Sustainable Floors and Certification to Look for

For those of us wanting to make the sustainable choice, it’s important to know what certification to look for, to ensure that we are not paying for a product or service that does not really live up to its environmentally-friendly reputation.

Unfortunately, flooring can be one of the most eco-damaging materials – in fact, according to the Centre for Sustainable Construction, flooring can have a greater contribution to total environmental impact than the roof, floor structure and walls put together – up to a third of the total!

Thankfully, growing awareness from consumers, as well as increasing government legislation and even a rising landfill tax, means that manufacturers and suppliers are starting to examine their practices and making an effort to become more environmentally-responsible, as well as offering more sustainable options.

For example, several carpet companies have introduced schemes, which assess the sustainability of their carpets, taking into account factors like water use, emissions and longevity. Forthcoming legislation from the European Union will also target other types of flooring material, such as vinyl where manufacturers will have to justify the chemicals used in their production or replace them with less toxic versions.

Timber Flooring Certification

Wood floors are the key type of flooring which demands certification of sustainability, as using wood from non-sustainable sources is one of the most damaging things we can do to our planet. The Government Timber Procurement Policy actually requires that central departments actively seek to purchase legal and sustainable timber-derived products.

For the average consumer, official certification schemes offer a means of defining sustainable forestry as well as independent verification of the sustainability of a timber source.

These certification schemes usually comprise 4 sections:

  • Standard – which dictates the requirements to be met in forest management.
  • Certification – the actual process of checking a forest’s compliance with the set Standard, done by an independent third party (the certifier). If the forest is found to be non-compliant, then the issues raised will have to be addressed before the forest can be certified. The forest is further monitored on an annual basis, by regular visits from the certifier.
  • Accreditation – the process whereby the certifier’s procedures are approved, to ensure that they deliver credible results.
  • Chain of Custody – checking on the management of the supply chain from the forest to the final consumer, so that any product labelled as ‘certified’ really has been through the certification process.

Not only do certification schemes provide peace of mind but they also provide a way of tracing products – in essence, providing evidence of legal, sustainable timber. There are several certification schemes operating around the world, with five being approved as satisfying the UK Government’s requirements. These are:

  • Canadian Standards Association (CSA)
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
  • Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC)
  • Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)
  • Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)

Certification for Other Materials

With other flooring materials, a lot is dependent on your own research and awareness and your willingness to ask for accountability from suppliers. For example, if choosing stone flooring, check the source quarry has been managed in a sustainable manner, with limited damage and pollution to the surrounding ecosystem.

Similarly, if choosing any flooring which includes an additional treatment, varnish or the use of adhesives, make sure that you find one which features the lowest environmental impact possible, such as one labelled with the lowest VOC content. VOC’s are volatile organic compounds which are emitted from many synthetic products and which react with other chemicals to produce surface ozone, an extremely damaging phenomenon to the environment.

There are also various certifications and labels you can look out for – here is a selection:

VOC Labels – these labels provide you with an idea of the relative content of volatile organic compounds contained within the material. While this is a voluntary labelling, the industry and retailers have agreed on a set of standards and most environmentally-responsible suppliers will use this label.

Oeko-Tex Standard 100 – this is an international certification for textiles. It covers all the different stages of production, where the textiles are independently tested for a range of harmful substances. The label then provides assurance that the articles meet the requirements based on the latest scientific and legal regulations.

FairTrade Mark – this label means that the product meets international Fairtrade standards which include sustainable production and living. The price of these products reflects the premium given to farmers and workers’ organisations to invest in projects that benefit their native communities and the environment.

The Rainforest Alliance – this certification offers assurance that foresters and farmers provide goods and services that are environmentally and socially responsible. It covers products which have been grown sustainably, such as timber and paper.

Recycling Symbol – products simply bearing this label means that they can recycled where facilities are available. However, products bearing this label together with a number shows the percentage of recycled material that has been used in production.

We all have far greater influence than we realised through the simple actions that we take and choices that we make every day. By looking for environmental certification, we can ensure that the products we buy have the seal of approval with regards to sustainability and eco-friendly practices.