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Depending on the building space, there are a variety of requirements flooring materials must uphold in order to be considered sustainable flooring. Floors must functionally be durable and slip resistant while being aesthetically pleasing and cost effective in addition to meeting sustainability criteria.
Bamboo, cork, recycled rubber, linoleum, and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood are all flooring materials that have sustainable attributes. The most traditional flooring, wood, is considered sustainable when certified by the FSC. FSC wood flooring comes from recycled wood or local sustainably harvested forests. When selecting the wood’s sealant, always look for low/no VOCs and formaldehyde free adhesives. These harmful additives contain chemicals that cause poor air quality and health concerns in indoor environments.
Bamboo has grown in popularity as a leading material for sustainable products. It has a high level of durability and comes from a renewable resource, fast growing bamboo trees. However, there is concern that the high embodied energy of the bamboo might outweigh the benefits of being a renewable resource. The majority of bamboo is produced in either China or Vietnam and there are no producers in North America. This means a large amount of energy is consumed in transport of the materials. Depending on you and your supplier’s location, more locally produced materials might be a better option.
Cork is also a material that is being used more often; recognized for its easy maintenance, comfort and ability to reduce noise. Cork is renewable; harvested from the bark of cork oak trees and naturally restored every ten years. In most cases, the cork used for natural cork flooring is actually a by-product from the bottle-stopper industry. The ‘waste’ cork is collected from the bottle-stopper factories to be formed into flooring with minimal adhesives.
Another re-used material is recycled rubber flooring, coming from disposed car tires. Rubber flooring offers a high level of durability and slip resistance, even in high traffic areas.
Lastly, linoleum is made from linseed oil, compressed cork/limestone, wood, flour, resin binders and pigments. It offers a low embodied energy material, is non-toxic, and derived from renewable resources similar to vinyl. It is an all-natural alternative to vinyl flooring.
(Photos: top, reclaimed wood flooring; bottom, bamboo flooring)