May 25/June 1, 2015; Volume 29/Number 4
By Nadia Ramlakhan
Making sure the environment stays clean and safe remains a priority for underlayment manufacturers today, and is evident through the numerous sustainable products available in the marketplace. What most people tend to forget, however, is that creating environmentally friendly products isn’t the only way to go green; companies have taken additional steps to reduce their environmental footprints through innovative manufacturing technologies and protocol in warehouses and factories.
“Sustainability is important because the choices and actions we make today will affect the future,” said Ray Rodriguez, president and CEO of Starline Associates, whose Silent Blue product has been made from 100% biodegradable pads with an easy to remove recyclable film since its inception. “We should make decisions now that will not limit the choices of future generations.”
Manufacturers agree that the move toward sustainability saw significant growth in the recent past but has dwindled due to a new standard. “When I grew up we never worried about lead-based paint because that was what everyone used,” said Jack Boesch, director of marketing at MP Global Products. “As generations go by, more is learned about what is harmful. Years ago there wasn’t a concern for running out of space in landfills and people didn’t care what went into them. Then we found out underwater streams were being contaminated; with so many health problems out there you want to make sure you’re not contributing to it.”
Since then most manufacturers and retailers have created “green stories;” some of today’s consumers, especially millennials, have come to expect them. “I don’t believe the focus is as strong as it was two or three years ago,” said Andy Stafford, marketing manager for Healthier Choice. “A standard has been set. It’s still very important to consumers—you just don’t hear a big buzz because most manufacturers moved to meet their demand.” Healthier Choice emphasizes health and safety, along with sustainability, within the home and makes use of a renewable resource in its underlayments. By replacing a percentage of its petroleum-based polyall with a polyall made from soybeans, Healthier Choice provides sustainable, safe and healthy options for the home.
In addition to consumers, architects and designers have also come to expect green solutions from manufacturers, especially in California where requirements and standards are the strictest in the country. Most companies aim to comply with California standards so they carry throughout the rest of the states.
“The A&D community is searching more and more for green products,” Boesch said. “We found out early on that our products need to meet certain requirements to be used in multi-family projects in California. Anybody doing business there needs to be cognizant of the environmentally friendly manufacture of products and services because California leads the nation. They set the bar for sustainability, clean air, etc.”
MP Global has installed slicing and opening equipment to harvest fibers from recycled carpet that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. Waste fibers from textile manufacturers are brought in truckloads at a time to be used as raw material. The company has also pioneered a process that regrinds underlayment to reuse post-consumer fibers.
According to Stafford, the recent “60 Minutes” exposé had an affect on the underlayment segment as well as the various floor covering categories, and brought the issue of sustainability back to top-of-mind for consumers. “All of a sudden, how healthy or how safe their flooring products were became a priority for consumers. It was an eye-opener—to what is in the home, what is safe and what is not.”
Although many shoppers in general seek sustainable alternatives, performance is still the main factor in a consumer’s decision to purchase, while a higher price continues to drive some away from green options. “People care about the environment,” said Jeffrey Castor, national sales manager, North America, Diversified Industries, “but performance is still the No. 1 characteristic in terms of buying patterns.” The company’s EcoStep Ultimate contains 98% recycled content, is made in the U.S., and is offered at a price comparable to many non-green products without jeopardizing its performance benefits. “A lot of the green products on the market don’t offer the same performance values. This gives you equal performance qualities as well as the ability to use recycled content.”
Manufacturers can take simple steps to ensure their products are sustainable such as attaining third-party testing and specific certifications, information that retailers in turn must relay to the consumer. But sustainability is more than just recycled or recyclable products; for Bas Vangenderen, managing director for InstaFloor, it’s about using fewer materials and generating less waste. “Our underlayment has an adhesive layer attached. Having just one material is much better for the environment.” The company’s InstaLay is also Cradle to Cradle certified; the product is made by bonding together ground car tires found in landfills that can be recycled after use.
At Diversified Industries, employees are continually challenged to come up with ways the company can reduce its carbon footprint. In addition to offering EcoStep Ultimate, Diversified changed all of its light bulbs (throughout its offices and entire plant) to LED lighting, installed a new roof that will naturally keep the site cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, and is currently working on a $500,000 investment that will include installing magnifying skylights to make use of natural light and conserve energy.
“Artificial lighting is one of the largest sources of energy consumption in a manufacturing plant,” Castor said. “Our skylights will allow our lights to be turned off approximately 70% of the working day. This kind of investment, although costly on the front end, will not only save money in the long run but will help to save our planet for future generations.”
As far as marketing a manufacturer’s sustainability initiatives to consumers, Boesch recommends showing potential customers a product’s seals and certifications as well as educating them on what they mean (MP Global’s products contain certification seals on packaging and marketing materials). At Healthier Choice, a sample bag is used as the main marketing tool in a retailer’s showroom. The product’s features and benefits are prominently stated on the bag and more information can be found inside.