Flooring Manufacturers Can Address Current Industry Challenges through Third-party Certifications

Consumers are looking for greener products.Consumers are looking for greener products.

When are products not what they claim to be? Every manufacturer wants to ensure that what they promise to customers is actually what is delivered to the market. Further down the line, every purchaser and specifier is looking for the same assurance. Across the board, professional reputations rest upon the products that are manufactured or selected for projects. So where is the disconnect?

Consumers are looking for greener products.

Consumers are looking for greener products.

The trouble is, unless a manufacturer has complete ownership of—or at least detailed visibility into—its entire supply chain, the business must rely upon suppliers and partners to deliver on the promises they make about the quality, reliability, and sustainability of the source materials and components that ultimately make up the finished product. With today’s supply-chain complexity, manufacturers can be vulnerable— unknowingly passing along supplier issues and broken promises to their own end customers.

Manufacturers are held accountable for broken promises in their supply chain, as demonstrated by the media frenzy over Toano, Va.-based Lumber Liquidators’ formaldehyde emissions issues, which is thought to be at least in part the result of a manufacturer using substrates that a supplier was falsely labeling as CARB Phase 2 compliant. The company suffered not only bad press, but also a 50 percent drop in stock value, hundreds of class-action lawsuits and the fall of many of its C-suite executives.

In the building materials space—particularly the flooring category—dimensions of health, chemical-exposure potential for end users, and environmental impact have become more and more relevant to a flooring product’s market appeal.

There are a variety of reasons for this rise in importance with the first being the growth of the green-building sector. As LEED and other green-building rating systems continue to gain relevance, manufacturers are incentivized by market demand to manufacture materials that meet credit requirements for those rating systems; a primary category of credit requirements that impacts flooring is health or indoor environmental quality in the form of chemical-emissions-related requirements.

The second driver is that consumer interest in how the materials around them affect their health and environment is growing. According to a recent Knoxville, Tenn.-based Shelton Group report, up to 70 percent of consumers are looking for greener products.

More specifically related to building materials and their impact on human health, a 2014 survey of more than 1,000 consumers revealed that health ranked first on consumers’ list of decision influencers. The study indicated that claims that addressed health concerns (toxic materials and indoor air quality, or IAQ) were consistently rated more important for purchase influence, perceived value and positive brand impact than other claims. Forty-three percent of those surveyed said they were concerned about IAQ. It should be noted that this study was conducted before the recent media coverage about alleged problems with Lumber Liquidators’ products. Following this coverage, consumers will most certainly demand even more reassurance about the flooring in their spaces where they live and work and specifically about the emissions of VOCs from those floors.

Consumers are concerned about chemicals and IAQ.

Consumers are concerned about chemicals and IAQ.

Exposure Levels

This situation can be challenging for the manufacturer, the retailer and the purchaser alike, particularly in the categories of laminate or engineered wood flooring. While performance and quality testing are par for the course and often required by various regulations, there is currently no standard federal legislation or even nationally agreed-upon acceptable exposure levels that cover product emissions in the built environment. There are steps being taken but, as of yet, they are not complete.

Starting in 2007, the Sacramento-based California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (CARB) tried to fill the gap by issuing the Composite Wood Products Regulation, a regulation that reduces public exposure to formaldehyde through the establishment of strict emission performance standards on particleboard, medium density fiberboard and hardwood plywood (collectively known as composite wood products). The more stringent Phase 2, which went into effect in early 2014, requires all finished goods, such as flooring, destined for sale or use in California to be made using complying composite wood products.
IMAGES: UL Environment

About the Author

Dagmar Ebaugh, LEED Green Associate
Dagmar Ebaugh is PR and communications manager for UL Environment. Follow UL Environment on Twitter at @ulenvironment or via LinkedIn.

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