Posted on

At Greenbuild 2010: Green movement showing no signs of slowing down

CHICAGO—While the economy’s continued struggles to gain momentum has dampened many areas of business, the green movement keeps plowing forward, at least according to the record number of exhibitors and attendees at the 9th Greenbuild International Conference & Expo here. And, as in previous years, the flooring industry came out in droves to showcase its ongoing leadership position within the building products industry that encompasses this massive show.

Official figures were not available as FCNews went to press, but according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the market’s owner, more than 25,000 people from 112 countries had registered by the time the event’s opening general session began, and crowds of more than 30,000 were anticipated over the three-day event.

The general session alone had a rock concert-like atmosphere with a capacity crowd of 10,000 on hand to hear retired general and former secretary of state Colin Powell give the keynote address. The green movement has often been portrayed as something being pushed by liberals but with Powell on hand to show his support, it helped lend credence to USGBC’s mantra that creating safe, sustainable buildings, homes and communities is something that cuts across partisan politics.

Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC’s president and CEO, said “it’s not about red or blue states, but green states. It used to be just capitalist vs. environmentalist, but we found a way to bridge that.”

Saying the green building world is on the right track, Powell told the crowd “your work is very important not only for improving energy efficiency, but also for creating growth for people in need.” From protecting the environment, reducing demand for energy, creating jobs and strengthening national security, “you need to see yourself as part of a broader movement with global impact.”

To emphasize this impact, USGBC announced the total footprint of commercial projects around the world certified under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system has surpassed 1 billion square feet, with another 6 billion square feet of projects registered and currently working toward LEED certification. All told, over 36,000 commercial projects and 38,000 single-family homes have participated in the LEED program since it was first introduced in 2000.

Flooring’s impact

While these figures are impressive, when it comes to looking at the world of building products with a bird’s eye, the flooring industry continues to lead the way with products, programs and services all designed around a sustainable future. Josh Jacobs, technical information and public affairs manager for the GreenGuard Environmental Institute, praised the flooring industry for “stepping up and taking a leadership position, especially when it comes to meeting the guidelines of our Children & Schools certification program.” A system for monitoring indoor air quality (IAQ), Green- Guard’s Children & Schools is widely recognized as the country’s most stringent certification program—even tougher than what California imposes.

“When it comes to IAQ,” Jacobs added, “the flooring industry has done a tremendous job to make sure its products are not a problem. We very much appreciate what the industry has done with regard to sustainability.”

At GreenWizard, a web-based platform that allows users to search, compare, buy green building materials from thousands of manufacturers, and then create the necessary documents for LEED, Adam Bernholz, CEO, showed FCNews of the approximately 20,000 products currently listed on its database, 10% come from the flooring industry.

What makes this figure impressive is the fact the industry represents less than 6% of all the manufactures currently participating in the program, which, at press time, had $1.2 billion in building projects being specified through it.

“We’re really just beginning,” Bernholz said, “and are seeing more and more floor covering companies wanting to particpate.”

During Shaw Industries’ first Sustainability Breakfast to honor Make It Right, USGBC’s Fedrizzi complimented the flooring manufacturer for taking a stand to do the right thing and “making [carpets] that help us make better homes.”

Make It Right is a non-profit created by actor Brad Pitt following the destruction of the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina. Its purpose is to rebuild the Ward, but with green, affordable, high- quality houses. With a goal of 150 homes, 50 are completed and 30 are currently under construction. All homes are built to meet LEED Platinum standards, USGBC’s highest rating.

Shaw was actually one of the first manufacturers to volunteer its aid in helping make the project a reality by donating Anso branded carpet to every house. The broadloom contains post-consumer recycled carpet and is also recyclable.

As such, this was the second year in a row in which Shaw donated all the carpet— over 300,000 square feet—for the aisles of the Greenbuild show floor. USGBC will use the carpet for other events and when it finally comes to the end of its useful life, Shaw will take it back and recycle it into new carpet.

Word on the floor

On the Greenbuild show floor, which featured roughly 1,800 exhibitors, the main message being pushed by nearly every flooring company was one of transparency. “The idea is to make it easy for customers to find solutions,” said Christian Kuswita, product manager for Armstrong Commercial Flooring. To do this, he added companies need “to present information in a very straightforward, transparent manner.”

To illustrate, Kuswita pointed to Armstrong’s exhibit display, which highlighted the environmental attributes of the mill’s various resilient—vinyl, linoleum and biobased—and wood products in a manner resembling a food label.

Jenny Cross, global sustainability director for Mohawk Industries, which was one of the few companies touting a new collection of eco-friendly commercial products, pointed to the release of the mill’s first sustainability report as part of its effort to make the Green- build audience and world at large fully aware of its sustainability initiatives.

The report is actually one tool, she noted, for salespeople to use in educating customers— residential and commercial— about Mohawk’s activities and the green options available. “Most people don’t understand all the work that goes into being sustainable, and salespeople need to explain this. And, also educate their customers that today’s green products are just as good—and sometimes better—than non-green options.”

In terms of new products, Mohawk was giving Greenbuild attendees their first look at SmartStrand with DuPont Sorona branded commercial carpet under the Karastan Contract label. Made from the same biobased materials as the residential SmartStrand, the new line “fits nicely into what the commercial market needs,” Cross said. “This is especially true in facility management, because of its ease of maintenance and durability.”

When it comes to sustainability, “transparency is the key,” noted Bill Gregory, director of sustainability for Milliken. “You have got to be open with everything you do, from the raw materials to manufacture and from installation to reclamation.”

With approximately 350 different sustainable evaluations from which to choose, and nearly all having some type of flaw in their rating process, he said until there is a consolidation and a general consensus on the best way to proceed, “companies need to be transparent” if their environmental activities are sincere.

At the Bentley Prince Street booth, as well as at its parent company’s—InterfaceFlor— space, the two were touting the transparency message by noting their commitment to have environmental product declarations (EPDs) for all products by the end of 2012. EPDs are defined by international standards as being quantified environmental data for a product with pre-set categories of parameters, but not excluding additional environmental information.

“EPD is the only way to compare apples to apples,” explained Kim Matsoukas, sustainability manager for Bentley, “everyone has to follow the same rules and it is not based on how many points you can achieve.”

She admitted EPD “is an educational process because the average user, including A&D people, do not fully understand it so we need to continue to get the word out and educate.”

(Editor’s note: Due to the size and scope of Greenbuild, and the fact flooring was one of the largest participants, space did not permit us to publish all that took place at the show. In future issues, FCNews will provide more detailed infor- mation on what some of the indi- vidual companies were saying and presenting in Chicago. Check back to our Flickr and YouTube sites for additional photos along with video presentations directly from the show floor on what some of the companies were showcasing.)

-Matthew Spieler