Flooring’s new eco-credentials

At a time of increasingly conscious living, we all want the buildings in which we spend our time to have a positive impact on the future of the planet. This aspiration is accelerating adoption of sustainable design, particularly in the workplace.

What’s more, the definition of sustainable design is expanding to include not just the ecological impact and energy efficiency of building materials, but also their influence on the health, wellbeing and productivity of the workforce. Against the backdrop of the global pandemic, increasing the remit of sustainable building practices to encompass human-centred design is a natural progression.

Cork flooring at Greenpeace

Flooring has a particularly crucial role to play in sustainable design and workplace wellbeing, and there are a variety of products readily available with outstanding eco credentials. Cork flooring is a particularly responsible choice, but other less-obvious solutions such as carpet and luxury vinyl tiles can also be surprisingly sustainable.   

Responsible and regenerative flooring

Cork is naturally one of the most ecologically sound flooring materials for the workplace. Cork oak trees retain five times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than other tree species, which helps to address climate change concerns. It is estimated that for every tonne of cork produced, cork oak forests absorb around 73 tonnes of carbon dioxide. And, as no trees are cut down during the cork harvest, it is a naturally renewable raw material.

Cork is harvested every 9 years from the cork oak

It is also recyclable, with some innovative flooring products manufactured using upcycled waste and used corks from the bottle stopper industry. Cork’s natural elasticity and compressibility gives it exceptional impact resistance and a long lifespan, and its innate thermal insulation properties help to improve energy efficiency.  

Other flooring solutions such as carpets are also becoming far more sustainable. For instance, our Quantum Collection carpets are made from yarn manufactured using the biomass balance principle. A little like green electricity, this principle ensures fossil resources in the supply chain are replaced with natural and renewable raw materials, without compromising quality or performance.

Carpets can also be manufactured using regenerated nylon, made from waste products such as industrial plastic, fishing nets and fabric scraps. The resulting carpet products are of exceptional quality and can be recycled infinitely in a closed-loop regeneration process. These practices are no longer novel and experimental but are well established within commercial carpet manufacture.

Endless Possibilities
ECONYL fibre is made from waste nylon

Flooring’s contribution to workplace wellbeing

In addition to ecological considerations, flooring has a vital role to play in enhancing wellbeing in office buildings, healthcare premises and educational facilities. Once again, cork is a great option. Due to its unique cell composition and honeycomb structure, cork acts as an acoustic insulator, reducing noise pollution by up to 50%. It provides sufficient stability to minimise physical strain and body fatigue, while also improving walking comfort by reducing heel strike impact. With low chemical emissions, cork flooring helps to meet international indoor air quality standards.

Quantum Collection carpets, made from bio-balanced yarns, alongside long-lasting Salto LVT made from phthalate-free PVC.

But other flooring solutions can also contribute to workplace wellbeing. Luxury vinyl tiles, like our Salto 55 Collection, may not sound like an obvious solution, but many are now made without phthalates, meaning they have very low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and contribute to cleaner, healthier air. They can be made with a high light-reflectance value (LRV) to maximise natural light within a building, positively impacting the mood and mental health of the workforce as well as improving energy efficiency. When combined with durability and recyclability, luxury vinyl tiles are becoming an increasingly sustainable choice.    

Moving forward with sustainable flooring

While innovative sustainable flooring products and manufacturing processes are progressing rapidly, they are not yet consistent throughout the industry. Buyers should look for flooring that has a verified Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) to ensure all participants in the supply chain, from raw material sourcing though to production and distribution, are adhering to strict sustainability standards.

EPDs feed into environmental accreditations such as the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and could eventually form the basis for a clear set of industry standards. Architects, specifiers and interior designers can all benefit from education around renewable and responsible flooring options to help them select suppliers and manufacturers that are fully committed to sustainable practices.

We should all aspire to create buildings that promote a positive balance between the people within them and the natural environment and, by exploring readily available flooring options such as cork, we can champion both sustainable design and wellbeing in the workplace.     

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