Few building products are as ubiquitous as carpets and rugs, which cover 70% of U.S. floors, according to the Carpet and Rug Institute, the industry’s trade association. That ubiquity has come with some notoriety, as carpet has been on the front lines of several environmental skirmishes.
Emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other potentially toxic components from carpets have been widely recognized as an indoor air quality problem. The estimated five
billion pounds (2 billion kg) of carpet that is discarded every year in the U.S. has been targeted by government agencies and environmental groups as an unacceptably big chunk of the solid waste stream. Furthermore, the high petrochemical content, and shorter lifespan and more intense cleaning needs of carpet, when compared with other flooring materials, such as wood, linoleum, and polished concrete, have made it a symbol of the consumptive excess of the built environment in the U.S.
However, carpet has come a long way as a building material over the last two decades, with awareness of these concerns forcing manufacturers to make changes, and growing environmental awareness leading most manufacturers to make sustainability part of their agenda. “I don’t think there is a commercial product segment that is greener than carpet,” said Penny Bonda, FASID, an interior designer and industry observer. “Carpet companies have been tripping over themselves to be the greenest ever since Ray Anderson declared he was climbing ‘Mount Sustainability’ in 1994.”
Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface, one of the largest carpet manufacturers, pledged that year to turn his company into a force for environmental sustainability, and his commitment has since transcended his industry, inspiring many other companies and individuals. At the same time, other major carpet manufacturers including C&A, Shaw, Milliken, and Mohawk have stepped up with their own environmental initiatives. Numerous other smaller companies have raised the bar with niche offerings that further expand the environmental carpet universe. This article surveys several of the key environmental areas in the carpet industry, offering perspective on both the commercial and the residential sides of the market, with a focus on the largest manufacturers.