Manufacturers are updating their product lines with renewable, plant-based materials.
Throughout the last decade, flooring manufacturers have embraced sustainability as a catalyst for reducing waste; improving manufacturing processes; and developing innovative, more environmentally friendly flooring options. As a result of these efforts to minimize environmental impact, the standard synthetic raw materials utilized in the flooring of years past are now being replaced (or used in conjunction) with unconventional, biobased plant materials, such as corn starch, soybean oil, and castor bean oil.
Made from renewable resources, these biobased plant materials impact multiple aspects of the product life cycle: they are typically harvested close to production facilities in order to reduce the carbon footprint, result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions, require less energy to produce, and potentially save the manufacturer and the end user time and expenses associated with permits, compliance, and disposal throughout the life of the product. (They are less toxic than synthetic materials, as well.)
Since the early 2000s, manufacturers have utilized biobased technology in the engineering of carpet for both residential and commercial environments. The overarching challenge has been to find a way to achieve the same level of affordability, durability, stain protection, softness, and aesthetics associated with nylon-based carpets using biobased polymers comprised of plant matter.
One of the first manufacturers on the biobased carpet scene was Interface, who launched a line of hybrid nylon-biobased carpets in 2004. The products contain polylactic acid (PLA) fibers, a commercially viable plastic derived from corn and other starchy agricultural plant materials and waste products.
In 2007, Mohawk Industries partnered with DuPont and introduced SmartStrand with DuPont Sorona™, a line of residential flooring made with renewably sourced polymers derived from corn sugar. The technology uses 37% content from renewable sources, rather than petroleum, which helps to reduce dependency on oil, reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, and lower energy consumption. According to a Mohawk press release, the properties of DuPont Sorona are chemically consistent with petroleum-based fiber, allowing for both performance and environmental benefits.
In 2010, Invista introduced Antron Bio_Legacy with TruBlend fiber technology, the first dyeable carpet fiber with biobased content designed specifically for commercial market applications. The product contains up to 25% pre- and post-consumer recycled content, as well as 10% biobased content derived from castor bean oil.
Also on the market in 2010: Tandus Flooring collaborated with NatureWorks, LLC, a division of Cargill, to introduce Genesis, a sheathcore fiber technology with the commercial performance and aesthetics of nylon. The technology utilizes 15% biopolymer content encapsulated within an 85% nylon outer layer. The biobased content is derived from annually renewable plant sugars from non-food stock, which uses less energy and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than nylon. Available in yarn-dyed or solution-dyed options, Genesis is primarily custom-ordered for large commercial environments.
As with carpet manufacturers, tile companies are also now engineering products that utilize biobased plant materials. For example, in 2007, Armstrong introduced Migrations BioBased Tile®, a commercial line of non-PVC, affordable biobased tile flooring. The tile contains BioStride polymer, which is made from rapidly renewable, U.S.-grown plant materials. In addition to being sourced from rapidly renewable materials, the tile contains 10% recycled content, produces low-VOC emissions, reduces dependence on petroleum and fossil fuels, and can contribute to LEED credits.
Earlier this year, Armstrong expanded its biobased tile offerings to include STRIATIONS BBT, a collection of stylish non-PVC tile. In addition to the BioStride polymer, STRIATIONS BBT is made with 85% natural limestone and 10% pre-consumer recycled content. The product design features a 12” x 24” linear format that allows for multiple interior design options and was inspired by the natural qualities found in ancient stone and time-weathered wood. In addition to its design appeal and environmental benefits, as with the company’s original Migrations BBT product, STRIATIONS BBT offers twice the indent resistance and five times greater impact resistance than standard vinyl commercial tile.
According to Armstrong’s web site, more than one billion square feet of composition tile is installed every year, making it the largest product category in the hard surface flooring industry, thus the company’s concerted focus on bringing biobased technology to the commercial tile category.
“We continue to research and develop new products that have reduced environmental impact while improving the performance of our products,” says Julianne Pierce, director of marketing and product design with Armstrong. “These new introductions increase the selection of products that meet the cost, performance, and environmental criteria of our contract customers.”
As technology continues to evolve, biobased flooring products are expected to become more prevalent in both residential and commercial environments.
Lisa Taylor is a freelance writer and marketing consultant. She has more than 16 years of experience as a communications professional and has worked with a variety of companies in the home products and building materials industry. Originally from Memphis, TN, Lisa earned a BA in Journalism from the University of Memphis in 1995 and a MA in Journalism from the University of Memphis in 1997. She spent the first 11 years of her career working in account service for Memphis advertising agencies Thompson & Company, Oden Marketing & Design, and Carpenter/Sullivan. Lisa then spent five years in Nashville, TN, with The Buntin Group, an Adweek Top 100 U.S. advertising agency, and Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, a leading manufacturer of building materials. Lisa currently lives in Denver, CO, and is Principal/Owner of Wazee Marketing.Website: www.wazeemarketing.com