Taking the sustainable approach

The MD of The Solid Wood Flooring Company talks to CFJ.

How would you describe your company’s approach to sustainability?

We’re very conscious of our environment and will only supply fully sustainable wood flooring. We are FSC and PEFC certified and follow the Timber Trade Federation’s responsible purchasing policy. This section reviews our ethical code of conduct and provides links to our certifications. Wood is the only renewable choice of building material for flooring. Plastics are derived from fossil fuels, concrete and other forms of flooring can damage our environment through the energy it takes for their production.

Wood is a renewable, natural resource that naturally grows in abundance. England was once covered by lush green forests. Even though we’ve cut most of it down, our forefathers had the sense to replant large forests. Despite this, we don’t get a lot of our flooring from our own resources in the UK. Most of our country’s oak flooring now comes from Europe, including the extensive forests of Russia, Siberia and North America.

These countries have a programme of replanting and maintaining sustainable forests. This is done in conjunction with the FSC or other stewardship councils, ensuring we plant more trees than we cut down.

The production of wood flooring uses less energy in its processing methods than any other construction material. For example, it takes five times more energy to produce 1t of cement, 24 times more energy for 1t of steel, and 126 times for 1t of aluminium.

Young trees also absorb more carbon dioxide than mature ones, so it makes sense to harvest older trees and plant two new ones for every one tree felled.

This is why The Solid Wood Flooring Company is a member of the TTF and has an FSC chain of custody certificate. Engineered wood flooring should now be the only choice for any floor. This is because for every 100sq m of solid wood flooring, you can get 400sq m of engineered flooring.

The main positive points for using an engineered floor are: engineered floors don’t move like solid wood floors; we can produce four times as much engineered flooring, compared to solid oak floors; engineered flooring can be used with underfloor heating, whereas solid wood can’t; the plywood base of an engineered floor is made up of layers of birch and sometimes with a mix of poplar. Both these fast-growing trees are in abundance and are easily replaced, helping reduce our carbon footprint even further.

Our engineered wood floors with a 5mm solid top layer can be sanded down the same number of times as a solid wood floor. This is owing to the distance from the top of the tongue.
Are there new technologies on the horizon that you think could further the cause of sustainability?

For flooring, timber is the ONLY sustainable choice which includes bamboo and cork. Straw could be used for floors as well as insulation when the technology is available to compress it using natural renewable adhesives to create a microcellular bond.

What are the biggest mistakes flooring contractors (and the construction industry) make with respect to sustainability?

Using fossil fuel products such as vinyl flooring and carpets tiles with manmade fibres. These cannot be recycled and use precious resources that are not replaceable.  

What is your company doing on a micro-level to be more sustainable?

We use recycled cardboard for packing and fully sustainable raw material for our flooring. Any waste is used in the biomass fuel burners for light and heat.

What is your message for those who regard sustainability targets as a ‘tick box’ exercise rather than a way of doing business?

They should be asked if they want to leave our planet to their grandchildren or destroy it for future generations.

What’s the best way for manufacturers and contractors to persuade clients to pay more in order to be sustainable is preferable to paying less but being non-sustainable?
Natural replaceable products such as wood flooring are like living with nature.

Wood for Good has compiled several facts about health and wellbeing in buildings for you.

  • Each year we spend 90% of our time in buildings or cars. Yet buildings still being designed today can create issues like seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression and lung disease
  • 90% of respondents to a recent survey said they wanted a home that doesn’t compromise their health and wellbeing and a third would pay more for a healthy home
  • 67% of social renters want a home that doesn’t compromise their health and wellbeing
  • 85% of respondents who are willing to pay more for an environmentally-friendly home would also be willing to pay more for a healthy home
  • In contrast, 47% of those willing to pay more for a healthy home would pay more for an environmentally-friendly home
  • Cognitive abilities increase by 61% when in a green building. This increases to 101% when additional ventilation rates are introduced.

A study conducted in 2010 in an Austrian school compared two ‘timber’ classrooms versus two ‘standard’ classrooms. The benefits for children studying in the timber classrooms were impressive, especially their heart rates, which were lowered by up to 8,600 heartbeats.

The children were noticeably more relaxed, and it had a positive effect on their performance too. There was also a decreased perception of stress. A Japanese study found exposure to wooden panels significantly decreases blood pressure, while exposure to steel panels makes it rise.

Another Japanese study carried out in a care-home found by providing wooden tables, chairs and tableware, the interaction between residents increased.

Workers in offices with wooden interiors conveyed feelings of innovation, energy and comfort. Workers in offices without wood conveyed feelings of their environment being impersonal and uncomfortable. Wood products in a room have also been shown to improve indoor air quality by moderating humidity

The reason wood has such a good effect on human health is because of how it lowers the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation. SNS is what causes stress responses, increases blood pressure, heart rate and inhibits functions like digesting, recovery and repair. When surrounded by nature and wood, these symptoms lower

Could government be doing more to further sustainability? What do you think government has got right on this issue?

The TTF is trying to promote the use of timber in the construction Industry. Government should give tax breaks where natural reoccurring products grown on our planet are used.
What effect do you think Brexit will have on sustainability in the UK, if any?

I think we’ll become more sustainable as we’ll not have to follow the rules set by EU commission which always has its own agenda. For example, we’ll have more influence over the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC) launched at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Malta, in 2015.

The QCC is a project designed to create a network of forest conservation initiatives throughout the 53 nations of the Commonwealth to mark the Queen’s service and dedication as head of the Commonwealth.
It’s key objectives are:

  • The QCC is committed to raising awareness within the Commonwealth of the value of indigenous forests and to saving them for future generations;
  • It’ll create a unique network of forest conservation projects that brings collective credibility and integrity to individual Commonwealth initiatives;
  • It’ll raise the profile of the Commonwealth, demonstrating the capacity of its 53-member countries to act together as one to ensure forest conservation.
  • It’ll use the Commonwealth network to facilitate a programme of knowledge exchange activities, to share best practice and to create new, collaborative initiatives that contribute to forest conservation across the globe.

    What are the biggest challenges to overcome with respect to a more sustainable world?

Cease reducing the rain forest and create replanting regimes in every part of the world. We hope 73 million trees are being planted to resurrect Brazil’s tropical forests, as is being reported; if that happens, then every country in the world should do the same. If we plant 100 trees for every human being on the planet then our environment will be replenished.