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Networking Pays Dividends

Sustainability: Colossal task ahead in face of climate change denial

Sustainability consultant Alan Best outlines gains by networking groups like the Flooring Sustainability Partnership, but says more needs to be done:

THE need for a more sustainable approach to the manufacture, supply and disposal of flooring products has not been lost on the supply chain and many innovations have been implemented with many more in the pipeline.
Some companies have joined with networking groups such as the Flooring Sustainability Partnership (FSP) which was established in 2010 by the CFA, WRAP, BRE and others primarily to look into waste reduction.
Since this time the interest of the FSP has spread into other key areas of sustainability and many of these will be showcased at a major event being planned by the FSP to take place at the Building Research Establishment’s HQ on November 12 this year. This event is being sponsored by the CFJ and details will be publicised nearer the time. It is planned that this column will from time to time run FSP Spotlight features which will focus on innovations by partnership members.
Over the years FSP has worked closely with organisations such as Carpet Recycling UK which has made some inroads into reducing the 400m tonnes of carpet sent to landfill by around 20%. However the fundamental issue affecting the ability to recycle carpets is that most are not designed for recycling.
The solutions so far found to reduce landfill are predominantly down cycling to other products such as equestrian flooring and underlay rather than upcycling the waste to supply raw materials for new carpet manufacture.
The recovery and recycling of vinyl flooring through the Recofloor scheme, founded and funded by Altro and Polyfloor, has seen some significant successes. The scheme has collected 1800 tonnes since its inception in 2009. This is equivalent to 60,000sq m enough vinyl flooring to cover 83 football pitches.
There are now 68 drop off sites at distributors across the UK and more than 500 collectors from across the flooring supply chain. However upcycling to new PVC flooring is generally affected by the REACH regulations which is likely to ban the recycling of one or more of the most common plasticisers such as DEHP.
While these recycling efforts are to be applauded the fact remains that the industry continues to produce vast amounts of product which will not be recycled and which will continue to deplete raw materials some of which may well run out in the foreseeable future.
I have written extensively in this column that some FSP companies such as Shaw Industries and Forbo, have formally adopted the Cradle to Cradle approach for the design and manufacture of some of their products. This has the advantage of ensuring that the raw materials are recoverable and recyclable and also have safe chemical content and will use a percentage of renewable energy and will manage water responsibly.
This approach is now being described as the Circular Economy and is receiving a great deal of attention from governments around the world. One of the FSP member companies who have adopted Cradle to Cradle design and certification is Desso who recently took up an invitation from the UK Parliamentary Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change to submit a Declaration of Interest to promote the Circular Economy with the help of some specific government support.
In the Declaration of Interest, Desso stated that their submission was mainly based on experiences in the UK business where in 2008 they developed a ‘Take Back’ scheme for used carpet materials. Desso’s TakeBack and Refinity system enables it to separate raw materials from post-consumer products for future use in new products materials.
Bitumen backing is sent to the road industry for reuse while fibres are returned to one of Desso’s key suppliers, Aquafil SPA for depolymerisation and re-manufacture into Econyl nylon for new carpets. Desso’s conclusions from their move to Cradle to Cradle manufacturing were stated in the submission as follows: ‘In recent years the interest in the circular economy has intensified. It is Desso’s belief and hope that leading businesses and governments will now start working together to make the shift over to the circular economy, a truly sustainable model which will enable further economic growth without the depletion of precious resources.
‘While it is a hard road to take, it has been proven in Desso’s experience to bring with it greater innovative capacity, successful new products and help to make the business model more robust in the face of rising commodity prices and major challenges such as climate change and resource scarcity. Government, local, national and supra-national has a major role to play in helping to overcome some of the major barriers to the circular economy’.
Desso set out the following requests for practical support from the Government to assist in a move to the Circular Economy approach:
Government assistance required to promote circular economy:
1. Increase landfill taxes at a higher/ faster rate than the £8 a ton implemented over recent years.
2. Set timescales for planned landfill ban.
3. Subsidise recycling initiatives.
4. Implement higher tax rates on certain virgin materials where future resources are under threat.
5. Ban or implement higher rates of tax on more ‘suspect’ materials that may contain harmful elements.
6. Provide more support and funding for trade aligned recycling initiatives – CRUK, FSP.
7. Financial assistance for ‘Reuse’ network members.
8. Heightened Government advertising campaigns to change behaviour of businesses encouraging sending back used materials to the manufacturer rather than to landfill.
If some or all of these approaches are adopted then there will clearly be some major changes ahead for the flooring supply chain. More network groups and collaborations between companies will emerge to optimise the approach to sustainability issues to minimise the cost and increase their effectiveness. A recent example of the establishment ‘of such a new grouping is the We Mean Business network.
The biggest, and probably the most controversial issue, facing all concerned with sustainability is that of climate change which can affect almost every area of operations from continuity of supply of raw materials, water supplies and quality, energy and human health.
There is a feeling among those who are actively promoting changes to help reduce man-made impacts on the environment, that there is a whole industry promoting the status quo and climate change denial. This comprises trade groups, think tanks and corporate lobbyists who it is said have been funded to the tune of over $500 million dollars in recent years.
In order to combat this a new collaboration, We Mean Business has been formed bringing together industry, NGO’s and other interested parties to drive a coordinated campaign to overcome the denial lobby.
The We Mean Business group founders include BSR, The B Team, CDP, Ceres, the Climate Group, the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development together with 500 of the world’s most influential companies including Ikea, Nike and Virgin. Collectively they are setting about building up a war chest big enough to combat the status quo.
We Mean Business is calling for national and international policies that will continue to scale-up clean energy and energy efficiency, unleash low carbon innovation and send the right price signals to drive investment in clean technologies. They make the following points about the business impacts and opportunities posed by climate change:
Climate change is a major risk to the global economy but tackling it offers one of the world’s biggest economic opportunities.
We need bold action if we are to limit temperature increase to below 2DegC while inaction puts whole economies and millions of people at risk.
Businesses are starting to rise to the challenge. Global investment in clean technologies is now up to $300bn a year. The low carbon economy is now a $4 trillion reality, growing at nearly 4% a year.
Many companies have integrated an internal carbon price into their business strategies, in the expectation of an external carbon price in the near future.
This is good, but it’s just a start. We need more businesses to take action. And to help businesses plan for – and invest in – the low carbon economy, we need government to work with us and provide a clear, long-term framework.
These are just two examples of how the way forward is through collaboration and networking and how groups like the Flooring Sustainability Partnership will grow in importance.

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