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Sustainable Flooring

Sustainable Flooring

December 28, 2007 —

What do you look for when you shop for new flooring? Style and price are obviously the most important factors for most buyers, but what about sustainability? Plenty of green flooring manufacturers have popped up in recent years, offering a variety of reasons for why their products are more eco-friendly than those of their competitors, but how does one differentiate between these companies?

First, let's take a look at some of the ways in which flooring can be "sustainable":

  • Made from Recycled Materials: Most of the green options in this market are made partially or completely from recycled goods like tires, plastic bottles, or reclaimed wood. If a product isn't made entirely out of recycled materials, find out what percentage of it is.
  • Harvested Responsibly: Some hardwood flooring comes with certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, which ensures that any wood used in a product is sustainably grown and harvested. The FSC seal of approval also ensures that what you're buying wasn't taken from indigenous peoples by loggers using predatory tactics like violence or displacement.
  • Extended Life Cycle: No matter how small the carbon footprint of a product, it's never an environmentally or financially responsible move to buy something whose life span is a fraction of that of its competitors. Some extended-life flooring promises to last up to 40 years.

There are several kinds of green flooring to choose from, each with their own benefits and disadvantages. Cork and Bamboo flooring are harvested and replenished sustainably, but they're also more prone to damage than traditional hardwood. Reclaimed wood is a great way to an exotic wood look without cutting down exotic trees, but there's a considerable carbon cost to transporting reclaimed wood from it's original site to a reclaimed wood dealer, to a flooring manufacturer, to a store, and then to your home. Natural linoleum is cheap and doesn't come with the toxicity of traditional linoleum but like it's toxic counterpart it's easy to damage and probably won't last you very long. Recycled carpeting is usually a good way to go, but it's important to compare brands to ensure that you're not paying more for something that's made from 1% recycled soda bottles.

No matter what kind of sustainable flooring you buy, it's important that it be installed and maintained using products that contain as little toxicity as possible. Most adhesives give off extremely high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC's,) which are a leading source of indoor air pollution. Luckily, there are plenty of installation and maintenance products that boast lower levels of VOC's and other toxic substances, and if you live in a major urban area, you shouldn't have too much of a problem finding installers who specialize in eco-safe services.

If you're worried about being the victim of greenwashing, look for products that have achieved certification from a reputable green label like Cradle to Cradle or Green Seal. For a more specific discussion of green flooring options with a breakdown of some the the leading brands, check out this article from Kate Harris at National Geographic's Green Guide blog.

Comment on this article:

I have a 'green' flooring

Submitted by Anonymous on April 28, 2009 - 02:01.

I have a 'green' flooring and I am very happy with that. It is not only environmentally friendly but it is quite trendy I would say. So I managed to combine the two. As for the price, I could find a cheaper flooring, but it was also not the most expensive... And anyway, if we do not invest a little bit in green options now, our children will pay much more... If you are looking for a store offering sustainable flooring, you can have a look at

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