Hardwood flooring is sharing the market with an array of green flooring alternatives that offer more than just environmental credentials.
Traditionally, green flooring was chosen for its environmental qualities and in some cases its resistance in the built and design environment. The year ahead, however, will bring a directed focus on the other benefits green flooring products can offer.
When designers choose a flooring product these days, the product's health impacts, its ability to provide thermal comfort and its ability to be used elsewhere are being considered as much as its eco-friendliness.
In terms of materials, 2014 should see attentive designers and architects further explore bamboo and cork while also considering green concrete, natural stone and new materials that experiment with unusual earthy materials.
Daphna Tal, sustainable interiors consultant at Australian Living, said anecdotal evidence points to an uptick in sustainable or green flooring in the new year and outlined some new products likely to grow in the market in the new year.
“Consider eco-friendly cork and tile flooring that has low VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and are produced with high amounts of recycled content,” she said.
Cork has long been considered for its hypo allergenic and naturally anti-microbial attributes, which make it ideal for people with allergies and a material that contributes to cleaner air space.
Tal also pointed to a likely growth in popularity for Marmoleum, a material that features linseed oil as its key ingredient and that has begun capturing the market’s attention for its sustainable credentials.
“The backing is made from wood flour which is retrieved via waste products from the forestry and paper industry combined with jute,” she said. “This combination creates a 97 per cent natural product (where) 67 per cent of the content is vegetable and rapid renewable. Marmoleum is biodegradable and can be full recycled.”
For designers who prefer something closer to traditional concrete, Tal noted some suppliers offer a “lightweight green concrete that can be applied to a floor substrate providing an aesthetic alternative to solid concrete.”
In Australia, Boral features a Green Concrete which is an "ecological concrete mix that replaces virgin materials with recycled and waste materials in a range from 20% to 60%”.
Another innovative type of concrete comes from US-based company Realm of Design, which manufactures GreenStone, a product which incorporates recycled glass in its concrete material and has the ability to aesthetically resemble timber flooring.
Beyond choosing environmentally conscious flooring products, installation and the choice of adhesives and underlays is just as important.
“All of these associated products should be non-toxic and environmentally friendly,” says Tal. “We need to consider the whole system as being positive sustainability.”
With this in mind, carpet flooring specialist Interface recently unveiled flooring entitled The NetEffect™ Collection that is inspired by – and constructed from materials found in – the ocean.
“(It) moves the conversation from green to blue,” said Tal of Interface’s initiative, which sees the company obtain discarded fishing nets from remote fishing communities and recycle them into carpet tiles. “A flow on effect is that local villages by the ocean are benefiting.”
It’s also important to the industry to know where the product has originated from and ensuring it comes from a sustainable source.
This has brought about a growth in industry professionals leaning on reputable certification companies including the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), Global GreenTag and Good Environmental Choice to aid them in making environmentally responsible choices.
“The positive growth of Green Star (GBCA) is leading to an increase in the number of flooring products that are chosen by clients based on sustainability criteria,” Tal said.
Tal predicts that 2014 will bring a new wave of green flooring forms and functions.
“We are only as good as the products that we can use when creating sustainable buildings,” she said. “The more choice we have the better.”
She hopes Cradle to Cradle (C2C) will catch on in Australia, where the fact that such products have not become particularly successful belies the fact that there is a huge market opportunity in the country.
“Cradle to Cradle has a bigger presence internationally. We are starting to see products in Australia that are manufactured overseas that have a cradle to cradle certification,” she said.
In Australia, Interface practices C2C as does carpet tile maker Desso. Shaw Contract Group also offers a product called EcoWorx which features C2C backings and is 100 per cent recyclable and PVC-free.
Such products are often overlooked when it comes to sustainable design but can lead to better environmental and health outcomes.
“By choosing sustainable flooring you are helping yourself and the environment,” Tal said.