A central platform to exchange best practices and ideas guiding the infrastructure and urban development industry in its transformation, and helping it to address its key challenges.

Eco-Innovations for Flooring for Improved Air Quality and Healthy Indoor Environments

The challenge

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012, some 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of indoor and outdoor air pollution.43 The recent finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk, ahead of dirty water and lack of sanitation.44

People spend 90% of their time indoors, and yet indoor air is often two to five times more polluted than outdoor air as potential pollutants build up more quickly in non-ventilated spaces.45 One of the reasons stems from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. Found in most indoor environments, common sources of VOCs include paints, aerosol sprays, cleaning supplies and building materials such as flooring.

Other potential indoor pollutants include phthalates or chemicals from household products, which may have an impact on people’s health, particularly asthma and rhinitis.

The presence and size of particulate matter (PM) or fine dust is also a determining factor in indoor air quality and is directly linked to potential health problems once inhaled. These particles also contribute to the spread of microbial contaminants – such as mold, pollen and allergens – which can further exacerbate respiratory symptoms.

“Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution,” says Maria Neira, Director, WHO Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “The evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.” 46

The idea

As one of the world’s largest flooring manufacturers, Tarkett is particularly sensitive to issues of public health. Flooring products designed to be used indoors have a role to play in contributing to improved indoor air quality and healthier indoor environments.

Sustainability is integral to Tarkett’s vision and strategy. Among the first flooring companies to transition to the circular economy model by changing our mindset from one-off use and disposal of resources to a repeated re-use of resources, the result being the end of a product cycle becomes the beginning of the next one.

43 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/air-pollution/en/

44 http://www.oecd.org/newsroom/ environmentactnoworfacecostlyconsequenceswarnsoecd.htm

45 https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/inside-story-guide-indoor-airquality

46 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/air-pollution/en/

To support the transition, we apply cradle to cradle principles throughout our activities and deploy ar closed-loop circular design approach that promotes the use of good materials, resource stewardship at our manufacturing plants, peoplefriendly spaces during the usage phase and the re-use and recycling of products and materials.

Eco-innovation starts with the assessment and selection of good materials that respect people’s health and the environment, according to Cradle to Cradle® criteria. This focus on sustainability has led to several eco-innovations that contribute to improved indoor air quality and healthier indoor environments including: lower VOC emissions across flooring ranges; non-phthalate plasticizer technology used for vinyl ranges; and our ground-breaking range of dust-collecting carpets.

Lower VOC emissions for improved indoor air quality

Thanks to early emphasis on eco-design for improved indoor air quality, 92% of our flooring collections’ VOC emission levels are 10-100 times lower than the strictest standards around the globe.

Focusing on creating surface treatments for easy cleaning and maintenance for some flooring ranges, the majority of our floors do not require cleaning products such as strippers, wax or polish, thereby helping to eliminate these additional sources of VOCs.

Technology for healthy indoor environments

Phthalates, compounds used as plastic softeners, are often found in flooring. There is an ongoing scientific debate regarding the possible impact of phthalate on human health as carcinogens or endocrine disruptors.

From 2009-2012, 50% of R&D resources dedicated to resilient flooring were allocated to developing a new generation of vinyl flooring using non-phtalate plasticizers. Reformulating the core products involved assembling a multidisciplinary team of researchers, manufacturers and designers to ensure there was no trade-off between performance, design or sustainability. Since 2013, this technology has been deployed across the entire range of vinyl flooring in all our plants in Europe, North America and China.

Dust-collecting carpets

Contrary to general opinion, carpets can play an important role in capturing fine dust in the indoor environment.

The Desso AirMaster® carpet takes this functionality to the next level, as its patented technology has been specially developed to capture and retain harmful fine dust from the indoor air.

Tests performed in the laboratory of the independent German test institute GUI, already demonstrated that the Desso AirMaster® carpet is more effective in capturing and retaining fine dust than smooth flooring or standard carpet solutions. 47

Today, the latest test results show that DESSO AirMaster® with EcoBase™ backing (Cradle to Cradle® certification level Gold, with recycled materials) has even more healthsupporting benefits. For this particular product combination, additional testing was conducted with GUI to assess the product’s performance on three strict test criteria:

– Suitability for allergy sufferers because of the ingredients

– High fine dust binding capacity

– Low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emissions

Desso AirMaster® with EcoBase™ backing meets all of the above-mentioned criteria, and is the first product in the world to be certified with the GUI Gold Plus label.

The impact

Health improvements

The health condition of millions of people around the world has improved thanks to the low or extremely low VOC emissions from 92% of our flooring ranges. In addition, all of our vinyl products in Europe and North America now use our non-phtalate technology, a change very positively received by architects, designers, consumers and other stakeholders.

Our goal is to reach 100% non-phtalate vinyl flooring with low VOC emissions across all our markets by 2020. As the world’s biggest manufacturer of vinyl flooring, this is no small feat and we believe the effect will reverberate throughout the industry.

Environmental improvements

Eco-designing flooring with “good materials” not only creates healthy living environments today, but will help us up-cycle post-installation and post-used vinyl flooring in the future, thus underpinning the long-term responsible use of PVC in flooring. This vision of manufacturing goes hand-in-hand with our closed-loop circular design process which aims to make primary resources abundant, rapidly renewable, recycled and recyclable.

Competitive edge

Our company’s efforts to produce goods that are healthy for people and the planet has also helped to sustain a competitive edge and long term profitability. Thanks to our anticipation of evolving regulations and ongoing client feedback, we have been able to significantly evolve our product offer and set the industry standard in the process.

Eco-design and circular credentials have also strengthened Tarkett’s hand when competing in tenders, with its products and recycling services gaining credit with various standards such as HQE, LEED and Bream. We also see the intangible value related to our commitment as a listed company (Paris Euronext) since the financial community is increasingly interested in circular economy business models, which potentially promote sustainable and responsible growth as well as new business opportunities.

We believe that stakeholder collaboration is a powerful tool for exploring new circular economy business models and developing creativity for sustainable growth. This is why we are an active contributor to the World Economic Forum, which we see as a platform to exchange knowledge with companies from other sectors, share our experience of the circular economy and contribute to shaping the future of construction.