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just ts

the fa c
e t h e most
choo s d what
o w t o t s a n
i n a b l e produc cturers
susta t h e m anufa
to ask

The marketing world has woken up to sustainability and

the result is a blizzard of claims for products from cars
to carpets: ‘carbon neutral’, ‘recyclable’, ‘natural’,
‘fair-trade’, ‘organic’, ‘environment friendly’, etc.

But sustainability is too complex to be explained by

a single product benefit or green label.

This guide explains how to assess the sustainability of

different products and the companies that make them.

just the facts...



04 Introduction 16 Doing the numbers: how to obtain

LCA information from suppliers
05 Understand the product life-cycle
17 EPDs: Example of How It Works
06 Understanding product in the Carpet Industry
environmental performance
18 Can’t I just look for a green label?
07 Categories of environmental
impact used in LCA 20 who’s behind the label?

08 Typical LCA Impact Profiles 21 Who certifies the label?

09 LCA of a carpet tile 22 What is the scope of the label?

10 practical learning from lca 23 International standards for

environmental labels and declarations
11 why embodied energy is important
24 Our opinion on labels:
12 which one do you choose? we prefer the geeks to the geezers

13 beware of green claims 25 Nice product, shame about the company

14 Greenwash glossary 26 References and Further reading

27 contact


As the world’s environmental and social Carpet may seem an unlikely test-bed for
problems become more apparent, there is great sustainability, but in fact the commercial carpet
pressure on companies to demonstrate that they tile marketplace has become more aware of
are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
sustainability issues than most others. The
whole building industry has finally woken up to
More and more clients want to purchase the environmental impacts and how to reduce them,
most sustainable products they can. But working and many architects and designers routinely
out which is the best can be a challenge, try to select the most sustainable products
especially when manufacturers make many and materials.
conflicting claims and display a range of
different green labels. We hope this guide helps you make the
right choice.
To really know which product is most
sustainable, you need to compare the
environmental impact of different products
over their full life-cycle.
Cut the fluff and send me an EPD*.
Ramon Arratia
Sustainability Director EMEAI,

* EPD = Environmental Product Declaration (see page 16)


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Understanding product
environmental performance

A typical manufactured product contains a Environmental impacts occur at each

number of components. Each component may stage of a product life-cycle
Companies are waking up to the full contain several materials. The accepted method for life-cycle assessment
range of impacts in the life-cycle of their (LCA) is defined by the International Standards
products. They may start with carbon but Most products are manufactured by a chain of Organisation (ISO14040 and ISO14044).
we are seeing greater awareness of water suppliers, processing the material or assembling
footprinting and other impacts as well. components prior to their final delivery to the An LCA calculates the environmental footprint
Simon Aumonier customer. If you imagine the roots of a tree at each stage of manufacture, use and disposal.
Partner, Product Stewardship, ERM feeding towards the trunk, you have a visual It assesses all the significant environmental
impression of a typical manufacturing impacts associated with the product, including
supply chain. the impact on water, air, land and
climate change.
Environmental impacts occur at each stage of
the supply chain from the extraction or growing
of the raw material, throughout its processing
Twenty years ago we developed the first and manufacture; transporting components
models for life-cycle assessment (LCA). between processing stages, and the finished
The methodology, data and tools are now product to the consumer or final user, also has
so operational that an LCA can be created environmental impacts.
quite easily for almost any product in the
market. Once you know the substances, Many products have impacts in use and almost
chemicals and raw materials of a product, all do during disposal. To understand which
you can map its full environmental impacts. product has the lowest environmental impact,
you have to assess the impacts at each stage,
Henrik Wenzel
Professor, Environmental Engineering from beginning to end of the life-cycle.
Developer of EDIP methodology
implemented in leading LCA Basing a judgement solely on one part of the
software worldwide life-cycle can be misleading.

Categories of environmental
impact used in LCA

Icon Name Description Units of measurement

Embodied energy – not renewable Energy from fossil fuels MJ

Embodied energy – renewable Energy from renewable sources MJ

Greenhouse potential Emissions that contribute to climate change kg CO2 equivalent

Acidification potential Emissions that damage vegetation, buildings, kg SO2 equivalent

aquatic life, and human health

Ozone depletion potential Emissions that cause thinning of the earth’s kg R11 equivalent
stratospheric ozone layer adversely affecting human
health, natural resources and the environment

Eutrophication potential Emissions that increase the nutrients in water kg phosphate equivalent
or soil affecting the natural biological balance

Photochemical ozone creation potential Emissions of chemicals that cause smog, adversely kg ethene potential
affecting human health, ecosystems and crops

Human toxicity potential Emissions of materials toxic to humans, kg DCB equivalent

animals or plants

Typical LCA Impact Profiles

Different products have different impact profiles. Typical LCA of a simple physical product
For example, for physical products such as a that does not consume energy in use
pencil or a carpet tile, the main impacts occur in
the supply chain from extraction and processing
of raw materials. For machines that consume
energy, however, such as a car or a washing
machine, the major impacts usually occur when
the product is in use.

The LCA of a washing machine shows that

our main concern when purchasing a washing
machine should be the energy and water
efficiency achieved by the machine in use.
Raw materials manufacturing transportation Customer use end of life
Features such as cold wash and load sensing
are designed to improve efficiency and benefit
the environment.
Typical LCA of a machine product
that consumes energy in use

LCA provides the best framework currently

available for assessing the potential
environmental impacts of products.
European Commission
Communication on Integrated Product
Policy – COM (2003)302

Raw materials manufacturing transportation Customer use end of life


LCA of a carpet tile

InterfaceFLOR conducts LCAs on our whole Example – LCA of a carpet tile

range of carpet tile products. We use LCAs to
identify the parts of our process and supply
chain that cause the biggest environmental 45% Yarn
impacts. We then research and innovate to find
alternative materials and processes to reduce Yarn has 4 times
these impacts. more impact than
the backing
The graph shows the LCA results for our
standard carpet tile made with 700g of virgin
11% Backing compound
nylon yarn. This illustrates that most of the
impact across the whole product life-cycle
is connected to the production of the raw 6% Glass fleece
materials we use to make carpet. and tufting carrier

Of all the raw materials we use, it is the nylon

4% Precoat bonding layer

9% 8% 8% 7%
yarn that has the greatest impact.
1% Raw material transport
Raw materials manufacturing transportation customer use end of life
Conducting LCAs showed us that the critical
question for carpet manufacturers is how to The calculations are based on a 700g carpet tile made with PA6.6 and InterfaceFLOR’s
reduce the environmental impact of the yarn. Graphlex® backing with the following assumptions: landfilling at end-of-life, no green
energy use in the life-cycle, and a product lifetime (use) of 10 years.

The reason yarn has such a high impact is

because the production of nylon requires
energy‑intensive chemical reactions to transform
raw materials derived from oil into yarn.

practical learning from lca:

example of a carpet tile

There are three ways to decrease the impact The 3 main ways to reduce Examples of possible sustainable design actions
of a carpet tile: the impact of a carpet tile are:

1 Use less yarn per square metre

2 Use recycled yarn which is less
1 A carpet tile with 50% less yarn
energy‑intensive than virgin yarn the amount of yarn
3 Find low-impact natural alternatives
to nylon yarn with similar quality and
durability performance. 2 A carpet tile with 100% recycled content
yarn recycled content
If you are concerned about choosing the most
sustainable carpet tile, the most important
thing to ask about is the type of yarn used, 3 A carpet tile with a low carbon yarn, e.g. bio-based
the weight of yarn per square metre and the Create
percentage of recycled content (if any). a smarter yarn

Why embodied energy

is important

Architects and engineers are increasingly

accustomed to designing energy-efficient
buildings. But rarely is consideration given Each European has a footprint equivalent The key aim of Life Cycle Thinking is to
to the energy used to manufacture the raw to 125 kWh of primary energy per day. avoid ‘burden shifting’. This means minimising
materials that go into the building. But these official figures don’t include the impacts at one stage of the life cycle, or
embedded energy from the imported stuff, in a geographic region, or in a particular
According to The Concrete Centre it takes i.e. the products we consume in Europe but impact category, while helping to avoid
between six and eleven years for the operational are made elsewhere. This is at least another increases elsewhere. For example, saving
CO2 savings achieved by using concrete in a 40 kWh per person per day. energy during the use phase of a product,
building to exceed the CO2 emissions from David J MacKay,
while not increasing the amount of material
producing concrete and aggregate materials. Author of Sustainable Energy – without the hot air needed to provide it.
European Joint Research Centre
That’s why it matters what you put into your Life Cycle Thinking and Assessment
building, not just how energy-efficient it is in
use. Understanding the LCA for these materials
will help you choose those with the lowest
embedded energy.

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Beware of green claims

Conventional marketing is about strong, simple Some typical green claims seen
claims like ‘cheapest’, ‘fastest’ and ‘biggest’. in the building sector
That’s why it is very tempting for marketers to
come up with single benefit claims about a  100% natural

product and the environment.
 Free from X, Y or Z

So which one would you choose?  100% recyclable

Imagine you want to buy a T-shirt based on the  100% recycled

best environmental performance. Three ‘green’
brands all make different claims:  Carbon neutral

 Sustainably produced

1 100% organic cotton
 Produced locally

2 100% natural dyes
3 Carbon neutral  Non-toxic

The only way to know which T-shirt is the best See the greenwash glossary on the next page
is to look at the LCA results where all these for examples of claims that may not be all that
factors can be measured up and compared. they seem.
The best T-shirt may well be one that doesn’t
make any ‘100%’ claims, but is carefully
sourced, manufactured and shipped to
minimise its environmental footprint at all
stages of its life.

Greenwash glossary

Public concern about the environment Here are some common claims to watch
is leading to a wave of green claims in out for:
marketing. Some are clear and accurate,
but others are designed to give a good Climate change impact claims
impression of the product without explaining Carbon offset
the environmental benefit adequately. In the The controversial concept of paying others to
UK, for example, the Advertising Standards reduce their carbon emissions to balance your
Authority has reported a rise in complaints emissions. Usually arranged by intermediaries
about ‘greenwash’ and published guidelines and involving projects ranging from changing
for making green claims. light bulbs to replacing fossil fuels with
renewable power. Find out which project you’ll
be supporting and beware of double counting.

Advertisers have every right to promote Carbon neutral

their green credentials and many have Offsetting precisely as much carbon as you emit.
been quick to reassure consumers about The scope of operations covered by the claim is
the efforts they are making to be greener. a critical factor – is the whole life-cycle of the
However the ASA needs to see robust product covered or just its manufacture?
evidence to back up any eco-friendly
claims. We will continue to ensure that Carbon negative
the public are not misled and that Offsetting more carbon than you emit. Sounds
advertisers are operating in a climate saintly but owes more to marketing than science.
of truth.
Low carbon
Christopher Graham Meaningless without numbers. How low is low?
Director General, UK Advertising
Standards Authority

Greenwash glossary

General environmental claims Recycling claims

Environmentally or eco-friendly / Kind to Produced locally / Made in [country X] Recyclable
the environment / In tune with nature, etc This is supposed to suggest support for the local One of the most misused terms. Many materials
General and vague statements that mean economy and low transport impact. It often just are technically able to be recycled but it is not
nothing specific are almost all misleading means ‘repackaged nearby’. always economically viable to do so. Will the
without explanation attached. You may see material actually be recycled? Other grey
flowers but you should smell a rat. Natural areas include:
Gives a nice warm feeling inside? Just because • ‘down-cycling’ where the second use is of
Free from X, Y or Z something’s natural doesn’t necessarily lower value – glass, for example, is usually
Only valid when the product concerned would be mean it’s more sustainable. It may seem ‘recycled’ into aggregate for roads, not
expected to contain material X, Y or Z and that counterintuitive, but some natural products new glass
material is environmentally harmful. In some actually have a higher environmental impact • energy from waste is sometimes described
cases ‘X’ is replaced by a different material than their synthetic counterparts. as ‘recycling’ but in fact means burning the
which causes other environmental problems, waste to recover some of the energy.
such as paper-free tissues made from cotton Award claims
(which has its own environmental impact). The desperate flag-waving of companies. Recycled content
Laugh or cry. Industrial manufacturing waste is routinely
Non-toxic swept up and recycled in many industries.
As for ‘free from’ above. Only meaningful if For example, printers often put paper trimmings
a toxic substance, such as lead, has been straight back into the pulping process. Much
eliminated from the product. more significant is the use of post-consumer
waste in products because this avoids disposal
to landfill.

Post-consumer recycled content

Should refer only to material previously used
by consumers and recovered after use.

Doing the numbers: how to obtain

LCA information from suppliers

Of course you cannot possibly conduct an LCA Objectivity and comparability are the main
on every purchase you are considering. But it purpose of the Environmental Product
As architects, we can design very is entirely reasonable to ask the manufacturer Declaration (EPD). An EPD includes an LCA
energy-efficient buildings. The problem to supply LCA information about their products, conducted by an independent third party to a
we face is being able to select the especially when planning a major purchase standardised methodology. An EPD also includes
most appropriate materials from a decision. If they are unable or unwilling to additional information about the product
whole life perspective. Getting clear do this, it suggests a lack of attention to including its ingredients.
and consistent LCAs for a range of environmental factors in their design process.
materials such as concrete structures, EPDs are the most reliable way of comparing
ceilings and floor finishes, furniture LCA should ideally be conducted by an products – ask manufacturers of products you
and fittings is now essential. independent third party because there is are interested in if they have an EPD.
Colin Campbell too much scope for manufacturers to favour
Director, Capita Architecture their own products. LCA involves a number
of assumptions, such as the useful life of
a product, that influence the results if not
approached objectively. To be comparable
LCAs need to be conducted by an independent
organisation using a common methodology.

EPDs: Example of how it works

in the carpet industry

Environmental Product Declarations are based
on clearly defined, Europe-wide, harmonised
Product Categorisation Rules, and will help to
provide reliable, transparent and independent
information on the environmental impacts of
building products. They give the input which
green building certification systems need and
support architects in their attempts to create
sustainable buildings. Our methodology allows
any carpet manufacturer to provide LCA LCA PCR EPD Environmental
information using the same assumptions, Life Cycle Assessment Product Category Rules Product Declaration
which avoids the issue of companies
amending LCAs to favour their own products.
Our EPD covers three lifecycle stages ‘cradle Standard
to factoty gate’, ‘factory gate’ to ‘end of use’
ISO 14025
and ‘end of use’ to ‘end of life’, taking already
ISO 14040 ISO 21930
into account any viable and sense-full
recycling operation. They provide a ‘closed
loop’ information along a carpets life cycle. It
is also third-party verified, in this case by IBU
(the Institute for the Built Environment)
providing maximum trustworthiness. Manufacturer + GUT IBU + GUT IBU
Dr. Edmund Vankann
Managing Director, GUT (Gemeinschaft
umweltfreundlicher Teppichboden)

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Can’t I just look for a green label?

You may well be asking ‘Why does it have to be But when you look carefully at how some labels
this complicated to choose the most sustainable are administered, you realise that you cannot
product? Can’t I just look for a product with a just rely on labels. It is great to see more suppliers working
green label?’ to report the environmental and social
Some are too easy to obtain or focus on a performance of their products, but the
It’s not surprising people look for shortcuts narrow range of issues. Others lack independent wide range of methods being used can
to help them decide. After all, few of us have certification or may even be administered by lead to some dangerously misleading or
the time to study every purchase we make. the manufacturers themselves. Many labels ambiguous claims. We need clarity and
That’s why there are so many labels duplicate each other, confusing clients and standardisation on metrics so that design
offering quick assurance about product obliging manufacturers to certify the same decisions and performance monitoring
sustainability credentials. product several times. Unfortunately, some of can be based on sound evidence and
the best marketed labels are the least robust. transparent benchmarking. And the supply
chain needs to respond with consistent and
To judge the value of a label it is important to reliable information, a multitude of different
In a world in which customers are increasingly understand who is behind it, how it is certified, approaches will only confuse specifiers and
looking for evidence of the sustainability what factors it covers and whether it conforms ultimately hinder sustainable design.
credentials of products, and increasingly to recognised international standards. Lorna Pelly
confused by the proliferation of claims and Principal Sustainability Advisor,
labels that they find, we need as much clarity You need to look behind the label. Forum for the Future
and simplicity as possible. We need the facts,
presented in a credible, independent and
standardised way, that takes into account
the full life-cycle impacts. And that’s what
we’ll get with EPDs.
Paul King
Chief Executive, UK Green Building Council

who’s behind the label?

Type Who is behind and main motive Key issues

Private A commercial entity seeking to earn money Faster to develop
Motivated by need to recruit paying participants
Might not allow open competition for certification

Semi-private Industry group with common interests Has vested interests favouring one industry
or material over another

Third party Independent entity responding to a public issue Focus on technical aspects
Might be bureaucratic

Who certifies the label?

Type Who is certifying Key issues Examples

First party The company self-declares Claims have not been independently Most marketing claims,
tested or verified product specifications

Second party Involves a trade association or consulting Offers little assurance against conflict Carbon neutrality claims
firm setting the standard or verifying claims of interest because the company pays verified by auditors,
the assuror private labels

Third party Independent third party conducts testing Certifiers can be ANSI (American Green Seal, Sustainable
or verification National Standards Institute) approved Carpet Assessment Standard
to demonstrate objectivity ANSI/NSF 140-2007

What is the scope

of the label?

Type What is the scope? Key issues Examples

Single attribute Recycled content, Volatile organic Narrow scope might miss other key issues GUT test on VOCs
compound (VOC) emissions, Carbon
neutral, Toxicity

Multi-attribute Complete or partial LCA The wider the scope, the more reliable it is EPDs

International standards for environmental labels

and declarations: ISO14020 series

Type LCA needed Third party required What the label means Suitability for B2B
Type I – No Yes Product complies with the conditions set Average
certified ecolabels by the label – usually single benefit

Type II – No No Improvement of one environmental aspect Average


Type III – EPDs Yes Yes Life-cycle information Good


Our opinion on labels:

we prefer the geeks to the geezers

InterfaceFLOR believes most of the labelling In our view, these are the principles of a fair and
schemes currently available fail to fully reliable label:
assess product sustainability. The schemes Unfortunately a product’s sustainability
generally aim to attract wide participation  Label should be owned by an
performance cannot be reduced to a label.
by manufacturers and therefore set the bar independent not-for-profit organisation To understand the implications of a
for qualification at a level that is too easy purchasing choice, you have to be willing
 Certifiers should be independent
to look a little deeper at the environmental
to achieve. The result is that instead of
distinguishing between products, most labels  The label criteria should be based
and social impacts throughout the product
tend to lump them together in one category. on full LCA life-cycle. I don’t see a future for
environmental labels in product marketing.
 Consultants advising on label applications

We are also concerned that privately owned should not be linked to certifiers Simon Propper
labels are frequently expensive and not Managing Director, Context
technically rigorous, especially if they are  Labels should be independently certified

‘paid for’. as ‘Type III’ under ISO14025

A label may be the starting point in your search

but it will rarely provide a reliable and thoroughly
researched answer to the question: ‘Which is
the most sustainable?’

Nice product, shame

about the company

10-point ‘fluff-test’ of company commitment to sustainability

We do a great deal of reputation

research for global companies across 1 Is sustainability critical to business strategy? See if the annual report includes
the world. What we have observed is sustainability risks and opportunities
that demonstrating a commitment to
responsibility that goes beyond the 2 Does the CEO discuss sustainability personally? Search the web for key speeches
gates of their factories counts when
it comes to building trust. Companies 3 Data history – at least five years?
working to make a positive difference
across their sector, country or the 4 L ook at the sustainability report. Are the carbon targets absolute or normalised,
world is an important indicator of e.g. divided by income or units sold?
differentiated leadership.
Chris Coulter 5  ow are carbon reductions being achieved? Efficiency and in-house renewable energy
Senior Vice President, are usually more sustainable than green electricity purchases and offset schemes
GlobeScan Incorporated
6 Are other environmental impacts reported and addressed, e.g. waste, waster, toxicity?

7  oes the company report and address social impacts, e.g. human rights, employment,
labour conditions in the supply chain?

8  oes the company offer services and advice to support customers’ sustainability aims?
For example, does it collect and recycle its products at the end of their life?

9 Is the company’s sustainability material objective? Do they discuss challenges and difficulties?

10  ow do NGOs and the media view the company? Search for articles and campaigns.
These may not be accurate or unbiased but enable you to evaluate the quality of the
company’s response

References and
Further reading


European Commission – Joint Research Centre. Life Cycle

Thinking and Assessment.

Sustainable Building Alliance – common metrics for key issues

Buildings Common Carbon Metric by UNEP SBCI

EPDs information about building materials



Reference for Embodied Carbon in concrete

Reference for International EPD®System

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rratia@in EMEAI