Contract Flooring Journal (CFJ) the latest news for flooring contractors



Does the flooring industry see greenwashing as a problem? Or does the issue not even register? Tom Bourne investigates.

A SURVEY of the construction industry, conducted by The Anti-Greenwash Charter and Futurebuild, reveals almost 90% of respondents see greenwashing as a problem and even those who don’t see it as a problem see it as dishonest and unethical. But I do wonder if the flooring industry is sao concerned, or if greenwash even registers at all.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen phrases such as ‘low carbon’, ‘recyclable’ and ‘sustainable’ appear alongside a product that seems in no way low carbon, recyclable and certainly not at all sustainable.

Even just a flick through some prominent magazines in the construction industry sees ‘carbon negative’, ‘unique negative carbon footprint’, ‘greener’, ‘100% recyclable’ and ‘upcycled’ all used freely on various adverts with seemingly no concern about qualification.

And that’s before we’ve even tackled the industry’s retailer focused publications, which arguably fare little or no better.

When it comes to flogging flooring products, companies seem only too happy to use the environment as a tool. Sustainability is ‘so big’ right now, that throw in a catchy ‘low carbon’, ‘recyclable’, ‘sustainable’ or two and you’ve got instant green cred that makes your product more appealing, even if the basis for that claim is a little tenuous.

After all, no one is actually going to ask you why it’s low carbon or how they can recycle it, are they? Well, probably the truth is that in most cases that’s exactly right, many simply won’t ask. Also, the claims about environmental prowess aren’t the sole reason for purchase, there are factors such as reliability, value and availability that will play a more significant role in the final decision. Plus, ‘everyone’ else is doing it.

Now, I’m not saying these claims are completely fabricated and it indeed might well be a possibility, but we should be dealing in facts here, not possibilities. Recyclable products are a great example of this. If you say a product can be recycled, then what can it be recycled into? Can it be turned back into the same product? Or does it go into something such as street furniture? Does it just end up being burnt for energy? And if it needs to be returned somewhere special to be recycled, how does it get there?

All these questions should be asked of a product that’s claimed to be recyclable. If you end up with it going to street furniture (technically this is downcycling), energy recovery or landfill, then it’s not really recyclable, is it? Even if the product has the possibility to be recycled, the fact is the infrastructure or other parts of the process aren’t there to turn that claim into reality, here and now. Simply, it’s nothing more than a possibility of using the material.

Foam underlays are a prime example of this. Yes, it may have the possibility to be recyclable – pretty much every advert says it to be so – but if the company selling the underlay doesn’t provide a route for this and the country lacks the infrastructure for the end-user to recycle it properly, then it’s not recyclable and the claim is misleading. This is greenwashing in action.

In fairness, it’s not a new phenomenon but times are a-changing, and it’s no longer acceptable, particularly in an industry where being more sustainable is becoming big business. Most of the larger architecture and design practices have their own sustainability managers and specialist teams hunting out sustainable products.

Being sustainable can command a higher price tag and manufacturers are also now scrabbling over themselves to produce a sustainability report that sees them smelling of roses. Add in almost every flooring company’s aim of zero emissions by 20-something and we’re in somewhat of a green blizzard. Companies know they need to be in ‘the game’, so they enter it with aims rather than actions.

The attractiveness of being green is clearly something many of the big boys have got their heads around and we’re seeing more and more companies with sustainability or environmental reports – whether some of them are really worth the paper they’re written on is another matter – that set out their ambitions to be a more sustainable business.

Of course, the largest (£500m+ or 500+ employees) are subject to reporting requirements, including as of last year, the UK’s sustainability disclosure requirements, but these types of reports are certainly doing much to raise the awareness of sustainability’s importance for those companies not quite yet at that ‘big boy’ level.

Whether or not a willingness to put out a sustainability report or some kind of mission statement is a good thing is another article in itself – let CFJ know if you want to read that one – but undoubtedly it has cemented sustainability as a key topic for most company and product PowerPoints. And that leads us to the problem the industry faces.

Companies are compelled to tackle the subject, even if they have little real substance or thought behind just what being a ‘sustainable business’ truly means. It is this that seems to be driving greenwash in the industry. A want to appear to be doing good on paper without a willingness to take on the issues that are stopping that from happening. It feels a case of hot air and very little substance.

So, what must be done? If it were down to me, I’d like to see some kind of industry-wide accepted framework for environmental reports and claims that allow for contractors, specifiers and end-users to know that what manufacturers and suppliers say on sustainability and product environmental performance can be substantiated and is transparent. But that’s probably something of a pipedream, at least for now.

However, I certainly think flooring companies should, at the very least, take it on themselves to build trust in what they say. I for one have done exactly that. Our agency is now a certified signatory of the anti-greenwash charter, a growing band of companies that pledge honest, fair and substantiated sustainability communications. It’s a good way to stand apart from greenwash and let everyone know that you mean what you say. Plus, this trust really is invaluable when surrounded by the distrust and disbelief that greenwash incites.

I’d be more than happy to chat to anyone who is concerned about unintended greenwash in their communications and how going down the route of the charter can help build a really great framework that’s easy to adopt internally.

If collective action is difficult for the industry to instigate, then perhaps individuals acting collectively is a better way of doing things?
Tom Bourne is creative director at Select First

Please click to view more articles about

Stay Connected




Popular articles