Manufacture & Transport: Impact on the Environment

Aside from the actual materials that flooring is made of, the manufacture and transport of flooring can also have a negative impact on the environment. Both processes use large amounts of energy and resources, as well as producing significant amounts of waste and pollution – all leading to damage to the environment.

Waste and Pollution

Most pollution historically comes from industry, with certain industries bearing a higher share of the blame than others. Traditional flooring manufacture has been one of the biggest culprits, not only using many petroleum-based products and other non-renewable resources, but also consuming large amounts of water and energy.

At the same time, the manufacturing processes have produced large volumes of greenhouse gas emissions as well as ejecting tonnes of toxic chemicals and substances. Furthermore, the distribution of flooring often involves long distances and extensive air and road travel, consuming even more energy and producing even more carbon emissions.

Pollution comes in many forms – there is point source pollution, which derives from a specific outlet, such as a factory or manufacturing plant or even quarry, and then there is diffuse pollution, which can come from a number of sources and cover a large area, such as the fumes from vehicles used in flooring transport, which contribute to greenhouse emissions and other negative environmental phenomena, such as acid rain. Many flooring systems produce substances as they degrade, which float up to the stratosphere and deplete the ozone layer, further contributing to global warming and the ‘greenhouse effect’.

Air pollution is a serious problem and over half of the pollution comes from industry waste, such as burning, smoke and toxic gas emissions. Landfills and other waste facilities also play a role in lowering air quality while vehicle emissions – such as from heavy transport trucks travelling long distances – continue to make a significant contribution to atmospheric pollution. Air travel is the new threat, as it is making a rapidly increasing contribution to carbon dioxide emissions and the consequent influences on dangerous climate change.

Single pollutions incidents can also wreak havoc on the environment, such as toxic spills or accidental release of raw waste from an industrial flooring manufacture plant. These pollutions disasters not only kill wildlife and vegetation in the surrounding area but can remain in the environment for decades, maybe centuries, further degrading the land, killing wildlife and poisoning groundwater systems and atmospheric air, thus forcing its toxic influence far and wide. In 2005, there were almost 1,000 pollution incidents in England and Wales which caused a serious impact on the environment.

Climate Change

One of the biggest problems caused by pollution – resulting from industrial processes, transport and energy use from burning fossil fuels – is climate change. And coping with climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing us. As the original blanket of gases which surround the earth becomes thicker and more polluted with increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, it becomes more of a deadly suffocating heat trap than a warm cocoon sustaining life.

Global warming is increasing at a dangerous pace with most experts believing that temperatures will increase by as much as 4 degrees by the end of the century. This may not seem like much but in fact, it will have disastrous consequences for the Earth’s ecosystems, wildlife, water availability and rainfall, food production, disease, sea-levels and weather (including extreme weather events like the recent devastating tsunamis, droughts and hurricanes).

Many human processes are contributing to this global warming phenomenon – chief among them is industrial manufacturing processes, such as that which produces flooring, which uses petroleum-based products, releases toxic waste and gases and burns fossil fuels for energy and transport. It is estimated that 65% of emissions come from energy use and 21% comes from transport. In addition, deforestation – which is necessary for timber flooring – is further removing trees which could have helped negate the effects of pollution and global warming.

What You Can do to Help

We can all do our part and in particular, when choosing flooring – in addition to selecting sustainable flooring materials – make an effort to check on the manufacturing and distribution processes involved. Consider local materials or those sourced from a short distance away, to cut down on transport carbon costs. Choose products which release fewer toxic gases in their production (most “natural” flooring will not use petroleum-based products) and which may require less energy to manufacture.

Look for certification, such as the FSC logo, which ensures sustainability not only in the original raw material but also in the chain of custody during manufacture and distribution. And consider longevity of flooring as well, because frequent replacement will use more energy and resources again.