Thanks to third party non-profit organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council, which independently certifies responsibly sourced wood for businesses and individuals, green flooring options are now more abundant than ever. New technologies have made it possible to source flooring from all new places and that means homeowners and businesses are able to get green flooring at an affordable price. The benefits of choosing green flooring range from helping the planet to reducing toxic chemicals in your home. However, just because something is labeled “green flooring” doesn’t mean it’s truly sustainable or safe to use. Any new material produced will have a negative environmental impact, and consumers are left with choosing products that are simply less environmentally damaging than others. Understanding the real impact of green flooring choices will help you make a better decision for your home and for the planet.
As far as luxury is concerned, hardwood flooring is the traditional go to for floors in almost any room. Because a hardwood supplier can be certified to sell responsibly managed wood as well as sell wood that has not been certified, choose hardwoods that are independently certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and make sure the individual planks you order have been certified. Regardless, however, all hardwood, including FSC certified hardwood, is a new material that requires environmentally costly finishing and transportation.
A rather recent alternative to traditional hardwood, bamboo flooring is appealing because it’s even harder than hardwood, making it suitable for high traffic areas like the kitchen. Bamboo is also water resistant, making it far more difficult to destroy accidentally. Unlike hardwoods, bamboo matures within 3-5 years and regenerates itself, meaning a single bamboo forest can produce far more flooring materials than a hardwood forest in the same amount of time and be far more sustainable. However, the same shipping and finishing costs apply to bamboo, making it a more environmentally friendly choice, not a completely sustainable choice.
Although cork is on the other end of the hardwood spectrum, its appeal lies in its durability and flexibility. Ideal for kitchens where you’ll likely be standing for long periods of time, cork is very soft and elastic. Plus, cork flooring is made from the scraps of the cork bottle stopper industry, which uses only the bark of cork trees, rather than the tree itself, allowing the bark to regenerate within a few years. Similar to bamboo in this sense, cork flooring is a more sustainable choice, but due to the finishing and shipping costs isn’t a true green floor.
New linoleum (not your grandmother’s floor) is made using biodegradable, hypoallergenic, antistatic and nontoxic materials. It’s durable, water resistant and comes in a full range of colors and styles. However, green linoleum flooring is a new material that is manufactured and finished in a factory and then shipped to your home, so it also has a less than perfect environmental record.
Made from sheep wool, wool carpeting is a highly renewable flooring material that is durable, non toxic and incredibly comfortable. When given the right care, wool carpeting can last up to 40 years, which is decades longer than traditional carpeting types, reducing the frequency it is replaced. Keep in mind the shipping costs, the maintenance associated with wool carpeting (choose steam cleaning for a more environmentally friendly clean that also protects the wool), and choose a brand that isn’t treated with synthetic chemical dyes or stain protection or your wool carpeting won’t be as green as you think.
Tile’s durability exists in part because it’s a strong material but also because it doesn’t go out of style; if you don’t have to replace it because it’s worn you won’t use new materials. Plus, even new tiles are made from industrial waste that would otherwise have gone to the landfill, making it pretty green from the beginning. But all tiles, even recycled tiles, require finishing, shipping and sealing.
The most sustainable and environmentally friendly flooring material available, recycled flooring requires no new materials to be used. Whether your recycled floor is made from carpet, wood, glass or tile, you’re preventing usable materials from wasting away in a landfill and keeping raw materials where they belong. Although you can source recycled materials locally to reduce shipping costs, you’ll still need extensive finishing to make your floor safe.
Lindsay Mineo writes a blog for Palatin Remodeling, a San Diego kitchen remodeling and design company. Her topics include bathroom and kitchen remodeling, additions and expansions, painting and more. Visit www.palatinremodeling.com for more remodeling tips and advice. Photo by Boa-Franc