will become an educational center in a low-income neighborhood in Baltimore. “Part of the triple bottom line is social equity,” he said. “It is about the contribution to human health. You have to consider if you are creating an environment that’s green but also a place where people are going to be most productive, where there is clean air and water and proper lighting. That’s why you have the Well Building Standard now in addition to things like LEED and the triple bottom line. It all has to do with health and well being.”

Mohawk Group prominently displayed its Declare labels at its Greenbuild space, continuing to promote its partnership with the International Living Future Institute. According to Royce Epstein, director, design segment, Mohawk Group is continuing to make strides with its focus on transparency. “We challenge ourselves, our customers and even our competitors to all take part in material transparency. We’re pushing design and sustainability; they’re racing together which is very nice.”

On the topic of climate change, Epstein noted the benefits of Mohawk Group’s vertical integration. “We make our own fiber; we’re not reliant on any outside vendor. I think being vertically integrated is really important, especially when customers are looking for a smaller footprint with LEED or Living Building Challenge projects where you don’t want a long chain of custody. Plus knowing exactly what goes into our product makes it much easier to be transparent.”

Ann Wicander, president of WE Cork, said the company hasn’t specifically addressed the issue of climate change, but because it makes flooring out of cork, “a rapidly renewable material, we are on the good side of that argument.”

When discussing sustainability, Wicander emphasized how cork “embodies everything you want” in a green product. “It also adds to the quality of the building by insulation—sound insulation, thermal insulation. For multi-housing it has been great; we’ve had a lot of developers coming through. They know there is an issue for sound and they’re now more conscious of using products that are environmentally friendly.”

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