Before you begin ripping out the ancient carpet or covering the old vinyl tile, ask yourself if you need to buy a new floor or could you simply refinish what you have? Refinishing is far greener and cheaper than buying new. Consider using non-toxic oil wax finishes that don't off-gas toxic chemicals and are easy to apply. On the other hand, refinishing takes some skill and may disturb your indoor routine and environment. It also just might be time for something new or recycled.
Sources of new green floors
New green floors include, Marmoleum (natural linoleum), cork, bamboo, recycled rubber tiles, recycled porcelain or glass tile, stained concrete floors or FSC-certified pre-finished solid and engineered hardwood floors.
Sometimes you can find reclaimed wood from old barns or torn down buildings. Or you can get lucky and find products donated to the Habitat for Humanity re-use stores. Check Craigslist for used products online. Also, flooring distributors and retailers always have close-out flooring sitting in their warehouse they'd love to get rid of at reasonable prices. Just ask them.
Be aware when removing old carpet or vinyl tile as you may uncover ugly stuff underneath such as asbestos tile or nasty smelling adhesives that require extra care before removal. If you don't know how to remove it, ask a professional remediation expert or environmental consultant.
The greenest products may come from locally grown and harvested wood. If harvested responsibly, not clear cut, and manufactured with safe finishes, they could be the greenest product with the lowest carbon footprint.
According to the US Government, more than 50% of imported wood comes from unmanaged forestry that results in illegal logging. The deforesting and burning of tropical forests is happening at an alarming rate worldwide and is the 2nd largest producer of carbon dioxide, far exceeding the total produced by cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships combined. In addition, it harms wildlife habitats and creates both soil erosion and siltation of rivers and lakes.
EcoTimber points out that "Buying sustainably-harvested wood products pushes the timber industry in a more responsible direction, discourages illegal logging and helps create economic value for a forest ecosystem that might otherwise be cleared for agriculture or development. [For this reason, many environmental organizations] believe that sustainably-harvested wood is a more proactive environmental choice than agricultural products like bamboo."
How can you tell if a wood product comes from a well-managed forest as opposed to irresponsible or illegal sources? The answer lies in independent certification of forests. As EcoTimber says, "By adding a green label that is backed by high standards, credible forest certification lets consumers use their purchasing power to support forestry that conserves forests for future generations." Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international organization dedicated to sustainable forestry.
FSC sets and enforces the highest standards of forestry for:
- ecological health — protecting wildlife, water, air and soil
- sustainable harvest levels — never cutting more than grows back
- social responsibility — giving workers and communities their fair share
Just because a company displays an FSC label, however, doesn't mean all its products are FSC-Certified. As the market for green products begins to expand, so does greenwashing. Unfortunately, even good ideas can get corrupted by marketing misrepresentations. In order for a product to be FSC certified, it must have the label on the box and it must be itemized on the invoice as FSC with the Chain of Custody number (COC#).
Recently FSC has begun to certify the production and distribution of bamboo and cork, just like hardwoods. This is good news for everyone as it clearly identifies what has been sustainably harvested from what has not.
Next time you consider a green floor in your home or office, look at all the options of buying new or refinishing, do your homework, ask the right questions and support green organizations that promote responsible forestry.
Copyright © 2010 Joel Hirshberg All rights reserved.