Talking the Talk about Walking the (Green) Walk

When shopping for flooring, it helps to know the Earth-friendly lingo!

Walk into any floor covering store or visit any floor covering website and you may feel like you should have studied harder in science class. Seems all the flooring manufacturers are trying to impress you with their love for the environment as well as quality flooring. And why not! With today’s technology, the only footprint flooring brands want is yours. Did we say footprint? Glad you asked …

Carbon Footprint
Floor covering manufacturers will often talk about “reducing their carbon footprint.” This means that they’re reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions which are being created in the production of their flooring.

You’ll see and hear this term a lot when shopping for products that go into construction. It’s an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design which was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2000. LEED is a rating system that promotes green design and construction practices which architects, designers, builders and manufacturers all agree on. In other words, LEED sets the standard in environmental performance of buildings.

Quite often, manufacturers will refer to their products as being “sustainable” or say that they’ve used “sustainable practices” in making their products. When used correctly, this term simply means that resources are “sustained” – not depleted or harmed – in the production of a product. Usually, floor covering companies will point to their responsible use of air, water and power as evidence of their sustainable mindset.

Recycled versus Reclaimed
These terms may seem similar, but their meanings are slightly different. To recycle means to convert waste into reusable materials. For example, some carpet manufacturers have set up collection sites for old carpet to be recycled into new carpet or carpet padding. On the other hand, laminate flooring manufacturers will use reclaimed wood scraps from a nearby furniture manufacturer, for example, to grind up to make the wood fiber core of its planks. In both cases, the manufacturer is avoiding the use of virgin raw materials (and thus less sustainable materials) to make its product.

This is shorthand for a very menacing-sounding term: volatile organic compounds. You know this better as that “new car smell” or that “new home smell.” Because we all spend, on average, about 90 percent of our time inside, VOCs are an important issue regarding the healthy quality of the air in our indoor environment. Virtually everything (including flooring) is made with chemical compounds that “off-gas” chemical vapors which diminish over time. Because floors constitute such a large surface area in the home, manufacturers have made huge strides in the reduction or elimination of VOCs. When you’re shopping for carpet, look for the Green Label Plus certification from the Carpet and Rug Institute.