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Sustainability: Now we have to take it seriously

Hamish MacGregor says we’re at a turning point in the whole sustainability debate and how it impacts businesses in the contract flooring market.

MANY individual flooring businesses – hopefully my own included – have been doing what they can for several years to improve their environmental performance. Pressure on raw materials is pushing contractors to develop recycling programmes for vinyl, lino, carpet tiles, carpet, protection materials and cardboard.

Our most recent manufacturers’ committee for instance heard a very interesting presentation from Protec International, which makes temporary protection materials for the contract flooring market.

They’ve now developed a ‘closed loop’ system for these products which involves their collection from site and avoids the need for them to be incinerated or go into landfill.

Since almost all sites use protection products to protect newly installed flooring when the final trades go in, Protec’s investment in being able to recover and remanufacture their products is a big step forward.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) means such schemes are likely to become mandatory at some point in the future. So what is happening in Protec’s specific sector will have to be rolled out to other areas of the market as well – affecting manufacturers of all types of flooring products.

This is putting the circular economy into practice and takes the debate beyond simple recycling, with big implications for manufacturers.

Increasingly Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) will be required, which will signal a manufacturer’s commitment to measuring and reducing the environmental impact of its products and services and reporting these impacts in a very transparent way.

I’m very pleased the CFA is taking a lead for our industry on these issues. Our Zero Avoidable Waste Report, published this year, shows our willingness to invest in pushing the boundaries on sustainability. The Sustainability Summit, actively supported by the CFA, was certainly one of the highlights of the CFJ Live Online Flooring Expo.

During the session, the fact that very many more people are considering this subject than previously was welcomed. It was also stated that the current materials shortages and price inflation, which we are all grappling with, is in part a reflection of the deeper underlying issues of resource depletion and exhaustion. It was said that the present upheavals in the supply chain are now revealing some of the fundamental sustainability issues.

The main takeaway for me from this discussion however was that individual initiatives are all very well and are to be welcomed, but they need to be joined up. For this to happen the economics must be right. If improving the environmental performance of our industry relies entirely on goodwill, we will never make the big steps forward that are really necessary.

An environmental lens is good, but there must also be a business lens. Businesses have to make money, local authorities have to balance budgets. So a key thing is to fully integrate recycling into the business operations of a company. In many cases it can become a profit opportunity, rather than a cost.

From what I see from my own business and from manufacturers, there is in fact a desire on the part of the industry to do these things. People can see that the market expects it, customers expect it and increasingly legislators expect it.

The underlying ethos of the Zero Avoidable Waste Report is that we, as an industry, want to show to government that we are doing what’s right, we’re making progress, we’re fully onboard with all the various initiatives to Build Back Greener. We don’t need to be forced by legislation to get our house in order, because we are doing it anyway, because it makes economic sense for us to do so.

One of the latest initiatives which you will be hearing much more about is the CFA’s involvement in the international CISUFLO – circular sustainable floorings – project.
This aims to develop innovative circular products for the flooring industry, prompting, in the long run, the adoption of a circular economy model throughout the entire value chain and beyond. Once we start making all flooring products, which are designed from concept through to manufacture, to be reused, recycled, and remain with the circular economy – then we’re really achieving something.
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