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Innate Lack Of Green Flooring Knowledge

Sustainability consultant Alan Best responds to Richard Harris of F Ball who said in CFJ last month that he appeared to show an ‘innate lack of knowledge’ about the flooring industry:

MY regular CFJ column on sustainability issues affecting the flooring industry has now run for over two years and I believe has been generally well received.
I cannot begin this month, however, without referring to the response in CFJ last month to my article which appeared in the July edition of CFJ regarding VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) which are present in all of our buildings and which are a serious cause of concern to health experts around the globe.
I found the response from Mr Richard Harris who is marketing manager of F Ball, the leading adhesives manufacturer, to be frankly astonishing. The comments in his letter were vitriolic and difficult to comprehend.
Mr Harris seemed to assume that the article was directly aimed at the adhesives industry sector rather than an attempt to explain how VOC’s arise in buildings and how their affects can be cumulative and affected by issues such as ventilation.
I am somewhat loathe to dignify these comments with a response. However, I feel I have to make a couple of points about Mr Harris’s assertions so that any interested reader may form their own view as to my credibility as a writer and to the accuracy of his comments.
Firstly, Mr Harris states that I have an innate lack of knowledge of the flooring industry. This will come as something of a surprise to the technical and sales directors of Shaw Industries Group, one of the world’s largest flooring companies, for whom I have worked as an independent consultant on multiple complex technical issues across Europe and beyond continuously for almost 10 years.
For example, I continue to represent Shaw on the Chemsec Business Group in Sweden, which looks specifically at problem chemicals and involves toxicologists, chemists and other scientists and technical representatives of companies such as Skanska, Ikea, B&Q, Boots and Sony Eriksson.
It will also surprise the technical managers, directors and board members who attend the Flooring Sustainability Partnership (FSP) who elected me to the chair. The FSP is supported by BRE (British Research Establishment). FSP sponsors include manufacturers such as Altro, Desso, Forbo, Karndean, Shaw, Tarkett, Worverk and Gemini Adhesives together the recycling company Recofloor.
Other sponsors include the CFA and BTTG, and the major distribution group Headlam, and the leading flooring contractor Loughton Contracts. I would contrast the derogatory views on my column expressed by Mr Harris on behalf of F Ball with those of Adriana Spazzoli, operational marketing and communications director of Mapei, the world’s largest producer of adhesives and chemicals for the construction industry.
Mapei recently asked CFJ for permission to reproduce some of my articles in its own publications, commenting that the company ‘has been very impressed with their content and accuracy.’
Two articles subsequently appeared in Realtà Mapei the magazine of Mapei Group with more than 145,000 copies sent all over the world.
The key claim made by Mr Harris is that the flooring industry leads the way in ensuring the highest standards of air quality and that I am scaremongering. As a member of the industry I would like to think that this was the case and, of course, there are numerous examples of products which meet the highest standards.
However, as was made clear, my article in question drew heavily upon a recent paper by the safety science company, UL, entitled ‘Creating Healthier Furniture and Building Materials by Minimising Emissions’ which pointed out a number of continuing problems with VOC emissions and their cumulative effect in buildings.
UL have over 100 years’ experience in safety science and are among the most respected global authorities in the field. Their clients include many of the world’s leading companies as well as governments, health authorities and NGO’s.
I also quoted the example of the current AgBB/DIBt scheme in Germany which operates a strict testing regime for VOC emissions from all floorcoverings, parquet coatings and adhesives. The Germans insist on this regardless of existing certification and this clearly indicates their determination to impose higher standards for VOC emissions than currently exist.
Germany is the largest economy in the EU and a major market for many manufacturers. I therefore feel it reasonable for me to draw attention to these sources of concern and to attempt to explain the reasons behind them.
However, perhaps my most telling concern is Mr Harris’s definitive statement that formaldehyde is not used in floor preparation products. I can only refer to a news item in CFJ last month, the same issue which contained Mr Harris’s comments.
The courts are therefore now getting involved in the VOC issue and some of the products in question are reportedly coming into the UK. This clearly demonstrates the level of concerns over VOC’s and products of the type specifically mentioned in my article and for precisely reasons that I gave.
Lawyers are now taking up Mr Harris’s suggestion to monitor and report these products to the authorities. I think this illustrates that the flooring industry does not operate to a single standard and that third party labelling of VOC content in particular is becoming increasingly important.
Flooring materials are sourced worldwide and the quality varies widely. There are many aspects of our global supply chains that responsible flooring manufacturers actively monitor and are constantly working to improve by, for example, ensuring that all our raw materials are safe and responsibly sourced.
Regarding the general tone of his comments I am sure that Mr Harris and his PR people will forgive me for not joining the flippancy and merriment. I find his comment that he has never known anyone die from VOC’s in the flooring industry to be particularly flippant.
We are constantly learning about chemicals to which we are all exposed and which may have harmful effects at extremely low levels. In my experience, responsible manufacturers are not complacent and will constantly seek to learn about and substitute chemicals of concern.
I do not find attempts by respected scientists, environmental protection agencies and governments to understand the multiple sources and causes of cancers to be funny.
I suspect like most people, I have lost too many family, friends and colleagues to the disease.
Although the headline of the article – which I did not write – may have been provocative I stand by every word in the article.
Alan Best, a sustainability consultant, is chair of the Flooring Sustainability Partnership, which he attends on behalf of Shaw Industries Group. He works with a number of construction related industries specialising in environmental certification, substitution of hazardous chemicals and waste reduction. Alan is co-author of the Croner ‘Essential Guide to REACH’. He also sits on a number of international bodies where he represents Shaw Industries Group.

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal. You can find them at