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Green drive

Simon Darbyshire, general manager of Välinge Innovation UK, believes the industry, and the hardened wood flooring sector specifically, must play its part in the crucial drive towards
sustainability and improved environmental performance.

SUSTAINABILITY is constantly rising up the policy agenda, and the concept of a sustainable economy now underpins government’s strategy for a recovery of the construction sector post-Covid.

When it comes to improving the sustainability of flooring products, there’s still much to do.

According to the Zero Avoidable waste report published by the Contract Flooring Association in 2021, there is a ‘limited market for reuse’ of laminate flooring and the ‘primary disposal pathway for laminate flooring is as a biomass infeed’.

Furthermore ‘there are no established manufacturer or contractor funded take-back or recycling schemes for offcuts of timber flooring from the fitting process or at the end of life.’

In the flooring industry as a whole the scope for improving reuse and recycling therefore remains considerable. One of the best ways to ensure this is to manufacture and install them in such a way that they can remain within a circular model.

The international CISUFLO project, Circular Sustainable Floorings, for instance, 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.

An important thing to be aware of is how innovation and sustainability can come together. At Välinge the focus is on product innovation and has been since the company’s foundation in 1993. In fact the company has historically been an R&D and technology company. Välinge Innovation has pioneered a technological revolution for the flooring industry and spearheaded the transition from traditional glued tongue-and-groove to today’s modern click technology.

From launching the original mechanical locking system, Välinge Innovation has now been granted more than 3,500 patents for floor, furniture, and surface technologies, and has more than 260 licensees across the globe using their innovations. The company has only gone into manufacturing relatively recently, and now has a new state-of-the-art 14,000sq m production facility in Sweden.

It’s also in the process of building a further facility in Ogulin, Croatia which will extend the overall available production capacity to over 20m sq m.

Meanwhile, in June 2021, Pervanovo Invest AB, Välinge Innovation’s parent company acquired 98% of the shares in the Croatian listed company Spacva dd, based in Vinkovci, one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of Oak veneers. Pervanovo’s two Croatian veneer companies now have a combined production capacity of 25m sq m of FSC certified Oak veneer.

What Välinge has come up with is a greener, smarter, and more efficient way to make a real wood hardened floor.

Välinge’s Woodura technology fuses a thin sheet of real wood with an HDF wood fibre core through a powder mix layer. The powder mix perfectly fills up the natural openings of the wood and enhances the wood appearance. It also eliminates the need for wood-filler and creates a significantly stronger surface with a hardness three times greater than a traditional solid wood floor.

The hardened wood floors use timber much more efficiently. In fact only a tenth of the material normally used in hardwood flooring is required for the timber used in Woodura. What’s more, hardened wood flooring with Woodura technology is made with oak, ash, and walnut that come from sustainable sources of timber with FSC certification. Välinge’s forestry is located relatively close in Sweden and Croatia, to avoid extended supply chains.

5G Dry is a further development, comprising a fold-down installation system that provides enhanced water-resistance by preventing water from penetrating into the joints of the floor panels. With greater protection to withstand spills, this innovation makes floors both incredibly easy to install and to live with. In wood-based floorings, 5G Dry contributes to significantly lower edge swelling, thereby ensuring that the floor both looks and feels better even when subjected to wet mopping, accidents and other events resulting from everyday use.

Both these systems are available in XL and XXL dimensions (up to 11in width and 8ft lengths) and the 5G locking system allows for two-times faster installation and provides the strongest locking system available. Importantly from a sustainability perspective, it does not require adhesive, making separation and recycling much more straightforward, when the time comes.

So it can be seen that, by focusing on innovation, it’s possible to develop products in the hardened wood flooring sector, which meet all the aesthetic requirements of a timber floor, as well as being much more durable and also meeting sustainability goals on a number of levels.

For example the company’s 5G herringbone flooring pattern, which was launched across Europe in 2021, has been a massive success, showing that the combination of an attractive aesthetic with all the other benefits of the 5G system is a winning formula – popular with the market, while also having great sustainability credentials.

I firmly believe, first, that we in the flooring sector, and in the hardened wood flooring sector specifically, have to play our part in the crucial drive towards sustainability and improved environmental performance.

Second, I’m sure, considering Välinge’s history and expertise that innovation is the way forward to achieve those important climate change goals in the flooring sector. We need to develop products which minimise the use of raw materials, and where those have to be used, we should do so sustainably and responsibly. We need products which are easily separable and which, where possible, don’t require the use of adhesives.

It seems clear Välinge innovation is leading the sector on this issue.
Simon has 30 years of international management experience in the wood-based panels sector

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