News Brief

Vinyl Group Touts Environmental Data

Not linoleum, not cork: the first industry-wide environmental product declarations for flooring cover vinyl and rubber.

Environmental Impacts for 1 Square Meter of Vinyl Tile

EPDs are designed to provide a consistent format for comparing environmental attributes. RFCI’s EPD for vinyl tile quantifies impacts such as acidification and global warming potential.


Environmental Impacts for 1 Square Meter of Vinyl Composition Tile

This table shows that VCT has lower global warming potential (GWP) per meter than vinyl tile. GWP is not necessarily the most critical measure of sustainability for flooring products, however; human and environmental toxicity caused by resource extraction, installation, use, maintenance, and disposal may be more important metrics and often are not included in EPDs.

The Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) recently released the first set of industry-wide environmental product declarations (EPDs) for flooring. These documents describe a product’s life-cycle-based environmental impacts from cradle to grave and are meant to offer a consistent format to compare environmental attributes.

RFCI released five EPDs in all—for vinyl tile, vinyl composition tile (VCT), homogeneous vinyl, heterogeneous vinyl, and rubber tile—all of which were certified by EPD program operator UL. Twelve manufacturers provided data for the EPDs, setting the stage for these companies’ vinyl and rubber flooring products to contribute to a new LEED v4 credit focused on product transparency.

Although quantifying the health impacts of products is not required (see “The Product Transparency Movement: Peeking Behind the Corporate Veil”), the EPDs include some health-related information. For example, the products included in the heterogeneous vinyl EPD are all certified as low-emitting through the FloorScore program.

This same EPD, however, does not cover potential health effects from phthalate plasticizers (semi-volatile organic compounds, many of which are reproductive toxicants and suspected obesogens), nor does it address other known health issues with vinyl flooring, such as vinyl chloride emitted during the manufacture of PVC and dioxins released to the environment when it burns or degrades. VOC emissions released during the stripping and waxing of VCT are also excluded from the listed “use inputs” in that EPD, though it mentions that low-VOC cleaning products are available.

Although the Vinyl Institute has expressed concern that LEED v4 would effectively ban PVC-containing products, the newly released EPDs demonstrate there is still room in the new rating system for these materials, which are valued by project teams for their low first cost and durability.

Published September 30, 2013

Pearson, C. (2013, September 30). Vinyl Group Touts Environmental Data. Retrieved from

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September 27, 2013 - 1:37 pm

Bill, thanks for your comment and I'm glad you appreciated the article. We were certainly glad to see RFCI take this step.

Regarding lead and other toxic ingredients, I want to make it clear that you are responding to an earlier comment on the article, and not an assertion we made in our article.

Perhaps, though, further moved into the transparency realm, such as Health Product Declarations and/or Declare participation by RFCI member companies would help put myths like this to rest?

September 27, 2013 - 12:31 pm

First, we would like to thank Building Green for congratulating the resilient flooring industry on spending almost two years and a large financial investment to provide transparency in resilient flooring materials, a subject which EBN has promoted for several years. As correctly pointed out in the January 2012 EBN article entitled "The Product Transparency Movement' EPDs are data-driven and focus solely on environmental impacts. The resilient flooring EPDs follow the PCR for flooring materials published by NSF in 2012.

It is also important to set the record straight about the persistent misconception that "lead" is a common material used in resilient flooring. It has been a very long time since these RFCI member companies included lead in their flooring products - and THERE IS NO LEAD OR OTHER HEAVY METALS included in the products participating in the resilient flooring EPDs.

September 23, 2013 - 4:47 pm

Thanks for clearly spelling out what the EPDs do and do not cover. They are a long way from being able to address health - which is why LEED V4 has a separate credit based on the HPD and GreenScreen and C2C.

Furthermore, it is critical to understand that these industry-wide EPDs only identify average performance - e.g., average energy use and global warming emissions per square foot of flooring - for the product sector (at least as represented by the participating manufacturers). This does NOT indicate a good or bad product. Don't let a manufacturer rep get away with claiming so.

The USGBC is rewarding products from participating manufacturers by allowing them to contribute to the EPD credit in LEED V4 not because they say anything about whether the individual product (or the category) is good or bad (despite the language in some of the UL EPDs). Rather they are rewarded because these industry average EPDs are needed as a baseline to compare individual EPDs against in order to determine which products are improving on that industry average.

Only when those individual EPDs begin to emerge will we see any information to actually evaluate. and beware if the industry - like the children of Lake Woebogon - all turn out to be above average...

September 23, 2013 - 1:04 pm

if they do not address the emissions of a known human carcinogen - Vinyl chloride ; then that is unacceptable. This product should not be considered for use until all global mfg sites can provide monitoring data that emissions at the plant fence are less than EPA regulated limits. Also the use of lead in the products should be banned.