Green Flooring: It’s Good For Your Office Environment

When you’re contracted to redo the flooring in a workplace, do the terms “volatile organic compounds” “cradle to cradle” or “renewable materials” come to mind? If not, perhaps they should. Increasingly, eco conscious business owners and workers are demanding that their office environments not only look good, but promote sustainable development and wellness. Green flooring materials alone cannot completely solve the challenge of preserving the earth’s natural resources, but utilizing green flooring can make a significant difference in the ecological impact of your office’s design. Green flooring is also healthier for workers, and can be both beautiful and economical.

The Air You Breathe
If you’ve ever been in a building where your eyes watered, your breathing was congested and your throat felt scratchy – but your symptoms cleared up as soon as you stepped outside – you may have experienced the effects of a phenomenon known as sick building syndrome. Sick building syndrome occurs when volatile organic compounds, also called VOCs, accumulate in an environment that lacks proper ventilation. Many of the materials found in office environments, including formaldehyde found in carpeting and other office flooring, are believed to contribute to sick building syndrome.
Green flooring does not completely eliminate VOCs. However, because the bulk of materials in high-quality green flooring are natural, green flooring emits much lower levels of VOCs than conventional flooring. This fact makes green flooring a healthier choice for any environment, including offices.
New Green Flooring Materials
Flooring constructed of new materials often requires a great deal of embodied energy. Embodied energy is a technical term that refers to the natural resources, transportation and labor involved in manufacturing specific items. Green flooring can require less embodied energy than conventional flooring because it is made from renewable materials.
For instance, bamboo and cork are both considered renewable sources for flooring because bamboo is a fast growing plant and cork can be harvested without cutting down the tree. However, both bamboo and cork are often transported long distances from their native growing habitats, which increases their embodied energy costs somewhat, although often less than embodied energy costs of traditional wood flooring.
Linoleum is a surprisingly eco friendly flooring material. Invented in 1863, linoleum is made up of sawdust, cork dust, ground limestone, pine resin, linseed oil and pigment,  all pressed onto a jute backing. Don’t confuse natural linoleum with vinyl, which is sometimes called linoleum, but is definitely not considered a green flooring material.
Recycled Green Flooring Materials
Recycled flooring represents another green alternative to conventional flooring. Recycled flooring often requires less embodied energy than flooring from new materials, because fewer raw materials are involved. This is especially true with flooring that is locally sourced, that is, manufactured close to where it is sold.  .
The term cradle to cradle originated with William McDonough and Dr. Michael Brungart, who mapped out the principles in their 1992 book titled Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. Recycled flooring is also compatible with the cradle-to-cradle principle of material reutilization, which can involve materials traditionally associated with flooring or entirely unrelated products. For instance, materials that can be used in recycled flooring include rubber tires, tile, old carpeting and wood recovered from building sites, demolition sites or even trees downed by storms.
Eco Friendly Design
Eco conscious office workers and business owners increasingly seek environmentally conscious design, including green flooring. Whether you opt to work with bamboo or cork, recycled carpet or linoleum, green flooring represents a smart design choice.
For Further Reading
Bamboo Flooring – Is It for You?
Building a Green Home From the Ground Up – Best Green Flooring Options
Cork Flooring FAQs
Cork, Linoleum and Bamboo Flooring
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
Cradle to Cradle: a Multi-Attribute Protocol
Four Green Features Customers Want
Measures of Sustainability: Embodied Energy
Sick Building Syndrome
What Can a Soccer Ball Teach Us About Embodied Energy?
Guest post contributed by Victoria for Empire flooring. Victoria is a freelance writer and interior designer with a penchant for recycling and upcycling. Victoria enjoys revealing the inner workings of the design industry.