The building industry is one of the driving forces in the Australian economy. Clearly then, driving the sustainability agenda through building materials is an essential part of achieving environmentally preferable outcomes for Australia.
Facilities managers play an important role in this system, and can wield significant purchasing power in the procurement of products and services.
On the path to sustainability, your choice of flooring for example can, literally, help pave the way towards a greener future and better business.
Every built environment needs flooring. Abundant opportunities for creative solutions exist within multi-residential, commercial, government, sporting, community, health, home and scientific spaces. Sustainable flooring solutions can be found that satisfy the essential needs of cost efficiency and functionality as well as hitting the trifecta of durability, beauty and sustainability.
The Role of Ecolabels
Today, more and more people are interested in the environmental impact of their purchases.
Sustainable and ethical purchasing in the consumer market has gained popularity through ecolabels such as Fair Trade and Certified Organic which are now well-recognised labels. The business world has also begun adopting sustainable and ethical procurement practices as more evidence that sustainable supply chains are pivotal to transitioning to a healthier, happier, greener world.
As they are so extensively used, flooring products have the potential to make a considerable contribution to the reduction of environmental harm in built environments not only in how they are manufactured but in how they perform once installed and at the end of their useful life. But how do you know which flooring products are environmentally preferable and why?
Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) promotes sustainable production and consumption through its national, independent, not-for-profit ecolabelling program. The Environmental Choice Australia Ecolabel program provides both the community and commercial markets with an environmental mark of recognition for a wide range of products and services.
GECA certified products and services are readily identifiable as they carry the Environmental Choice Australia ecolabel, shown below. GECA and its licensees use this mark to assist product specifiers and purchasers looking to make good environmental choices in product selection. It gives a clear signal, is readily recognisable, and provides people with an assurance that – through a process of independent assessment and verification – the product labelled can genuinely claim to deliver better environmental outcomes.
The Ecolabel is awarded to products that meet GECA’s clear voluntary environmental performance standards. They are developed in accordance with ISO 14024 and are based on international best practice. GECA also draws on the standards developed by its many Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) partners. GEN members establish minimum environmental performance criteria for a product or service across different phases of a product’s life cycle (for example sourcing, manufacture, use and disposal). These standards aim to encourage and recognise environmental benefits in avoiding hazardous chemicals, conserving resources, minimising waste for landfill, and encouraging the use of environmentally preferable materials. Where possible, data from life cycle assessments are used to inform standard criteria.
Impacts and Considerations
The environmental impact of floor covering products primarily arises from the different types of raw materials used, products for installation and surface treatment, and from the energy used during manufacturing. In addition, environmental impacts can occur during use and maintenance and when the floor covering reaches the end of its useful life and becomes waste to be recycled, reused, reprocessed or otherwise disposed of.
The GECA 25-2011 v2 Floor Coverings Standard identifies the key environmental loads of floor coverings. The standard is applicable to a range of floor coverings and carpet underlays that are applied to a foundation of concrete or wooden beams and are not part of the building structure. This includes floor covering such as: parquet, wooden planks, engineered wood products, linoleum, bamboo, cork, rubber and vinyl. The specific requirements of the standard address product performance, material content, emissions during production and post-installation, resource efficiency and responsible disposal.
GECA currently has the choice of 10 licensees certified under their rigorous Floor Coverings Standard which include products such as carpet underlays and rubber flooring that utilises post-industrial recycled content, preventing it from ending up in landfill.
The New Standards for Flooring Options
The GECA standard on floor coverings recently underwent a major review process. In March the final version of GECA 25-2011 v2 Floor Coverings was released. This is the fourth in a series of five standards that have been revised and finalised following recognition in 2010 by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) under its program of Green Star Product certification Schemes.
Now ready for auditing, GECA 25-2011 v2 Floor Coverings replaces the GECA 25-2010 draft and its predecessor, GECA 25-2005 Floor Coverings. Changes have been made to the criteria for material efficiency and the scope of the Standard broadened to reflect new market needs.
The primary purpose of this standard is still to define environmental product criteria for the most harmful environmental and human hazards of flooring and to use these criteria as indicators of the general environmental performance of the product.
For a complete environmental solution, customers are able to combine a certified flooring solution with a certified adhesive to ensure that environmental gains made by choosing an environmentally preferable flooring product are not lost by using a highly toxic adhesive, which is a scenario that often occurs. Similarly, an environmentally preferable carpet can be matched to an underlay with similar environmental performance. The wide range of standards now available, allow for a ‘one-stop-shop’ for choosing environmentally responsible flooring.
It is important to note that flooring coverings addressed by this standard do not include carpets. All carpets are covered by the new GECA 50-2010 Carpets Standard (previously there were 3 separate carpet standards which have been amalgamated into one) as the environmental impacts of carpets and opportunities for reducing environmental impact vary from floor coverings in the way in which they are made and used. Carpeting generally means fibres, which requires land clearing, water consumption and pesticide use for raising sheep or growing fibre crops. Production processes for synthetic fibres and backing can generate air and water emissions, and may use harmful chemicals. These activities have their own environmental impacts as well as a whole host of flow on issues. Of course, other flooring surfaces can have their own environmental impacts so choosing your product carefully can mean mitigating and minimising your impact.
Hard surface flooring is often more durable, longer lasting and can therefore lead to less churn, one of the biggest causes of construction waste in this country. Facilities managers are likely to prefer flooring which employs sustainable materials and processes in manufacture and throughout the useful life of the product to gain benefits like easier cleaning, lower general maintenance and ultimate removal.
Whether you want carpet or a non-fibrous or other long-lasting material for your floors, choosing an alternative that is demonstrably environmentally preferable is becoming easier and much more popular among procurement officers and consumers. And with the help of ecolabels sourcing a product that you can trust to be environmentally preferable is even easier: the ecolabel relieves you of time-consuming assessments and comparisons of the specifications of alternative products, and assures you and your clients that you have made the right choice for the project and the environment.