November 20/27, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 12
By Steven Feldman
Boston—Flooring companies were few and far between as 700 exhibitors convened here earlier this month at Greenbuild, billed as the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building. But those who did make the trip to Beantown came with a purpose. From demonstrating a commitment to sustainability and transparency to the concept of biophilia, a select group of flooring manufacturers saw the value in getting in front of the 20,000-plus attendees.
Greenbuild’s basic value proposition is clear: Sustainable building practices as they relate to work and living environments are good for the bottom line. These are businesspeople who see the opportunity to help improve the planet while growing a successful enterprise.
Mohawk, which occupied more real estate on the show floor than any other flooring manufacturer, came to Greenbuild as a Platinum sponsor and to demonstrate its holistic approach to sustainability. In fact, this marked the first time every aspect of sustainability came together—both residential and commercial, according to George Bandy, vice president of sustainability. As such, Mohawk was putting the spotlight on Air.o on the residential side and Lichen on the commercial side.
According to Seth Arnold, vice president, residential marketing, Mohawk’s messaging perfectly aligned with the theme of Greenbuild 2017: All in. “That message is perfect because we look at providing economically viable solutions—solutions that appeal to consumers and solutions that appeal to our retail partners—and provide us with a supply advantage. Air.o is the perfect product to demonstrate that holistic, ‘all in’ approach to sustainability. It provides installation advantages, it provides consumer appeal, the economics are reasonable and ensures Mohawk a future supply chain of recyclable flooring.”
While Greenbuild is geared more toward a commercial audience, Arnold said everyone Mohawk talked to was fascinated by what it is doing with Air.o because it truly embodies the vision of a closed-loop approach to the category. “I think people have aspired to have a product like this for years.”
Mohawk, Bandy added, came to Greenbuild with another important purpose: to listen and learn. “We are here because this is where our customers are. In order to create the right products and solutions, you have to hear what they are looking for. We need to know what we need to do better, how to position our brand.”
Metroflor was making its Greenbuild debut with multiple goals, according to Rochelle Routman, LEED AP, O+M chief sustainability officer, and that ranged from transparency to biophilia. “First, we want to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability, especially with a focus on transparency and our leadership in the resilient flooring industry. We also want to show the sustainable attributes of vinyl and how the product can be made with a lower environmental impact.”
Transparency has been at the forefront of Routman’s efforts throughout her career, most recently in a similar position at Mohawk between 2012 and 2016. However, she said those transparency initiatives had not spread to resilient flooring as there have been multiple Declare labels issued for carpet but not resilient flooring.
According to Routman, there are a few reasons for that. “First, many manufacturers don’t want to divulge what’s in their products. Second, many resilient products are made in Asia and many companies who market resilient products in the U.S. do not have the longstanding relationships with their Asian suppliers, unlike Metroflor. We trust our suppliers completely. We know what they are telling us is truthful.” To illustrate, Metroflor owns the first Declare label for a rigid core product.
Transparency at Metroflor extends to its Asian factories. “That is an unheard of topic of conversation,” Routman added. “We open the doors of our factories to customers.”
Because Metroflor is so concerned about the ingredients in its products, it will not accept vinyl from external sources. “That is counterproductive and can create risk for the company,” Routman noted. “Other companies are doing that because it can lower the price of the product. Our goal is to have a pure, clean product, and you can’t do that unless you have a trusting relationship with the factory.”
Metroflor at Greenbuild was also talking about biophilia, which is basically this innate feeling for the love of nature. “We have evolved over time with nature being a central part of our lives,” Routman explained. To illustrate the point, Metroflor had some natural vegetation and actual hardwood in its booth. “The space on an emotional level creates a feeling of refuge—an enclosed, safe place.”
Shaw Industries took a different approach to Greenbuild 2017 than in years past. Rather than showcase the sustainability attributes of its products, the company decided to host multiple educational sessions on Cradle to Cradle certification, a cause that Shaw has championed for years. It even had the father of Cradle to Cradle, architect William McDonough, as one of its presenters.
“For years we have been a gold sponsor at Greenbuild,” said Paul Murray, vice president of sustainability, “and we would have a booth. You engage with a few people who would stop by. This year we thought it was time to up our education outreach. So when the U.S. Green Building Council offered us a learning lab, and we got to choose the topic, Cradle to Cradle was an obvious choice.”
The growing trend has gone from recycled content as the most frequently asked question to what’s in it, he said. “It’s all about material health, and Cradle to Cradle is a leader in third-party certification.”
With the USGBC now promoting this certification, Cradle to Cradle will move from niche to something that will be driven through the whole green building community. Thus, every session at the Shaw booth included some aspect of Cradle to Cradle, from how Shaw was using it in the marketplace to the city of San Francisco writing it into specifications.
Sheet vinyl manufacturer Altro came to Greenbuild to talk about its sustainability message and the products it offers surrounding that, according to Richard Finnegan, marketing manager.