A greener view of vinyl flooring
The way we define and rate ‘green’ flooring is changing, and this is set to have a profound influence on the use of flooring in Australia. HARTLEY HENDERSON reports.
With a view to recognising environmental advances made by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturers in Australia, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) has revised its Green Star PVC Credit to encourage the development and use of best practice PVC material.
Historically, the PVC Credit encouraged the minimisation of all PVC use in green buildings. Now, however, the GBCA has recognised that advances in the life-cycle of PVC – from raw materials, through to manufacturing, to recycling at end of life – are minimising the environmental and human health concerns previously associated with PVC building materials.
In addition, the GBCA has established a new Assessment Framework for Product Certification Schemes so that from 1 July 2010 no single certification body will be recognised above others. Previously, Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) was the only product certification body recognised by GBCA to certify products and materials as a component of GBCA Green Star ratings assessments. A new set of ‘best practice’ criteria and benchmarks has now been established against which all certification schemes seeking recognition within Green Star will be assessed.
With the rapidly escalating demand for greener buildings, these developments have opened up the playing field and are likely to lead to a broader range of flooring product designs and options.
GBCA’s Green Star executive director, Robin Mellon, says the life-cycle of PVC has changed considerably over the past five years, so the former negative PVC Minimisation Credit has been replaced with the new positive PVC Credit to reward and encourage best practice performance in the life-cycle of the product.
“The revised PVC Credit sets out key best practice criteria to help identify products that have a reduced environmental impact. All Green Star tools are affected by the new initiatives, so they have also been reviewed and updated because they all look at flooring as a major materials area. With the four product areas for this credit being flooring, piping, conduit and cable, vinyl flooring and PVC-backed carpet can now contribute towards up to two points for use in Green Star projects,” Mellon says.
“When seeking to install green flooring, people should look for certification by one of the main certification schemes that examine key environmental and health impact criteria. They should also look for products certified through schemes that have GBCA recognition and that address whole-of-life considerations.”
The Vinyl Council of Australia (VCA) has commended the GBCA for reviewing its position on the use of PVC products in the built environment.
VCA chief executive, Sophi MacMillan, says the new arrangements recognise the progress of the Australian PVC industry, particularly through its Product Stewardship Program, to improve the environmental performance of PVC products. “The new GBCA approach will have a significant impact on shaping the future of the industry by giving recognition to individual PVC manufacturers and product suppliers that have improved environmental and health aspects of their products and processes,” she says.
“The GBCA has recognised that the existing PVC Credit in Green Star was not particularly effective and that by encouraging the use of best practice PVC products, a better environmental and health outcome will be achieved.
“Choosing products that meet best practice criteria in the new Credit will improve environmental performance in the building sector and encourage a more sustainable PVC industry.”
Ecospecifier Global, which has now been recognised by GBCA as a product certifier, recently launched its GreenTag life-cycle assessment-based eco-label rating and certification process with two parallel assessment streams. (See the article in Facility Management, April-May 10 issue, pp. 42–43.)
According to the company’s technical director, David Baggs, the four-tier (platinum, gold, silver or bronze) GreenTag LCARate system, which is underpinned by Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) testing processes, has been developed to rate and position products within the green building market. “LCARate is underpinned by the world-first building information modelling (BIM)-based life-cycle assessment software developed by the CRC for Construction Innovation over the past seven years,” Baggs explains.
“The GreenTag GreenRate system is designed to be able to certify different levels of Green Star credits in the materials calculators. It is an efficient one-stop solution to speed up product research and planning processes in the specification and purchase of green building products.
“Furthermore, because we can focus on all green building products across the entire sector, libraries of green products can be created for architects to utilise within LCADesign so they can quickly assess the impacts of their buildings with brand specific products.
“Then, as a next potential development step, it is possible to employ a BIM-based CAD tool such as Archicad or Revit to create one model that will do both whole-of-building life-cycle assessments and construction documentation for buildings. The BIM model of the building can then be further used to manage the facility once operational.
“In addition, a building’s carbon profile can be constructed virtually, and a whole-of-building carbon intensity facility management plan developed. For the future, this BIM scenario, in association with GreenTag, points to a huge forward development pathway, with significant productivity improvement opportunities for the whole built environment.”
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
Prominent vinyl flooring supplier, Polyflor Australia, welcomes the establishment of a level playing field with the introduction of a PVC Credit.
Marketing manager, Peter Bates, believes that previous certification arrangements were prejudiced against PVC products, and did not take into account the way in which Polyflor products were manufactured, including initiatives to minimise waste, energy and water usage.
“The whole of a product’s life-cycle is now taken into account in assessing how green the product is without the favourable weighting given to products that are made from renewable resources, which in some instances require more energy to produce and maintain. In the case of flooring, 80 percent of a floors environmental impact is in its in situ use. In view of this, Polyflor has made a significant investment in developing greener products to minimise maintenance costs,” Bates says.
“Polyflor’s range of resilient vinyl flooring comes with a long-life, polish-free maintenance guarantee which significantly reduces water and chemical usage for the life of the floor. We also put a lot of emphasis on recycling, including provision of bins on site for collection of flooring off-cuts and flooring accessories, which are taken back for reprocessing.”
Bates believes GBCA’s new PVC Credit towards Green Star ratings will have a significant impact on the industry. “Previously, only linoleum received GECA approval and even if it was not ‘fit for purpose’ it was often specified by architects because it was recognised as a ‘green product’. However, with the introduction of the PVC Credit, it is likely that the use of linoleum in healthcare and aged care projects will begin to diminish,” he says.
“Vinyl flooring is less expensive to install, costs less to maintain, and will now be recognised to be as green as linoleum, so architects will be more likely to specify PVC, especially in healthcare applications.
“The market for PVC flooring is set to escalate significantly as the demand for green products grows from builders, developers, landlords, tenants and facility managers.”
PVC GAINS STATUS
Armstrong World Industries, which produces PVC tiles and sheet flooring at its manufacturing facilities in the Melbourne suburbs of Braeside and Thomastown, has a commercially based market focus, including hospitals, supermarkets, education facilities and government housing.
According to Armstrong’s vice president – Southern Asia/Pacific, Michael Jenkins, who is also chairman of the Vinyl Council of Australia, the company’s focus in recent years has been to take back qualified recylcate for reuse both from other sources and from its own on-site off-cuts. “We are now turning our attention to taking back end-of-life product after a successful trial phase,” he says.
“There have traditionally been some misconceptions about PVC, but these have now been addressed by the GBCA. Key areas that require a continuing focus are the materials that go into PVC, recycling of the end product, and the development of programs to bring outside products, such as PVC bottles, into the recycling and manufacturing processes.
“Although PVC is now relatively green, there are continuing opportunities for improvement, including in the materials supply chain and manufacturing processes. Since 2007, we have diverted 367 tonnes of waste from landfill, and the aim now is to be manufacturing in a waste-neutral manner. Also, we have achieved a 25 percent reduction in CO2 emissions since 2000 and the target for 2011 is 40 percent reduction.”
CLOSED LOOP SYSTEM
InterfaceFLOR, which manufactures vinyl-backed carpet tiles at its plant in Picton NSW, operates a product ReEntry™ program whereby the company takes back its products at end of life for recycling, as well as the vinyl-backed carpet tiles of competitors.
The company’s national manager sustainable solutions, Bobby Ali-Khan, says this closed loop recycling process allows the vinyl and nylon components of the carpet tiles to be recycled again and again.
“Currently, all our product ranges on average are composed of 50 percent recycled content and our ReEntry program is expanding enormously year on year. Many of our ranges have up to 68 percent recycled content. In all cases, our message is that we want our product back at the end of life,” she says.
“Importantly, less energy is embodied in the recycled product compared to a piece of carpet made from virgin material. The future for InterfaceFLOR is a range of products that will not be dependent on diminishing natural resources.
“In terms of sustainability, all of InterfaceFLOR’s products became climate-neutral in 2007. All greenhouse emissions calculated over the entire life-cycle of the company’s carpets have been eliminated or offset. We offer a sustainable solution for the full life-cycle of a piece of carpet through raw material extraction, processing and manufacturing, transportation, installation, usage, maintenance and cleaning, removal, recycling and end-of-life options.”