In the lead-up to this year’s event, Architecture & Design spoke to Tarkett’s technical marketing and sustainability manager, Reza Karani, about ‘Volatile Organic Compounds’, the circular economy and Tarkett’s future in leading flooring manufacturing.
How does the type of flooring chosen effect a project’s sustainability?
One of the primary considerations for flooring is indoor environment quality. The materials that we use at Tarkett have extremely low [levels of] Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and contain no hazardous components, so our products [receive] all of the current credits for environmentally friendly materials for indoor areas.
The other aspect worth considering is the recyclable aspect of it. Ensuring that products don’t have to go to landfill [after] use, but [are] rather [able to return] to the manufacturer for either recycling or up-cycling solutions, plays a big part in determining the sustainability of a project.
Reducing VOC emissions in laminate and vinyl flooring systems has been a priority for some time. Do you think we’ll ever get to a point where these flooring types have no VOC content at all?
With the way that industry works, there is always going to be a focus on reducing VOC content as much as possible. However, at the end of the day, unless you invent a new technology to reduce that content to zero, there will be VOC in any product that you make. Anything is possible with technology, but at this point Tarkett is at the top of the scale in low-VOC products.
Is the VOC content based on the binders or resins used in the products?
It’s different [from] product [to] product.
Are there binders that are known for being especially low-VOC, or are the levels based on manufacturing processes that would differ from company to company?
Well, both. Some companies adjust their manufacturing processes and some adjust the raw materials that go into their products. These days, the raw material suppliers have a very big role in [finalising] the product, so manufacturers can create something more environmentally friendly. For example, raw material suppliers in Europe are currently trying to achieve [their] targets for low-VOC materials, so of course it helps the manufacturers to find better raw materials. On the other hand, the manufacturing process is imperative [to] this process. There are [also] techniques and solutions [that] help decrease the amount of VOC.
You mentioned recycling and the importance of prioritising recycling over landfill at the end of a product’s lifecycle. How widespread is recycling in the flooring manufacturing industry, and how has Tarkett championed this concept over the years?
It’s different case by case, and really depends on the principles of the manufacturing company. At Tarkett, all of our manufacturing is based on cradle-to-cradle principles. With cradle-to-cradle principles, the aim is to always use the right materials and [to] process them in a way that [allows you to] reuse whatever the final product is at the end of its use.
Because of that, we’ve designed all of our products so that they can go back to our factories at the end of use, [to] be used again as raw material [for] new products. The future of flooring products depends on manufacturers taking responsibility for the products they make, and devising solutions for their end-of-use so that they can continue to use them.
How important is transparency around this process?
We believe at Tarkett that transparency is key. The sustainability goals that we hold are focused on helping people – people who use our products and people who install our products – and at the end of the day we want to give them a product that they can use with confidence.
The Tarkett Group worldwide have publicly issued the raw materials that we use in our production processes. Our sustainability reports and the ingredients of all of our products are available to customers, to architects and to builders, so they can be sure that what we say, we do. Of course, [we also] have third-party certification bodies and organisations that assist and certify that.
What would you say have been the biggest changes to occur in the past decade around sustainable manufacturing within your product segment?
As quality of life has improved in developed countries and people are more informed, manufacturers have had to follow suit in supplying what customers and consumers are looking for. With more people conscious of the materials they use in their homes or workplaces or elsewhere, sustainable and healthy products have become more of a focus for manufacturers. The research that has been conducted by universities; all of the activities that governments and NGOs – such as the Green Building Council – have undertaken; and the rules established by the building codes of different countries have all influenced companies to head in the direction of using the most sustainable materials.
However, with the economy and [with the] differing business goals that companies have, many groups have had to alter their business [models] to create more sustainable products. For example as I noted at Tarkett, we now follow a cradle-to-cradle principle and have moved from a linear economy to a circular economy. In a circular economy, one of the main principles is to create more sustainable products and to close the loop of production. That means using the right materials for the right people and ensuring we can reuse them at the end of their life.
How much of that is dependent on the consumer being informed and knowing where and when to take advantage of end-of-life opportunities?
What we’ve found at Tarkett is that it very much depends on each sector of the market; [different] consumers will have their own [perspectives]. For example, when you consider the education sector in Australia, there’s a lot of consideration in terms of using the right materials for proper indoor air quality and indoor environment quality because we know how important our kids are for Australia’s future. It’s similar within healthcare, where they have to take into account the sustainability points of each product and [its] longevity.
Different sectors will place value on different aspects of a product, but then individual consumers as end users are also stakeholders here. Indoor environmental quality is very important for end users in the residential sector, and the public is much more informed now about the [importance of a product’s] ingredients. Manufacturers and suppliers have to give them better solutions.
Does that tie in with what you see as being the future of sustainable manufacturing?
Absolutely. At Tarkett, the people who work with us and the people who use our products are [two] of our main focuses. More and more people [are asking] for more sustainable and healthier products to be used in their offices and workplaces and in their homes.
What kind of focus will sustainable design be for Tarkett moving forward?
We have a road map that we’re following for 2020 and 2030, [in which we focus] on the achievable points of SDG and the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. In our manufacturing, we have a target to reduce our environmental impact in terms of the energy that we use and the waste that we create. That has really worked for us. All our reports, which are publicly available, show that we have had improvements greater than what the goals are globally. The only way we can move forward is to focus on sustainability as the goal and to set targets to reach those goals.
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