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Commercial Flooring News

Sustainability Means Root & Branch Changes

Tracy Perry, sustainability and environmental adviser at Altro, looks at ‘the big picture’ when it comes

to sustainability:

FOR a flooring material to be truly sustainable and achieve the highest BREEAM ratings, concern for the
environment has to inform each aspect of the product. This includes development of the material, manufacturing principles, methods of installation and end-of-life disposal. The manufacturer also needs a clear strategy and a company culture that puts sustainability at the heart of the business.

At a product design level, innovation in production methods and ingredients has enabled flooring to make significant strides in recent years. During 2011 for example, the first safety flooring range incorporating bioplasticisers (from a renewable resource) was launched – Altro Suprema II.

This followed an extensive period of product development to ensure that the same performance characteristics could be achieved with a more environmentally ingredient. Investment in product development has also made it possible for vinyl flooring to be manufactured to contain up to 20% recycled content, with resin flooring containing up to 30%.

At the manufacturing level, reducing carbon footprint involves looking closely at how energy is used throughout the company. This is a huge undertaking, but thankfully expert bodies can provide advice.

For example we worked with the Carbon Trust in 2007 to look at ways of improving the carbon footprint at our factory in Letchworth. This enabled us to save over 1,000 tonnes of CO2, and between 2007 and 2009 we reduced our total energy consumption by over 7%.

This is just the beginning. Reducing energy consumption remains a manufacturing priority as part of our ongoing continuous improvement programme.

An important discussion within manufacturing is waste minimisation. This links to a wider concern for reduction of waste during installation, and to disposal of flooring at the end of its lifecycle. A single solution is enabling us to tackle all of these concerns.

Readers of CFJ will already be aware of the Recofloor vinyl take back scheme of which Altro is a founder member. We collect and recycle all safety flooring irrespective of manufacturer and, with the scheme in place, we have not sent any waste PVC to landfill since 2007. It also creates opportunities for specifiers and contractors to secure new contracts by offering customers improved sustainability credentials.

Three important factors have come together to make this possible: product development to create flooring capable of being recycled; investment in infrastructure to carry out the recycling; and further product development to enable re-use of the recycled material.

There are other factors still to consider however. Company strategy and culture needs to support sustainability, and a mechanism for driving further improvements in environmental performance. Altro has chosen to underpin sustainability by achieving and maintaining the ISO 14001:2004 environmental management standard. Certification and ongoing assessment for this is delivered by an external body – BSI. Internally, our teams use this as a platform for ensuring continuity of day-to-day working methods. It also provides a framework for everyone in the company to suggest and carry through initiatives for greener working.

This really does impact on every area of the business. Recent examples include all our new buildings scoring 9/10 under the BREEAM method of assessment, the move to 100% recyclable packaging and new travel policies. Between 2007 and 2011 we also reduced our general waste (paper, cardboard, etc) to landfill by 70%.
This creates a company environment in which sustainability is a moving target. We achieve one level of performance, but then fix our eyes on the next prize. That’s exactly as it should be.

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