Across the construction industry, environmentally responsible design has become a top priority for both designers and clients. As headline construction projects compete to have the best credentials, decisions over which flooring products to specify play an important part. Now contract floors are expected not only to be stylish, safe, hard-wearing and long-lasting, but also to achieve all of this with minimal environmental impact.
As the design community has raised its standards in regards to sustainable design, manufacturers have responded with a plethora of solutions, using both traditional materials and cutting-edge technology to attain more sought-after BREEAM A+ ratings than ever before. Here are some of the most commonly specified products from today's eco-conscious designers.
Wood, of course!
Wood is one of nature’s most sustainable resources, making it an ideal choice for environmentally friendly construction. When choosing timber flooring, look for FSC or PEFC certification on the manufacturer’s website, along with statements about their environmental policies.
For the truly eco-conscious choice, reclaimed wood gives existing timber a second life without the need for felling new trees. Reclaimed wood is full of character due to its natural age, and can even include old varnish or paint finishes. Using these dramatic textures is a popular way for designers to add personality to a space, and as a result many manufacturers produce ‘reproduction reclaimed’ wood. This is new flooring which has been artificially aged, so be careful that the products you’re looking at are described as ‘genuine reclaimed’ or similar, to make sure that you are getting the real thing.
Our choice for reclaimed wood is Havwoods' reclaimed, organic pine wood flooring in chevron, which is bursting with character. Go into any Nando’s restaurant and you’re likely to find a variety of Havwoods’ reclaimed pine and oak boards, not only decorating the floors but also the walls and even the table tops!
Residential Flooring Options
Going back to basics also applies to carpet, and there are a wide range of natural fibre options to consider, including sisal, coir, jute and wool. While these are often associated with residential spaces, we may see more of them in office environments as traditional distinctions break down and the trend for informal working spaces gains popularity.
Over recent years bamboo has emerged as the sustainable fibre of choice for residential environments, because of its softness and fast growth rate. It is increasingly being used as a substitute for silk in the production of luxury rugs, providing a similar texture and sheen at roughly half the price. While not yet suitable for handling commercial traffic, we may see bamboo at the forefront of flooring innovation over the next decade.
Our choice is this selection of bamboo fibre rugs created by superstar designer Kelly Wearstler for The Rug Company – proof that you can get flooring couture without a large environmental footprint.
Commercial Flooring Options
Not to be left behind by the residential market, commercial flooring manufacturers are also taking steps to create more environmentally conscious options. Using new recycling processes, they are creating carpets and vinyl options suitable for high-traffic environments, without sacrificing performance or style.
Forbo has made renewables the norm rather than the exception with its Marmoleum range, a biodegradable linoleum option which boasts 97% natural raw materials, 72% rapidly renewable and 43% recycled content. They also offer Marmoleum Cocoa, which uses cocoa husk to enhance the design with natural texture – using a waste product from one industry to add value to another.
We also love Interface’s Net Effect carpet collection, which repurposes nylon from discarded fishing nets to create a series of abstract, sea-inspired tiles. With ocean plastic moving towards the top of our list of environmental concerns, this product serves a double purpose by cleaning up beaches in the Philippines, which have become littered with debris from the fishing industry.
While there is an inherent cost associated with these materials, we’re hopeful that designers and their clients will take the long-sighted view of budgeting for sustainability, instead of being led by the cheapest available options.
Having taken a quick look at some of the leading sustainable flooring products, there are plenty of other factors to consider when choosing eco-friendly options.
You can start making an impact by choosing to recycle your old flooring, as many manufacturers offer recycling schemes where they will re-purpose your used carpet or wood flooring.
It is worth considering whether you need a full replacement, as many areas of carpet and parquet can be repaired and restored to their former glory.
How far has your floor travelled to get to you? There are plenty of British carpet manufacturers who won’t create a large carbon footprint to deliver to you.
Don’t forget the details, as there are eco-friendly options for underlay and adhesives on the market.
Make sure you get a good installation team! Quality installation will minimise wastage and prevent mistakes which are not only costly for you, but have a knock-on environmental impact.
Finally, whether you’re looking for carpet tiles for a large office or a solution for your home kitchen, buy the best quality possible whenever you can. By choosing a floor with a long lifespan you will delay the need for replacement by years, and ultimately this will consume fewer resources.