Millions of people go in and out of schools, hospitals, retail establishments and office buildings every single day, not realizing how environmentally-sustainable the floors they walk on have become.
There’s little doubt these days that being green is increasingly expected.
Businesses and consumers alike want to be good stewards of the environment, to conserve natural resources, to create more healthy indoor environments and to benefit from products that are made to last.
This is particularly true in the carpet industry, where sustainable manufacturing has become the norm and where recent innovations in product development have resulted in flooring products that are more stain resistant, more durable and longer lasting than ever before.
But what exactly makes a carpet product sustainable?
And how can public venues like schools, healthcare facilities, hospitality centers and the like make sure they’re getting what they desire in terms of sustainable attributes, performance and value?
Sustainability starts with the manufacturers, who have been steadfast in reducing their environmental footprint for the past several decades.
From a manufacturing viewpoint, assessing a carpet’s sustainability takes into account a number of the processes and resources used to manufacture that product, said Paul Murray, vice president of sustainability and environmental affairs for Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) member manufacturer Shaw Industries.
Those include, “Stewardship of natural resources such as water; effective management of energy and related carbon emissions; the types of materials used in products and their environmental and human impacts; the ability to recycle products at the end of their useful lives; and a manufacturer’s track record of providing safe conditions for and fair treatment of workers,” Murray says.
Over the past decade, carpet manufacturers have allocated tremendous resources of money and manpower to improve sustainability within their individual companies as well as the industry overall.
They’ve made great strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and reliance on fossil fuels; in some cases substituting renewable energy sources.
And they’ve increased the use of both post-industrial and post-consumer waste materials in carpet production.
According to Murray, transparent manufacturers readily provide this information on their websites — in the form of a company’s annual Sustainability Report or eco-specs available per product.
In addition, there are third-party certifications, such as CRI’s Green Label Plus Indoor Air Quality standard and ANSI/NSF 140 Sustainability Assessment for Carpet, that can be used to evaluate one or more aspects of a product’s sustainability.
Sustainability also has a great deal to do with purchasing a product that is durable and will perform well for years to come.
A carpet that performs as needed throughout its intended use cycle is a decision that facility managers and building owners can feel good about.
As a purchaser, getting the most bang for your buck when choosing carpet really boils down to three things:
“We all know that carpeting and carpet tiles have many advantages over hard surface flooring when it comes to easy maintenance, superior acoustic value and safety features,” says Jeff Carrier, CRI director of regulatory systems.
“But what’s exciting about choosing the right carpet for the right space these days is that the selection of products — particularly commercial carpet and modular tiles — has improved as more durable fibers, complemented by improved primary and secondary backings, have become available. And design and performance options have increased as well,” Carrier added.
This is particularly beneficial in settings like schools, from preschools to the graduate level, where carpet or modular tile flooring results in improved acoustics, creating a better learning environment for students and teachers alike.
In healthcare facilities, ranging from nursing homes to intensive care units, the reduction in noise level from carpeted floors may improve patient outcomes by improving the likelihood that a patient may rest undisturbed.
The benefits of sustainable carpeting are invaluable in stores and office buildings as well, where carpet provides a soft landing and reduces slip-and-fall accidents that can occur on vinyl, tile, wood or other hard surfaces.
Many of these commercial venues are now opting for modular tile carpeting because tile installation provides the ability to lift, remove and replace an affected tile when it needs to be, without disruption to the occupants of the space.
This can be particularly helpful for facilities with high-traffic areas.
Modular tiles can be removed for cleaning and reused or removed and replaced as needed.
After the “right carpet for the right space” has been determined, next comes the installation process.
While installing carpet in commercial settings is no job for a layman, proper installation of your carpet can be achieved “seamlessly” by hiring an installation contractor that adheres to high standards for all aspects of the installation.
The CRI Carpet Installation Standard, a document that establishes minimum industry standards for commercial carpet installation, is a good place to start.
Once installed, it’s essential to keep your carpet well maintained through regular and intermittent deep cleanings.
That’s the key to maintaining your investment.
These days, keeping carpets clean has been simplified thanks to the proliferation of stain-resistant fibers in carpet products and because of the availability of excellent cleaning products and cleaning systems.
Even so, carpet products still benefit from regular vacuuming, which is the single most effective and economic means of keeping carpet in schools, healthcare settings and other public venues clean.
Vacuums are designed to remove dry soil, which accounts for 85 percent of soil tracked into a building.
Frequent vacuuming captures the dirt at the surface before it settles into the fibers and becomes difficult to remove.
“The majority of dry soil can be removed from carpet through routine vacuuming procedures, but occasional use of cleaning systems, such as a low moisture encapsulation system, will efficiently improve your carpet’s appearance with limited downtime for cleaning and drying. The cleaning agent is applied to the carpet pile, allowed to dry and then vacuumed to remove encapsulated soil,” says Murray.
“And, twice a year or so, carpet should undergo hot water extraction cleaning by trained custodians or professional cleaning services. This process cleans deeply embedded soils and oily materials that vacuums can’t remove, which account for about 15 percent of all soil,” Murray noted.
Using the best cleaning equipment and cleaning products, such as those recommended by CRI’s Seal of Approval (SOA) program, is definitely the way to go.
The Seal of Approval program identifies effective carpet cleaning solutions and equipment that clean carpet right.
Not all products clean well enough to earn the SOA distinction, so be sure to look for the blue and green CRI Seal of Approval as proof that you are purchasing or using a quality product.
It’s easier than ever before to enjoy the benefits of making sustainable choices when it comes to flooring.
And, in terms of providing sustainable options for high-traffic public venues, it’s fair to say that carpet is not only getting the job done, but it’s doing so with remarkably good grades.