As soft flooring product manufacturers, we have a responsibility to our customers, our employees, and the environment to embrace sustainability in our business practices – from sourcing raw materials to reclamation of products at the end of their useful lives.
It can be challenging to navigate the sustainability landscape with its various (and occasionally conflicting) standards of measurement and certifications. Here is an overview of the four key areas companies must consider when choosing a flooring product.
1. Material Health
The soft surface flooring industry is making significant progress in identifying and removing harmful substances from its products. In principle, most agree it’s important to source raw materials and use chemicals that are not harmful to people or the environment. But there is no universally agreed way to measure success.
In the U.S., the most common standards either address just the hazards associated with the materials used in making a product or they address the health and safety of th
e finished product. Health Product Declaration (HPD) and Declare Labels fall into the ‘ingredient hazard’ disclosure category. These two programs rely on manufacturers to disclose what they know about the materials they use to make a product, with no independent third party review of the information disclosed. These programs document the health hazards associated with the materials used.
Cradle to Cradle (C2C) is a comprehensive certification of the health impacts of a product. Manufacturers require their raw material suppliers to disclose detailed formulation information to an independent third party for assessment. This results in a deeper understanding of a product’s health hazards than relying only on a product manufacturer’s raw material knowledge.
Additionally, C2C certification performs a risk evaluation of the disclosed hazard information to determine whether or not a route of exposure is likely to exist during the use of the product. The result of this two part assessment of both ingredient hazards and exposure potential is that C2C certification provides more meaningful and relevant information to the end user than manufacturer self-disclosure programs.
2. Recycled Content & Recyclability
Manufacturers have a responsibility to minimize the amount of building materials that end up in
overburdened landfills, so it is important to design and manufacture products that contain recycled materials and are easily recyclable. It’s also important to avoid using recycled content that contains harmful materials, so specifiers should inquire about the source of recycled content and whether or not it contains hazardous materials like phthalates or heavy metals.
When carpet reaches the end of its useful life, reclamation options include the following:
- Carpet to carpet: Old carpets can be refurbished or separated into raw materials for recycling into new carpet products.
- Carpet to other products: When recycling back into carpet isn’t an option, the product can sometimes be utilized by other industries (e.g., engineered resins).
- Carpet to energy: With a high BTU, or, more simply, energy content, the energy in carpet can be extracted to provide electricity or steam to power manufacturing operations.
3. Environmental Impacts
As manufacturers, we must do everything we can to use fewer resources. This extends to the energy and water resources used in the manufacturing processes.
Investing in energy reduction and efficiency projects makes good economic and environmental sense, as it leads to energy and financial savings. As a best practice, manufacturers should invest in using renewable and lower carbon-intensive energy sources energies. Finally, manufacturers can also purchase Renewable Energy Credits (REC) and Carbon Offset Credits to offset their energy use and carbon emissions respectively. Just make sure the credits are purchased from a reputable source (e.g., Green-E).
Reducing incoming water consumption in manufacturing is just the beginning. In addition to water reduction opportunities, manufacturers can also evaluate ways to reuse water internally and reduce the impact of their wastewater discharges. Best sustainability practices include monitoring factory wastewater to ensure it can be safely discharged, working with community groups to protect watersheds and help maintain the quality of water supplies, and ensuring future business plans take downstream water users into consideration.
Companies should also conduct a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to determine the potential overall environmental impacts of their products and processes throughout production, usage, and disposal. The LCA should follow ISO 14040 and 14044 and result in an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) that identifies relevant environmental impacts, such as the potential for global warming, acidification, and smog creation.
4. Social Fairness
The Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard sums up social fairness as manufacturers that “ensure that progress is made towards sustaining business operations that protect the value chain and contribute to all stakeholder interests including employees, customers, community members, and the environment.” Companies also must invest in fair treatment of workers and carefully evaluate the social practices of their suppliers to ensure their sourced goods are created in a way that is socially just.
As a Shaw Company, We Take Sustainability Seriously
We are committed to minimizing our environmental impact. As a Shaw Industries company, we strongly embrace Cradle to Cradle certification and provide HPD and Declare Labels on many of our products.
Through our commercial take-back program and reclamation partners across the U.S., we help customers keep carpets out of landfills. Shaw companies have recycled more than 800 million pounds of carpet since 2006 – and we’re still counting.
We constantly seek innovative ways to limit our water impact, including increasing water reuse wherever possible. In 2014, our Tuftex plant in Southern California (where water conservation is especially critical) increased the use of recycled water to 76.3 percent, up from 25.9 percent in 2012. And of our total water consumption in 2014, we recycled or reused 13.4 percent of the water we brought in.
To minimize our consumption of natural resources, we are leveraging alternative energies to power our plants. In Dalton, Georgia, two manufacturing plants use waste carpet to power their operations; in Cartersville, Georgia, Plant 15 uses solar panels that can power up to 10 percent of the plant’s peak energy load. Since 2007, our company has invested more than $37 million in capital projects that have reduced energy, generated savings in excess of $20 million (and counting), and reduced harmful emissions. In 2014 alone, Shaw created greenhouse gas emissions reductions equivalent to taking 4,593 passenger vehicles off the road.
Throughout our entire process, we ensure all of our human resources are treated fairly. Talent optimization, leadership skills development, and associate, customer, and community engagement are critical components of our diversity efforts. And we’ve recently developed two affinity groups – one that focuses on attracting and retaining talented women (WiN) and ShawVET, a program that advocates for military service members, veterans, and their families – to affect noteworthy, systemic change.
Learn more about how Philadelphia Commercial and our parent company Shaw Industries, Inc. are leading the way in sustainable business practices on philadelphia-commercial.com or by downloading our Sustainability Report.