"The way a product is manufactured may be as important as the product itself, especially when considering its environmental impact and potential health risks. When wood products carry the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certification label, consumers can be confident that the product's chain of custody (all stages of production, distribution and sales) have been independently evaluated and held to standards that protect not only forest ecology but the rights of workers and indigenous peoples as well. And with regard to personal health, the issue is less about whether you use a floor sealer or not and much more about whether the sealer you choose offgasses a safe level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)."
"Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), known commonly as vinyl, holds the majority of the market for inexpensive, durable flooring. Although vinyl requires adhesives for installation and will offgas some VOCs, a more immediate environmental concern is disposal. Because it contains both chlorine and plasticizers, it is not viable for incineration, releasing highly toxic dioxins into the atmosphere. Vinyl also does not biodegrade. Beyond this, vinyl poses serious health risks. It contains the plasticizer group phthalates, including DEHP, which is a probable human carcinogen, known to cause chronic health problems, including liver and kidney abnormalities. In vinyl sheet flooring, plasticizers such as the DEHP usually make up about 27% of the product by weight. Because phthalates are not bonded to the plastic, they can migrate, making this a particular risk for children who spend more time in close contact with flooring." From the National Geographic Green Guide.
In 2004 Interface Inc. the world’s largest carpet manufacturer announced that it had ‘developed a new material for carpet making called “solenium” claimed to last 4 times as long as traditional carpets, use 40% less raw material and to be entirely remanufactured into new carpets’
Bamboo is an excellent alternative to hardwood flooring since it is harvested from fast-growing trees that quickly replenish. Bamboo is comparable to hardwood in look, long-term maintenance and installation, and it is more durable. Most bamboo flooring comes pre-stained and sealed and is available in a variety of colors similar to traditional hardwoods. While bamboo resolves many sustainability issues, it has the same potential pitfalls as wood floor products, especially other laminates. In some cases, bamboo may need additional sealants or protective waxes, which should always be low- or no-VOC. Shop carefully and you can also find formaldehyde-free bamboo flooring. With its growing popularity, bamboo flooring is now available from many online retailers.
Cork flooring has been utilized since the 1920's when Frank Lloyd Wright incorporated it into many of his designs, but currently it is growing in popularity due in large part to its sustainability: A harvest law of 8-9 years downtime for the recovery of the cork trees ensures that these trees will have time to recover. However, its versatility certainly plays a role as well. With a variety of colors and patterns to choose from, these floors can be designed to look like somber wood interiors or brightly colored tile squares. Cork floors, like many laminate products, float above the surface of the sub-floor without being glued down. The flooring adjusts and shifts as necessary, even on floors that are uneven, which makes it a good choice for older homes where the foundations have settled. Unlike hardwood, cork is all but impermeable to dampness and will not rot. Cork is also scratch and dent proof and won't attract termites.
Recycled Tile and Stone
Tile and stone, such as slate, create an easy to clean surface that won't promote allergens. When working with stone, try to find materials native to your area and avoid stone from large-scale quarries, which can damage the environment. There are also quite a variety of tiles made with post-consumer waste materials, including recycled industrial glass or even recycled rubber.
Concrete flooring provides a low-maintenance, smooth surface that won't promote allergens or dust mites. When combined with a radiant heating system, concrete warms up to a cozy temperature. Unheated concrete maintains a constant temperature year-round and can help with energy efficiency. Concrete for flooring is stamped to look like natural stone or tile or mixed with tint to provide decorative colored patterns. With the help of low-voc sealants and polishes, these floors keep a water-resistant, attractive shine. Unlike wood flooring, the materials used to produce concrete are sustainable, especially in cases when the concrete mixture is "green" and contains flyash, an energy plant waste product, or other kinds of industrial waste, such as blast furnace slag, cinders or even recycled crushed concrete. Ask your contractor what options are available in your area, and in some cases a contractor may be willing to add flyash to the mix, even if it is not the standard practice.
Linoleum is made primarily from linseed oil, pine rosin, sawdust, cork dust, limestone, and jute. By contrast to vinyl, it contains no chlorine and no plasticizers. All of the ingredients are biodegradable, with exception of the acrylic topcoat and the zinc drying agent, which are used in small quantities. Linoleum will offgas some VOC's, and most varieties require adhesives, which means that it poses the same risk as laminates, but as with other flooring materials, the glueless floating floor is always an option.
From the National Geographic Green Guide.
- Sabi resilient textile flooring by InterfaceFLOR Commercial: 51% Recycled content
- Terratex® office panel and upholstery products by InterfaceFABRIC: 100% from post consumer or post industrial material, recyclable when worn out.
- Recycled Metal Tiles: made from 100% recycled aluminum or brass.
- Recycled Glass
Forbo Flooring MarmoleumMade from readily renewable natural ingredients, Marmoleum Global 2 offers numerous health and environmental benefits, including naturally occurring antistatic and antimicrobial properties.
Shaw Flooring Pioneers in carpet recycling and Cradle-to-Cradle production, Shaw produces hardwood and carpet flooring.
[originally published at GreenDesignWiki.com]