Ceramic Industry


August 1, 2011
The Tile Council of North America's Green Initiative Committee has developed a comprehensive plan for sustainable tile standards.

In 2007, the Tile Council of North America approved the formation of the Green Initiative Committee, a group tasked with defining, improving and communicating the environmental benefits of tile. Defining a "green" anything is already challenging because everyone brings their own definition of "environmentally friendly" to the table. Defining a green tile in an acceptable way for environmentalists, end users, architects, standards developers and the rest of the green community is a real challenge.

Setting the Standards

In September 2009, the Green Initiative Committee started the definition process in earnest by developing a basic framework for a new American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard that would set the bar for green tile installation requirements. Many rounds of discussion and clarification from participating committee members were necessary to further define each section of the standard.

What emerged was ANSI 138.1: "Green Squared-North American National Standard Specifications for Sustainable Ceramic Tiles, Glass Tiles, and Tile Installation Methods." On February 27, 2011, this document was distributed to the Ceramic Tile ANSI A108 committee for comment.

From the start, the group felt it was important to not only certify the product, but the factory and company that manufactured it as well. The sections of the standard include overall environmental product characteristics, environmental manufacturing practices, end-of-life management, progressive corporate management, and innovation credits. Another section includes important terms and definitions.

The standard is based on mandatory requirements and attainable electives. To be considered a green product, all of the mandatory requirements must be met, and a percentage of the electives (differing by product category) must also be addressed. The mandatory items are not automatic; a manufacturer must be manufacturing a sustainable product in a sustainable way in order to meet them. The electives are typically higher levels of the mandatory items.

Categories Addressed

The lively discussions started almost from the beginning when the group sat down to define recycled content. While Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and other green standards define pre- and post-consumer waste, the group felt it was important to include a third category of reclaimed waste. This is material that is generated within the manufacturing process that previously would have gone to a landfill but is now recaptured into new product. This discussion seemed to echo the current thinking in the green community that it is important to include this category of waste (which does not require extra transportation and shipping to become a component of the product).

In addition to addressing recycled content characteristics, the first section of the standard touches on the transportation and selection of raw materials, packaging, volatile organic emissions, cleaning/environmental maintenance, life cycle analysis (LCA), solar reflective index (SRI), environmental product declarations, and a variety of subsets of these broader categories. This long list of product attributes is designed to keep manufacturers focused on making a sustainable product while highlighting areas where tile is likely to be the best product option (vs. other flooring choices). The group was also sensitive to addressing categories that the green community has made clear through standards and interpretations as important attributes of sustainable products.

The next section addresses how the product is made. Attributes here include pollution prevention, responsible fuel usage, raw materials sourcing, selecting materials with low levels of lead and cadmium, environmental management planning, utility usage and conservation, wastewater discharge, renewable energy usage, waste minimization, and diversion. Again, each of these broad categories is divided into subcategories that address specific parts of the production process. These subcategories look into detailed aspects of the manufacturing process and go beyond simple compliance with government requirements.

The end-of-product-life management section begins with a statement from the industry: Inherently, tile products are durable, inert, and intended to have life spans as long as the buildings in which they are installed. Therefore, they are typically engineered to serve as permanent finishes capable of outliving several generations of building occupants. Tile product end-of-life management is generally pertinent to building demolition waste and ensuring that small quantities of waste are generated during construction. The intent of the criteria in this section is to award credit to those products that can be collected as construction or demolition debris, processed, recycled, and/or re-tasked for other purposes. After this statement, electives are included for using the product as clean fill and implementing a collection and recycling plan.

The Progressive Corporate Governance section of the standard sets a high bar for companies looking to get products certified. The committee specified that it is not simply enough to produce a sustainable product at a sustainable factory; it is also important to have an ingrained vision of environmental responsibility at the corporate level. Mandatory requirements here include a written social responsibility strategy; labor law compliance; prohibitions on forced and child labor; compliance with environmental, health, and safety regulations; a written quality assurance program; and compliance with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) green marketing claims. Electives include evidence of continuous community involvement, public disclosure, an annual sustainability report, and LEED or Green Globes certification for one or more facilities.

Finally, the standard includes a section for innovation. Many tile and installation products companies are working on projects that go above and beyond the basics of the standard, and it is important to recognize these achievements. Any elective that was exceeded by 11/2 times the most stringent requirements gets additional recognition, as do innovative attributes (like photocatalytic or photovoltaic coatings) or processes, and a comprehensive carbon footprint analysis.

Future Plans

As you can see, the committee left no stone unturned in its efforts to define "green" in the tile industry. This standard goes above and beyond similar standards from competing floor covering groups and is already receiving recognition in the green community.

In the coming months, the committee will address any negative feedback on the standard and put it up for a final vote. Soon the new Green Squared standard will provide an objective method for defining green tile products.

For additional details, email the author at dan.marvin@floridatile.com, or visit www.floridatile.com or www.tilethenaturalchoice.com.