Architects, designers and owners all have a difficult challenge when it comes to sorting out the claims made by manufacturers regarding green products. Particularly since some carpet reps will make knucklehead statements like, “hey, my carpet can give you 14 LEED points. Specify this and you will be green.” But there are some simple tips that can help to make the process easier. Start with the obvious first. Ask each competing manufacturer on any RFP or RFI process one simple question; can you turn your standard running line product back into itself and keep it out of the landfill forever? The follow-up to that is; does your response meet the Federal Trade Commission guidelines for marketing claims? If the answer is no to these questions you can stop right there.
Any manufacturer in 2009 that cannot do this and claims to be green is either not committed to sustainability or has not been committed to sustainability and it has finally caught up with them. Taking care of the products that you put into the environment and closing the loop should be priority one for any manufacturer that claims to be sustainable. It is intellectually dishonest to manufacture and sell millions of yards of materials and send them into the market without having a daily solution for the material that you make at the end of its useful life. There are no amounts of trees you can plant to make up for that fact.
These 2 questions and answers get to the heart of a sustainable product. They answer the key question of whether or not a manufacturer is responsible about the products they are putting into the office environment and if they have an operational recycling center to provide a cradle-to-cradle solution for the raw materials that they took out of the natural environment. If a manufacturer answers yes to these questions, they should provide a signed guarantee document from an officer of the company promising that the material will not be stored, land filled or burned and that it will all be turned into new product.
Perhaps an even larger sustainable question is; how long have your products been proven to last in the commercial market? The first test of sustainability is long-term performance. A product made from biodegradable materials such as PLA that lasts 5 years or less before it falls apart or uglies out and can not be cleaned is hardly sustainable. The longer the performance the more sustainable it is economically for all parties and the less energy it takes to recycle it back into itself. Therefore, the next tip that might help architects is to ask a manufacturer; how long has your product performed in the market place in high traffic areas with your current backing system? Ten years should be the minimum and 20 years is a much better target with references to speak with about the product performance. The key here is to have the product performing without problems.
Product problems such as backing delaminating from the face product, tuft bind issues, edge ravel, shrinking, curling, cupping are all non-sustainable products because they cause the owner and all involved unnecessary energy, capital, and time. These problems also cause disruption in the work environment and often lead to the remaking of product causing more raw materials to be used, more energy to be spent, and more capital to be wasted. Ideally, a sustainable product would use less energy, less cost over time and be easier to manage. At the end of it’s useful life, hopefully 20, 30, or 40 years, the used materials would then be sent back on a green shipping carrier to the original manufacturer’s environmental recycling center and turned back into new flooring for another generation of use.
Imagine if our automobiles lasted 40 years like some vinyl backed products and were then recycled back into new cars. We could actually pass the materials from our favorite Ford truck down to our children or even our children’s children. Now that would be something! Yes, I have a dream. But for now, that is only possible with certain carpet products and we’ll have to wait to see what auto manufacturer is the first cradle-to-cradle provider. In the meantime, keep specifying sustainable carpet and compare them honestly.