Story at a glance:
- Flooring and sustainable flooring materials are expected to rise at a CAGR of 5.1% between 2021 and 2031.
- Sustainable flooring can range from hardwood to rubber to carpet and more.
- Finishing and coatings can help keep floors clean, durable, and beautiful for years to come.
Whether your next project is a home renovation, a new school design, or a commercial or hospital remodel, sustainable flooring can elevate the space.
As the demand for eco-friendly flooring solutions increases, it’s important to understand your options. “Global flooring and carpet sales will grow at a healthy CAGR of over 5% through 2031, despite a period of muted growth in 2020,” according to a study by Future Market Insights.
The study reveals that sustainability has become more important to consumers. Sustainability is an irrefutably significant thought for designers and architects, as well as the customers they design for. Due to the waste that’s produced when installing flooring and carpet, choosing flooring responsibly is key.
Considering the lifespan of a product is essential to making more sustainable choices. Sustainable flooring should use materials that can be easily recycled, repurposed, or are biodegradable.
It’s also important to consider the manufacturing process behind a product when evaluating if it’s truly sustainable. Does the manufacturer recycle waste of the products they make, for example?
Flooring is the most used surface in the built environment. The wear and tear of walking, storage, and commercial equipment on flooring is something that should be considered. Maintaining clean and healthy flooring might be easier than you think when you incorporate the right coatings or finishes, too.
Hardwood, porcelain, rubber, and even carpet can all be sustainable. This guide to sustainable flooring includes the many sustainable options and how you might use them.
Hardwood is a natural material that supports a circular economy. A circular economy means designing to reduce waste by elongating the life of existing products and materials. Wood is an ideal choice for a circular economy because it can easily be reused and recycled at the end of its life in a given built environment. Recycled hardwood flooring is just one example of this. Sustainably speaking, refinishing hardwood flooring surfaces can reduce the carbon footprint by more than 75% compared to floor replacement, according to a recent report from Bona.
The global hardwood flooring market is expected to reach $61.78 billion by 2028 and register a revenue CAGR of 4.3% over the forecast period, according to the latest report by Reports and Data.
Responsible sourcing and manufacturing can be seen across the hardwood flooring industry. Delta Millworks is one hardwood manufacturer that is taking sustainable sourcing seriously. “We source sustainable wood out of tree farms in New Zealand or British Columbia, where they’re pulling out less than 1% of the standing trees every year and then regrowing them, so most forests there are expanding,” Robbie Davis, Delta Millworks CEO, previously told gb&d. “We don’t touch tropical hardwoods coming out of the Brazilian rainforest. And there’s still some clear-cutting going on in Asia and Africa and other parts of the world, so we avoid those, too. Frankly, we think modified woods like Accoya, our most popular product, outperform them. It’s Radiata pine that takes about 28 years before it’s ready for harvest,”
Carpets hold a 60% share of the US flooring market, with 19 billion square feet sold per year. The EPA estimates that about 5 billion pounds of carpet are discarded in landfills in the US every year. Most carpets are made primarily from finite resources in the form of oil-based plastics that could be recycled.
Carpet is known to be primarily made from oil-based plastics, but not all carpet has to be made this way. One way you can make more sustainable choices when it comes to carpet is by making sure existing carpet is recyclable.
At Aquafil USA, old carpets are collected and disassembled to create ECONYL® regenerated nylon fibers and pellets. “ECONYL is made from 100% waste instead of oil. For every 10,000 tons of ECONYL raw material, 70,000 barrels of crude oil are saved, and 65,1000 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions are avoided. Using ECONYL yarn offers up to 90% reduction in global warming potential compared to nylon from fossil sources,” Franco Rossi, president of Aquafil USA, told gb&d.
This material is then used by more than 2,000 brands around the world to create the next generation of sustainable carpets as well as clothing, chairs, handbags, sneakers, sunglasses, and tables.
Rubber ranks as a sustainable material for flooring because of its durability, capacity to be recycled, and low maintenance. Rubber is an ideal flooring option for high traffic buildings such as schools and health care facilities. Adding recycled rubber flooring to these types of projects helps bring public spaces one step closer to sustainability.
Made of 100% post-consumer tire and post-industrial EPDM rubber, REGUPOL Revolution is inherently slip-resistant, durable, and comfortable underfoot. This rubber flooring is ideal for schools and hospitals because of its noise reducing capabilities. “Commercial rubber flooring like Revolution is known for its sound-absorbent qualities and proven effectiveness in minimizing sounds associated with echoes in the hallway and heavy foot traffic to a more tolerable, less distracting level,” Wil Younger, marketing manager at REGUPOL, previously told gb&d.
REGUPOL’s products can also help architects and designers earn points in two out of five LEED categories—Materials and Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality.
Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) is an ideal flooring option for those who want to mirror the look of wood or other natural material but don’t want the maintenance that typically comes with wood.
Metroflor’s LVT is low-toxicity, durable, and environmentally conscious. Metroflor manufactures and distributes its flooring emphasizing material transparency, carbon reduction, and water/energy conservation.
Metroflor is one part of HMTX Industries, a global LVT manufacturer that’s hyper-focused on sustainability HMTX envisions their business model through three distinct pillars, which include design excellence, supply chain superiority, and sustainability, transparency, innovation, and quality.
“We believe that resonates with the design community. We believe that resonates with millennial shoppers. And we believe sustainability and transparency leads to good quality and the ability to be innovative,” Harlan Stone, CEO of HMTX, told gb&d.
Porcelain tile offers both a beautiful and sustainable solution because of its versatility, durability, and opportunity for recycling. Sustainable practices have always been a top priority for Florim, a family-owned, Italy-based tile and porcelain company that takes responsible manufacturing to a new level.
The company recycles 99.9% of materials internally. Water used throughout production is collected through grates on the floor and reused in other processes. Powders, pastes, and residues are all recycled, and glass bottles are purchased from a local landfill. The company reused more than 60 million pounds of material in 2019. All equipment is regularly updated to ensure top energy efficiency.
“We want a clean environment to live in. We want our products to be sustainable long-term, for us now and for our children later. It’s how we look at our business and the world around us,” says Don Haynes, environmental/sustainability manager at Florim USA.
When designing a recreation facility or gym, flooring is crucial. Most gyms and sports facilities feature hardwood on their courts, but it’s important to consider what lies underneath.
Action Floors incorporates recycled content in its athletic flooring systems. The company uses natural rubber resilient pads made from an environmentally friendly process where rubber tree sap is collected and then vulcanized to deliver superior shock absorption. The sustainably conscious flooring company also utilizes low-energy production measures and recycles its wood waste to provide steam for milling, reducing its need for fossil fuels.
Rubber is another popular option when it comes to sports flooring. REGUPOL is known for its standard AktivPro Roll system in facilities like the Anaheim Ducks Training Facility at Five Point Arena in Irvine, California.
The rubber flooring is 24 millimeters thick and made up of a customizable underlayment and a dense wear layer surface. There are three underlayments to choose from—Plyo, Fitness, and Impact—in varying density and thickness. Each underlayment is engineered to absorb maximum shock on impact, diminish barbell bounce, and ease joint stress while simultaneously delivering ideal energy return levels for safer training and dramatically boosted performance.
Sustainable coatings and epoxies for concrete floors can prevent damage, keep spaces cleaner, and even help a variety of commercial spaces earn LEED credit.
Companies like Sherwin-Williams are a go-to resource for commercial facilities like breweries looking for the best in flooring solutions. Restaurants, breweries, and other retailers often have concrete flooring with epoxy coating because it’s quick and safe.
“Typically, if you put an epoxy coating on concrete, you have to wait a minimum of 28 days for that concrete to hydrate,” Casey Ball, Sherwin-Williams global market director for flooring, told gb&d. “Epoxy is more plastic-like. It moves at different rates compared to the concrete. It doesn’t have quite the temperature resistance that urethane concrete does. And so it just doesn’t last as long.”
FasTop™, a family of urethane concrete systems by Sherwin Williams, is tougher and more sustainable than their chemical-heavy contemporaries. Flooring products like FasTop have become an important part of environmental certification for many commercial facilities.
Flooring solutions from Sherwin-Williams earn more points toward LEED credit for customers than any other coatings manufacturer, for everything from helping to reduce VOCs to building product disclosure and optimization, Ball told gb&d. FasTop is made with water-based components and plant-based oils, bringing natural materials more easily to the commercial environment.
Once you’ve got that beautiful floor, you want to maintain it. That’s where choosing eco-friendly finishes and cleaning products comes in.
For hardwood, you can choose from oil-modified polyurethane, waxes, natural penetrating oils, and acid cured, among other solutions. “But the best and most sustainable choice is always a waterborne finish, which not only offers a highly durable and long-lasting finish but is low in VOCs and overall less impactful on the environment and better for indoor air quality,” said David Darache, National Market Manager Bona US, in a previous contribution for gb&d.
“Additionally, waterborne finish provides a quicker cure time than many other finishes, allowing for hardwood floor refinishing projects to move along faster. Waterborne finish also allows the floor color to remain true over time as opposed to yellowing or dulling, which can happen particularly with oil-modified polyurethane finishes,” Darche wrote.
Using a sealer is another step you can take to maintain clean and durable floors. A sealer will even out the surface of the wood, prevent tannin bleed and side bonding, increase durability of the floor and finish, and reduce the chance of a negative reaction between the wood and finish. Including this step can preserve, customize, or enhance a floor’s existing color.