Sustainable Carpet

Matthew Realff, an associate professor in Georgia Tech's School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, served as chair of the committee that developed the standard. (Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek)

Don't call it ‘green' carpet, call it sustainable carpet. A new standard for assessing the environmental-friendliness of carpet was announced at the 2007 Greenbuild International Conference in Chicago.

The new sustainability standard, approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), addresses chemicals and materials used in manufacturing carpet, the energy used in production, the use of recycled or bio-based content, methods of disposal and/or reuse and the overall environmental performance of manufacturers.

"The LEED standards for buildings suggested that standards were an effective strategy for encouraging competition and providing an objective way of evaluating sustainability claims made in the marketplace," said Matthew Realff, an associate professor in Georgia Tech's School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering who served as chair of the committee that developed the standard.

This new standard aims to help consumers sort out the complex sustainable attributes and encourage manufacturers and their suppliers to seek out or develop environmentally preferable processes, practices, power sources and materials.

NSF International, an ANSI-accredited standards development body, created the standard and a committee consisting of carpet and rug manufacturers, end users such as interior design professionals, state agencies responsible for environmentally preferable product procurement practices, academics and non-governmental organizations approved it. The effort was spearheaded by Robert Peoples, director for sustainability for the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), a nonprofit trade association based in Dalton, Georgia.

"This new standard provides tremendous benefit to those decision makers who specify and purchase billions of yards of carpet annually in the US. The new unified standard assures those purchasers that they are selecting environmentally preferable carpets," said Werner Braun, president of CRI.

The sustainability standard builds on earlier efforts by the carpet industry to address environmental issues. The Green Label certification program developed by CRI that required carpets to meet emissions criteria for volatile organic compounds and other chemicals is part of the new standard.

Silver, gold and platinum certification levels will be awarded to manufacturers based on the number of points earned, with a total of 114 points possible. In addition, some categories mandate that specific requirements be met to achieve the higher certification levels.

California has worked closely to align the platinum level of the new standard with its current California Gold Sustainable Carpet Standard. The state plans to transition all of its carpet purchases to this level over the next 12-18 months, eventually completely transitioning to the new standard.

The standard aims to measure the environmental footprint of carpet products by looking at the whole supply chain and considering five major performance categories: public health and environment; energy and energy efficiency; bio-based or recycled materials; manufacturing; and reclamation and end of life management.

Public health and environment

A manufacturer can achieve points by taking steps to minimize its use of pollutants and energy use that adversely affects public health and the environment. This section awards points for minimizing the use of known harmful pollutants and additional points for reducing the number of pollutants even further.

Energy and energy efficiency

The energy and energy efficiency category recognizes the use of renewable energy and implementation of energy conservation and energy efficiency measures.

"We want companies to focus on measuring their environmental impact so that they will continue to strive to reduce it," explained Realff. "Companies can get points for tracking their greenhouse gas emissions and the balance of renewable and fossil-based energy used to produce the carpet."

Bio-based or recycled materials

Companies can also achieve points by using bio-based materials. This can include biological products, renewable agricultural materials (including plant, animal, and marine animals) or forestry materials.

Recycled materials also count and are measured by calculating the amount of recycled content compared to the total product weight, creating a percentage value. Platinum certification requires 10 percent post consumer recycled content.

"You can gain points for reusing old carpet to produce new carpet," noted Realff. "One example is that old carpet can be used to produce the backing that provides the mechanical integrity of carpet tiles."

Manufacturers can also reclaim carpet to make other products. "There are several successful building products that use old carpet, such as the padding that goes underneath new carpet," added Realff.


The manufacturing category encourages corporate environmental responsibility and achievements. A company can gain three points for completing the life cycle assessment of their carpet.

Realff and Michael Overcash, a professor at North Carolina State University, have been building the database to enable companies to assess the life cycle of their products through a project sponsored by Georgia's Traditional Industries Program.

"The life cycle inventory assesses all of the energy and emissions from the various parts of the carpet supply chain – from obtaining the raw materials to its final disposal or reuse," said Realff.

This category also includes points for minimizing the generation of waste materials during production. Inefficient materials selection, supplier delivery, production processes and warehousing operations can lead to high levels of waste generation and corresponding losses in production yields.

Reclamation and end of life management

The reclamation and end of life management category builds upon the Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship signed in 2002 by members of the carpet industry, representatives of government agencies at the federal, state and local levels and non-governmental organizations. Signatures promised to keep at least 40 percent of the total amount of carpet produced out of landfills by 2012. As of 2005, 7 percent was being recycled and 10 percent was diverted from landfills, according to CRI.

If companies can retrieve more than two percent of their carpet, they can gain points. Up to 17 points can be gained for reclamation of 80 percent or more.

"Old carpet shouldn't just be thrown away when it can be used to build new automobile parts or drainage chambers for storm water systems," added Realff.

The first carpet products certified to the new standard are expected to be available in the marketplace by April, according to Realff.

"Companies must gather production data for a year to be able to demonstrate the various performance requirements and some manufacturers might not have even been producing certain carpet styles that would meet certification standards for that length of time," he explained.

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