For the January issue of Designer magazine I wrote an article about how the tough economic climate has prompted consumers and specifiers to opt for more long-lasting, better quality flooring products that have a reduced impact on the environment.
Flooring manufacturers are stepping up to meet the sustainability challenge and we are now seeing a vast array of eco-friendly flooring products on the market. Victoria Redshaw, founder and lead trend forecaster at Scarlet Opus, believes that the ‘trend pendulum’ has swung away from cheap and cheerful back towards quality and longevity.
“Post-recession, there is a strong focus on not wanting to be wasteful. Not wanting to waste time, resources, materials or money. Consumers will increasingly expect products to be long-lasting and kind…and that includes flooring,” she says.
“Flooring must now be designed with the heart as much as the head, by designers and manufacturers with a conscience who bow to environmental concerns, not just commercial concerns,” says Redshaw.
Whilst hard wood has always been a popular choice, many of the more exotic hardwoods are under threat from illegal and unsustainable logging practices. But luckily many manufacturers and retailers are now committed to sourcing their products only from certifiably sustainable sources.
The forests from which Dinesen, a leading Danish manufacturer of plank floors, sources its wood are managed by the principles of “Dauerwald,” which means promising sustainably productive, profitable, environmentally stable, biologically diverse, and socially responsive forests, patterned after nature.
Kährs of Sweden has a similar approach to eco-standards. Most timber is sourced locally with over 88 per cent of raw material sourced within a 124-mile radius of the factory in Nybro, Sweden. This not only reduces transportation costs but also allows Kährs to utilise waste wood; timber that cannot be used in floor production is converted into bio-fuel, which provides heat for the plant and the homes of 45,000 local residents.
Kebony, a Norway based producer, has developed an alternative to the unsustainable use of tropical timber for flooring. Through an innovative process known as ‘Kebonization’, the company is able to permanently change sustainable softwoods into hardwoods by impregnating them with a liquid derived from agricultural crop waste.
“This technology provides a global eco-solution to the major environmental challenge of rain forest deforestation,” says Christian Jebsen, CEO of Kebony.
However, when it comes to the use of hardwood for flooring, some consumers and specifiers are seeking completely different alternatives to the traditional rainforest timber.
Chris Elliot, MD of the Bamboo Flooring Company, believes that bamboo has many advantages over the more traditional hardwoods. “Bamboo is a cheaper raw material so the floors are around a third cheaper. They are as hard as oak and some, for example strand woven bamboo, are harder than any wood.”
Being a grass, as opposed to timber, gives bamboo the edge as not only a building product, but also as a sustainable resource: wood takes approximately 15-20 years to reach maturity, whereas the non-harmful harvesting of bamboo takes a mere 3 to 5 years.
Whilst wood is always a popular flooring option, the question of sustainability has seen many other materials gaining in popularity, such as natural rubber. Rubber flooring manufacturer Dalsouple made the decision to improve the environmental profile of its products by going back to nature with the introduction of DalNaturel, a product that boasts over 90 per cent natural ingredients.
Natural rubber is a wholly renewable raw material. It is easy to recycle many times over, is long-lasting and is low in toxicity. The benefits it offers as flooring are myriad including the fact that it is tough, anti-slip and burn resistant, it feels soft and warm underfoot and has excellent noise absorption properties, is dust free, hygienic and easy to maintain.
The use of recycled content in manufacturing has also gained ground in recent years not only due to the environmental benefits, but also because, in most cases, it makes sound business sense.
Some ceramic tile manufacturers are also incorporating recycled content into the production process. Johnson Tiles of Stoke-on-Trent in the UK recycle 20,000 tonnes of ceramic waste from their own production processes and those of 14 other local ceramic manufacturers each year.
The ceramic waste, which includes plates, cups and saucers, is ground to a suitable size and added to standard ceramic materials to create the tile body. The recycled materials comprise on average 25 per cent of the raw material but can be as high as 36 per cent. Reusing this much ceramic waste annually saves approximately 24,000 cubic metres of landfill.
So it is easy to see that there is no shortage of eco-friendly, sustainable products out there that meet the needs of today’s increasingly discerning consumers and specifiers. Customers these days are looking for more: more quality, more longevity, more thoughtful production and above all more of a story.
“And this is when recycling, up-cycling and repurposing takes centre stage. Products with a history, a past life, a story to tell, this is what appeals,” says Redshaw.