By Matthew Spieler
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the definition of sustainability calls for “policies and strategies that meet society’s present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
While every area of the industry has made vast strides in making itself and its products more sustainable, perhaps no category has done more than carpet. From fiber makers down to the individual family business, stories of making carpet sustainable abound—from landfill diversion and using less natural resources to closed loop recycling and finding new industries that can reuse all or part of post-consumer carpet.
As representatives gather in New Mexico for the 8th annual conference of the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), FCNews spoke with some of the largest players—both mill and dealer/contractor—and asked them to share recent stories as to how they are helping to make carpet more sustainable.
Beaulieu of America
Steve Bradfield, vice president of sustainability, took a big picture point of view by reflecting on the hiring of Ralph Boe as president and CEO nine years ago (FCNews, April 30/May 7, 2001) as a major milestone and turning point for the company.
When it comes to its product and manufacturing processes, Bradfield said Beaulieu’s sustainability gains are a result of Boe’s commitment “to lower the company’s environmental footprint through focused conservation, efficiency and innovation programs” that differentiate Beaulieu from its competitors.
Innovations under his watch, he explained, “have made significant improvements in sustainability, saving millions of gallons of water, vastly improving energy efficiency, and preventing tons of solid waste production through our ‘War on Waste,’ program.”
Bradfield pointed to some recent product examples that underscore Beaulieu’s sustainable story, such as Nexterra Carpet Tile, made with 53% post-consumer waste, including post-consumer PET bottles; Avalar SDX nylon with 25% recycled content; GreenSmart BCF polyester with 50% post-consumer recycled content; nontoxic Magic Fresh treatment that significantly reduces odors, and Silver Release, which discourages microbial growth.
Beaulieu Group includes polymerization, fiber extrusion, yarn production and carpet production operations. “Our philosophy of sustainability focuses on the development of culture, systems and best practices that continuously reduce our impacts on the environment and seek to conserve raw materials, resources and energy in ways that will allow future generations to enjoy the same, or a better, standard of living than we enjoy today.”
As final proof to the company’s commitment, Bradfield pointed out that earlier this year Boe created a sustainability area headed by an experienced team to increase Beaulieu’s focus. “We seek a future environment that is cleaner and healthier through intelligent human design and activity in each successive generation resulting from increasing levels of investment in appropriate technologies and continuous innovation.”
Legacy Commercial Flooring
Serving commercial clients in Ohio from five locations, the former DuPont Flooring Systems/Environmentalist owned company joined Starnet in 2005. In addition to selling, installing and maintaining all types of commercial flooring, Legacy has always been keenly aware of the difference one firm can have on the environment, noted co-owner Tony Nixon, who, along with partner George Holinga, “recognized early on that commercial clients expect us to provide continuous solutions, including facilitating the achievement of their environmental goals.”
That commitment has continued since joining Starnet, explained Jeanne Matson, president and CEO of the buying group, who pointed out the company is a multi-year winner of the Starnet/CARE Carpet Reclama-tion Award, presented to the Starnet member diverting the largest quantity of post-consumer carpet from landfills in a given year.
Legacy’s commitment is that any used commercial carpet it removes from a project will not be sent to landfill. Working via the Starnet/CARE program and Starnet vendor partners, Legacy has diverted over 5.8 million pounds of broadloom and carpet tile from landfill. This quantity of over 1 million square yards would have taken up 23,113 cubic yards of landfill space, saving nearly 47 billion BTUs, enough energy to power 260 U.S. homes for a year. In addition, over 14 million gallons of water have been preserved.
“Legacy has taken an environmental leadership role within Starnet,” Matson said. “Its impressive achievements in reclaimed carpet as well as its overall commitment to sustainability sets the example for all member firms.”
Bart Rich, director of brand management, said one of the most significant sustainability stories in the last year has been Mohawk’s use of new technology to expand the use of post-consumer recycled PET in its EverStrand carpet fiber.
Until this year, he explained, the recycled PET could only be used in staple fiber styles, “limiting its use and missing the much larger BCF fiber market. Mohawk’s new fiber manufacturing process overcomes this problem by allowing recycled PET content to be incorporated into EverStrand BCF styles. What’s more, the technology allows the use of post-consumer recycled PET in all EverStrand fiber, including XtraSoft styles, which we introduced last year.”
EverStrand, Rich said, is one of the most successful recycling stories in the industry with more than 24 billion soft drink bottles— 25% of the bottles recycled in North America—going into the branded fiber. On average, 30 plastic bottles are recycled to make one square yard of EverStrand carpet with staple fiber.
When it comes to actually recycling carpet, Jenny Cross, Mohawk’s director of sustainability, called it “challenging. It’s a system of a number of components— fiber, backing layers, adhesives—and recycling requires these to be separated. Historically, no one had a viable solution for dealing with latex backing material until now.”
Recently, Mohawk created and has licensed recycling technology to Polar Materials of Covington, Ga., which specializes in the use of recycled materials to replace mined minerals. “Utilizing a patent-pending process from Polar,” she explained, “Mohawk is now using carpet backing filler created from recycled carpet waste—“helping significantly reduce the amount of carpet waste sent to the landfill every year.”
How much? The annual consumption of limestone in carpet exceeds 800,000 tons per year, Cross said. “Replacing just 35% of it with this process can potentially divert more than 280,000 tons of carpet from landfills each year.”
The recycled filler satisfies Sustainable Carpet Assessment Standard NSF-140, and is currently being used in the Mohawk Home division with plans to expand its use.
“This is a big step,” Cross noted. “Not only are we finding a use for recycled latex backing material, the most common backing for residential carpet, we’re utilizing it to manufacture new carpet that is in compliance with a key environmental standard.”
RD Weis Cos.
“You know those old samples and sample books gathering dust in your office?” asked Randall Weis, president. “This Earth Day, RD Weis is helping to reclaim and recycle them to keep them away from the waste stream.”
Throughout April, the contractor has opened its Port Chester, N.Y.; Manhattan; Albany, N.Y.; Rochester, N.Y.; Hartford, Conn., and Detroit offices for people to drop off all carpet samples and books and even VCT/LVT samples.
“All are welcome, no matter the manufacturer,” Weis explained, adding the month-long Earth Day activities are free to anyone. “This is the company’s way of thanking customers and friends for helping reduce, reuse and recycle.”
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the full-service flooring provider is a member of Starnet and specializes in environmentally safe flooring solutions for commercial interiors. “RD Weis is committed to providing the highest level of environmentally friendly cleaning and maintenance services in the commercial flooring industry by using green materials, methods and processes, and by helping customers reduce, reuse and recycle for the sustainable future of Earth.”
ReSource Commercial Network
With nearly 100 locations across the U.S., Kris Keller, vice president marketing and member services, said members of the group “are encouraged to consider sustainability within every aspect of their business.” To help them, ReSource created Ecollect.
“The mission of Ecollect is to divert waste material being sent to landfills,” she said. “Members are encouraged to find ways to divert these materials through reducing, reusing and recycling.”
During its recent annual member conference (FCNews, April 5/12), ReSource recognized two members who exemplify the goals of the Ecollect initiative— Flooring Resources Corp. (FRC) and Resource 4 Floors. FRC of Elk Grove Village, Ill., offers reclamation and recycling services—even from competitors’ jobs and often for free. FRC picks up the carpet waste from jobsites in the greater Chicago area and returns it to its warehouse where the material is sorted for reclamation and possible reuse for a “second life.”
“We want to be known as the greenest flooring company in the country and have dedicated time, money and a great deal of effort to make the Chicagoland area aware of our passion,” said George Spanske, president.
Today’s consumer has no problem purchasing a “certified, pre-owned” Lexus, why not carpet? Taking reuse to the next level, Resource 4 Floors in Ft. Lauderdale evaluates discarded carpet tiles and cleans, sanitizes and sells or donates to charity for reuse. Recently the company completed a replacement project for Song + Associates using reclaimed carpet material in their offices. Meagan Cleary, LEED AP with Song, shared, “The story behind the replacement of our carpet is something of which we can really be proud.”
In 2009, Keller noted ReSource members reported 6.8 million pounds of carpet waste diverted from landfills. Waste diversion reporting is tracked on the group’s Web site at rcfn.com.
As the world’s largest recycler of post-consumer carpet, David Wilkerson, corporate director of sustainability and product stewardship, and Rick Ramirez, vice president of sustainability, said Shaw is continually looking for innovative ways of reducing waste, improving manufacturing processes and preserving natural resources.”
In 2008, Shaw pledged to the U.S. Department of Energy to reduce energy intensity by 25% by 2017. Cornerstone to this commitment is a joint venture announced last April with DAK Americas named Clear Path Recycling in Fayetteville, N.C. Scheduled to open next month, it will be the largest PET recycling operation in North America, recycling 280 million pounds annually once at full capacity.
“By recycling 280 million pounds of PET bottles, over 1 million cubic yards per year of landfill space will be saved,” Ramirez said. In addition, annual energy savings versus the cost to polymerize virgin PET amounts to approximately 2.5 trillion BTUs, equal to the amount of primary energy necessary to power 18,000 U.S. homes per year.
Wilkerson added, “Conserving PET bottles and energy through Clear Path brings new life to Shaw’s ClearTouch bulk continuous filament PET carpet. Through the joint venture, new styles will be added to the collection, offering more environmental value for Shaw customers.”
The stage for this is already set, he explained. “Last year, Shaw announced that millions of pounds of bottles were used to manufacture ClearTouch carpets. And last month, ClearTouch earned 25% post-consumer recycled content designation from UL Environment.
Beyond Clear Path, Ramirez said Shaw’s sustainability philosophy was made transparent in 2008 with its first Sustainability Report, outlining sustainable efforts within the company up to that point. The document “demonstrates Shaw’s commitment to leadership… and the belief that sustainability and innovation are not only inextricably linked—they are the only two guarantors of long-term success in our sustainability journey.”