A PRODUCT’s sustainability and environmental credentials are of increasing importance to designers when selecting floor finishes for their projects. This is driven not only by their own policies but those of their clients, changing public attitudes, activities of campaigners and lobby groups and changing government policies.
This trend can present challenges for manufacturers who rely heavily upon crude oil-derived materials such as plastics, or those that contain high levels of embodied energy, glues resins and the like. Floor finish manufacturers need to have convincing answers to questions like; how long will this product last? what is its carbon footprint? and when it reaches the end of its life can it be recycled, re purposed or disposed of cleanly and at low, or no cost to the environment?
Architects in the UK are responding to the climate crisis in a number of ways. One is through their ‘Architects Declare’ campaign, which aims to. raise awareness of climate and biodiversity issues and requests urgent action by the construction industry and government bodies. As well as recognising the need for the environmental impact of all projects to be evaluated, the movement seeks to persuade governments and industry bodies to address the climate change crisis by adopting environmentally sound construction and design policies.
The RIBA itself has set targets for its own members through the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge, which is intended to make net zero carbon a top priority in the building design process. Design practices will, by the 2030 deadline, need to meet specific targets relating to embodied and operational carbon, energy and water use, indoor comfort and air quality, and biodiversity. It is worth noting that the RIBA does not allow carbon offsetting, therefore manufacturers of building materials will not be able to offset their poor carbon credentials by relying on tree planting schemes or similar activities. It may be argued that in the short-term offsetting may be acceptable for industries for which there is no easy alternative, such as air travel, but in construction it is nearly always possible to find a range of alternative materials for any given application; and the world of floor finishes is no exception.
Let’s talk about how a product’s environmental performance can be assessed, and how solid hardwood floors from Junckers Ltd. can be one of the most sustainable choices.
Solid hardwood flooring has been used for centuries and in its pure form (ie not processed into composite or engineered products) it has probably the best environmental credentials among the floor finishes available today and is one of the most versatile and aesthetically pleasing materials.
Environmentalism before the term was invented
Junckers began trading in Denmark in the 1930’s when the company’s founder decided to make use of smaller sections of timber from the Danish forests that would otherwise be wasted or used for fuel. Flemming Juncker’s ideas were broadly parallel to modern forest management and replanting practices.
Thanks to his forward-thinking approach the same forests are being used today as a sustainable source of hardwoods. In the ‘30s no one talked about environmentalism or sustainability but in Denmark that was precisely what was being practiced. Today the company has a number of independently assessed environmental accreditations for its products and manufacturing processes. This includes an on-site power station that generates all the electricity required to run the manufacturing plant, plus a surplus that is sold off to the local grid. Power is generated from wood waste that comes from floor production, making Junckers a ‘Carbon Positive’ company.
When timber production is responsibly managed, solid hardwood floors have very good credentials in terms of sourcing of raw materials, energy used for manufacture, carbon footprint, low use of crude oil-based materials, extended life span and ease of recycling. In Europe and the USA, the forestry industry already has mature and well-established accreditation schemes. However, for many man-made, oil-derived synthetic and composite products there is an increasing focus upon their whole life environmental impact.
Public attitudes are changing and there are still areas of concern that collectively we have yet to address. This can often be experienced in schools where environmental issues are being introduced into many parts of the curriculum. However, within the same schools, head teachers and premises managers do not appear to see the contradiction in choosing vinyl (which contains PVC) other synthetic or engineered wood floor finishes for their school.
This is surprising when you consider that better alternatives are already available and usually very easy to substitute- and with better whole life cycle costs too. The lifespan of a solid hardwood floor, at around 60 years will be around four times longer than that of a vinyl or engineered wood floor, usually making its life cycle cost unbeatable.
Solid Hardwood Floors; How to Assess Environmental Credentials
Energy and Resource-Efficient
Solid wood floors are made from larger sections of wood than engineered or multi layered boards.
It is better to use large sections of solid wood as opposed to slicing the logs into thin layers or chipping them into smaller pieces in order to bind them with resins and glue to make engineered floorboards. Solid hardwood floor manufacture results in less waste, lower energy consumption, minimal use of adhesives, long life span and ease of recycling because the wood is not contaminated.
Long Life Span –
A 20mm to 22mm thick solid hardwood floor may usually be sanded between eight and ten times during its life. Life spans in excess of 60 years are easily achievable, which means lower demands upon natural resources and an exceptionally long service life, which also benefits the end user economically. By comparison an ‘engineered’ multi layered wood floor can usually be sanded only twice due to there being relatively little hardwood on the top layer.
There is no viable refurbishment method for vinyl and other synthetic floors and in common with engineered wood floors they have a typical life span of 10 to 15 years. Compared with a solid hardwood floor and engineered or synthetic floor will probably be at the end of its life at around the time a solid hardwood floor will be sanded for the first time…and there could be eight or nine sandings beyond that for a 22mm thick floorboard.
Strength through its life
All sports and activity floors must be able to resist long term high load and impact. Junckers solid floors retain their strength exceptionally well. Independent testing shows that a Junckers solid wood sports floor, after two sandings has more strength than a similar engineered wood floor that has never been sanded. This is largely because engineered boards are made from multiple pieces of wood, glued together.
Long term loads, such as retractable and tiered seating, especially in a sports environment, may cause the internal glue joints to break and the board to fail. Solid hardwood floors are homogeneous and therefore do not have these potential failure points. The central dovetail in a Junckers board can be sanded without loss of strength.
Recycling- Reclaim- Re-purpose
Solid hardwood floors can be reclaimed and re used if they have useful life remaining. Floating or nailed floors are eminently re-useable and when sanded and sealed can look like a brand-new floor.
End-of-life solid wood floors are easily recycled and are usually uncontaminated. The designer’s choice of product and installation method (the latter often overlooked) can have a decisive influence upon the ease of recycling at the end of the floor’s life. For example, any floor that has been glued down will probably be difficult to recycle because when the floor is stripped up there will be adhesive and levelling compound stuck to the underside, which is usually impossible to remove.
Some floor coverings are routinely glued down but with solid hardwood floors there will often be a ‘clean’ solution by laying the floor as a floating system for example the Junckers Clip system. For timber subfloors the hardwood floor can be nail-fixed, which is also a contamination- free option.
Some designers are adopting a ‘Building for Disassembly’ approach, where the building is designed using components that can easily be dismantled and re used after the life of the building has expired. Fixings are chosen specially to allow for easy dismantling, so bolts and clips are preferred to bonding and welding, so as a to maximise the amount of useable material for re building.
It is likely that manufacturers will come under pressure to provide materials and components that can easily be re purposed because this philosophy meets environmental aims in so many positive ways.
Certification and Accreditation Schemes; What do They Mean?
There is a choice of independently audited accreditation schemes available to help specifiers and end users understand the environmental impact of products they choose. Manufacturers who have had their products assessed are able to demonstrate to clients their commitment to operating sustainably and responsibly. It is worth mentioning though that not all accreditation schemes are the same.
With growing pressure on manufacturers to offer environmentally sound products, some companies are struggling to comply and at least one firm in the UK flooring industry has effectively started their own approval scheme for their own products- yes this is as unethical as it sounds! – so make sure that if you are offered certification or evidence of product approval make sure it is truly independent and issued by an accredited body.
Accreditation schemes will usually focus on one particular aspect of ‘the environment’, for example-
Human Health, indoor air quality-
Manufacturing and Company Management Policies
BREEAM (Building Research Environmental Assessment Method)
BREEAM considers, among other things the product’s life cycle, its effect upon climate change, water and air pollution, toxicity, use of fossil fuel and dependence upon mineral resources.
A responsibly sourced and manufactured solid hardwood product such as a Junckers solid hardwood floor will correspond to the BRE Global Green Guide specification for hard floor finishes, with a summary rating of A+.
Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)
Environmental Product Declarations measure the embodied carbon levels for the life cycle of the product from manufacture to disposal. They are internationally recognised, and the system is overseen by the Institut Bauen und Umwelt in Germany. Every construction material that is certified has to be independently assessed before the EPD can be issued. For every type of building material there is a set of Product Category Rules, which set out how the lifecycle of that particular product must be assessed in order to gain accreditation. EPDs are a simple way for designers to select the best products in a way that takes account of their specific purpose in the building. Junckers has EPDs for its solid hardwood floor products.
The Danish Indoor Climate Labelling Scheme (DICL)
This scheme has recently been recognised by BREEAM and so will provide credits for BREEAM assessments.
The scheme looks at indoor air quality and the hidden risks of chemical emissions including carcinogens from building materials, including floor finishes. Choosing certified products will reassure clients that safe materials are being used.
The scheme was devised by the Danish Minister for Housing in 1993 and since its inception it has been operated by the Danish Technological Institute. It is used for interior finishes, including floors, as well as furniture, fittings and other building materials.
What makes the Indoor Climate Labelling Scheme different from a simple list of chemicals or standard EU product labelling is that the test procedure measures the emissions over a period of 30 days. The test sets maximum allowable limits for each chemical and measures how much the levels reduce over time. In order to comply the emissions from the sample must never exceed the maximum allowable limit during the 30 days and must have fallen below defined limits at the end.
For some materials the tests also look at release of fibres and dust particles and their effects upon people’s health.
The scheme has a high level of integrity because it is administered by a non-profit making organisation.
Another similar scheme for assessing indoor air quality and VOC emissions is the CDPH Certification scheme (Californian Department of Public Health). Whilst it originates from the USA it is also widely used in the UK and is also recognised for BREEAM assessments.
Junckers has certification for its flooring products under both DICL and CDPH schemes.
Other schemes such as LEED in the USA look at emissions in a similar way, and UK specifiers with clients from overseas may sometimes be asked to specify floor finishes that meet this or other similar standards.
It is important not only to consider the materials that the floor is made from, but also to ask if the company’s manufacturing methods are sustainable and ethical.
Some companies periodically issue a CSR report (Corporate Social Responsibility). In some countries CSR reporting is mandatory (e.g. Denmark) but in the UK is not.
Junckers issues its annual CSR and as part of this has signed up to the UN Global compact to support the principles of Human Rights, Labour Standards, Environment and Anti-Corruption.
Accreditations are available to manufacturers who can demonstrate good practice in respect of their manufacturing processes.
These Environmental Management accreditations make a public statement about the way the company conducts its business, including ethical policies, labour welfare, anti-slavery policies, recruitment, and the like. These policies and processes are sometimes externally audited and include the following schemes.
ISO 14001 Environmental Management System
Junckers ISO 14001 accreditation also includes OHSAS 18001 approval, which relates to the company’s working environment, along with energy and electrical safety.
Junckers complies with ISO 14001 which includes limiting local pollution, including air, wood dust, wastewater and noise, and has invested heavily in plant to limit discharges into air and water. The company’s performance is measured regularly as a condition of its accreditation.
Environmental Impact of the Manufacturing Process
Locally Sourced Materials
Junckers hardwood suppliers are predominantly European with some oak from the USA. Raw logs are sourced closest to the factory whilst sawn planks are transported from America. This means that the wood that travels the farthest contains the least waste material, so the best energy efficiency and lowest carbon emissions are achieved.
Energy Consumption- Carbon Neutral, Natural Material
Timber is a natural carbon-neutral material, storing carbon during its life then releasing it at the end. Junckers does not intensively reprocess the wood by multi-layering or using large amounts of energy, glue, and resins.
Waste floorboards are used to make pallets for bulk transportation of the finished product and steel strapping is used to hold pallets together. Individual packs of flooring are wrapped in cardboard covered with an outer film of polythene. A minimum amount of packaging material is used and what does get used is fully recyclable.
Timber sourcing: FSC and PEFC
All Junckers timber comes from sustainably managed sources and has internationally recognised FSC and PEFC accreditations. These allow the wood to be traced from the forest to the final delivery point of the finished floor. These environmental accreditations are externally audited and rigidly enforced.
An aspect of ‘the environment’ that is perhaps a little harder to quantify is how the chosen floor finish will make you feel, or what it says about the building that it is in. The designer will usually aim to create the right mood by using all aspects of the design; space, light etc and the floor finish will often play a key part in this.
One of the reasons why solid hardwood has such enduring appeal is because of its aesthetic appeal and adaptability. Also, humans have an inbuilt empathy with natural materials such as wood. When used in the design it can make the building’s internal environment a richer experience and give users a sense of belonging that they may not experience so much if man made materials are used exclusively.