LCA, Invista and greenwashing on the carpet side…

I love green.
In fact, I have to work hard to take off my rose-colored glasses and be objective when someone makes a green claim with what even appears to be sincere effort. 
This one, however, is worth digging into because I agree with the spirit and conviction, but remain on the fence because of the logic (yes, I’m being diplomatic). 

Let me build a case for you.
As a LEED AP, speaker, green blogger, and the leader of a team of sales professionals with a track record of achievement,  I’m hounded by manufacturer’s reps. Once they find out my penchant for all things green, they’ll rightly do their best to put a green spin on everything.
If they are open, I help them understand everything from “don’t say this product will ‘get you LEED points”, to “did you think about this?” 

The latest in the long line of “claims to investigate” is Invista/Stainmaster’s push to emphasize longevity or LCA – Life Cycle Analysis (how long the product will last) and recyclability,  over production energy or sustainable/renewable content among other factors. 

Visual device to communicate the concept of greenwashing
Note how the above diagram shows where the burden is to realize the green benefit of a product – the lighter the green, the lower the GBI (Green Benefit Index).

   Doesn’t the burden belong with invested professionals, trained to know true green?
This reminds me of a pair of reading glasses I’d noticed in CVS the other day.
There were leaves pictured around a recycling logo… and I got excited.
Until, that is, I noticed the “raison d’vert” was the fact that the packaging was recyclable.
   That, my friends, is enough to tick off anyone looking for green truth… and willing to pay a premium for it, as many of our clients are.
In my opinion, this is why anyone focusing on LCA and recyclability is missing the mark, although LCA and recyclable content have their place.
My contention is that the end-user may or may not be concerned or capable of extracting the benefit.
And that is unacceptable.
   This is a fashion industry and we are in a highly-transient market (I only want to speak from my perspective in the DC area) and many folks change floors based on trends and color preferences, or they get transferred and have to move.
I can’t tell you how many times one of our over 40 crews have torn out perfectly-sound flooring just to replace it with a different color or style. At times, I’ve taken that old carpet (sometimes not even one year old) and installed it in a rental property for myself or a friend. In other cases, I’ve taken it to drop zones where I skydive and it finds a new home in the parachute packing loft. 
   We routinely, much to my chagrin, tear up, cover over, or otherwise destroy flooring with plenty of life left to cycle through.
In a sense, we kick it off its life cycle, a fact I’m not proud of.
But I will not shame a client who just purchased a home into keeping the former owner’s 1-year-old chocolate-colored cut-pile carpet, made of high-twist, premium branded nylon that would last another 20 years if properly cared for.
   Let me put some meat on this “thought” bone. It’s a sad fact that the general population has a lot to learn about sustainability and can’t tell greenwashing from truly-sustainable practices. Given the end-user factor, it’s up to those at the top of the food chain (so to speak) to make the changes less dependant on the end-user. Here is why I so firmly believe this.

   As a LEED AP, I’ve been trained to look at the whole building and how occupants affect its energy use and longevity. If it’s left to the users, the efficiency of a project will be drastically reduced. This is why automation and education are key, and the operations professionals must be trained to maintain systems. The occupants really just need to show up and, taken a step further, have a basic knowledge of what’s been done (to be candid).

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ve got video of what an uneducated end-user can do to undermine product, process or project sustainability. Note, this video (albeit hastily prepared and not too professional) was seen by the Washington Post and led to an article to which I contributed:

Now, I’m not saying end-users/consumers are not intelligent. Far from it.
I am saying they may not control certain factors on the back end of a deal and the major burden should be on the manufacturers and suppliers who have a vested interest and professional knowledge.

 Given this, I’ve chosen to focus on products with balance since folks who are truly green are generally going to be better stewards of their floors any way. I also want to ensure the greenest process and whole-project picture (associated cleaning products as in Anderson’s enSurance package with product, adhesive and cleaners wrapped into one forward-thinking offering).

 While I agree LCA has its place, I believe that place is institutional and more property management-focused where a business model is engaged in managing choices and longevity. And, just because a product is recyclable, that places the “benefit burden” on the end-user who may or may not have a green mindset. Since I’m sure this will engender discussion, let’s start here with some comments…  


about Chris Moline, LEED AP

Chris is our Residential Group Manager & a US Green Building Council LEED Accredited Professional

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s