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Fit Out, Sustainability

Sustainability – Choosing the Right Material Series: Part 1 Flooring

sustainable carpet for offices

Sustainability – Choosing the Right Material Series: Part 1 Flooring

The design, specification and construction of a new office presents the opportunity to review the way you work and the materials used to create your new environment. For some this will be a blank canvas for ideas and change. Any niggles and issues can be ironed out and new ideas incorporated.

At Aztec we focus on providing sustainable solutions with the environment at the heart of everything we do.

Leases are usually signed for 10 years, so a new office is going to be a huge part of a company’s operation for a considerable time alongside any other corporate strategies running concurrently. A business workspace needs to be designed correctly for each, and every individual business, ensuring your investment represents best value whilst providing a space which is kind to the environment.

There are so many decisions to take into consideration when formulating a new design. Not only the needs and requirements of each department, but how it works collectively for the business.  A key part of the design is material selection. As a business, you know that you want to invest in eco-friendly materials, so how do you break it down into a digestible process, understanding what to use and why?

A simple solution is to break the build down into sections with distinct titles. In this series of articles, Aztec will aim to provide a simple overview of each element which we hope you will find of interest when planning your next move or Fit Out.

In the first of this series we focus on flooring and look at some of the options you have. Flooring and floor finish are a key part to any commercial interior. Aztec will help you to decide on an option that offers you the best combination of durability, practicality, aesthetics and price.

Here is a comparison of popular options to help you with your choice:

Sustainable Hardwood (FSC-certified)

Pros – Sustainable hardwood has unmatched natural beauty, longevity, durability and quality. It supports good forestry management and encourages local communities towards sustainable practices.

Cons – It may need to be shipped long distances (e.g. tropical species) which contribute to a higher carbon footprint. Certified wood can also be more expensive than traditional sources; it’s not always suitable for certain rooms in the office due to vulnerability to heavy moisture and expansion/contraction properties; may need more maintenance and care than other types of flooring.

Reclaimed Wood

Pros – Re-using material is one of the most environmentally-friendly options available, materials are salvaged from old buildings and structures and can retain a bit of history; it has a unique look and character; it does not require too much transport energy and costs if using locally-sourced salvaged wood; proven durability.

Cons – It may also incur carbon costs with transport; can be expensive, depending on the source (buying from an individual can be cheaper); may require a lot of refinishing; can be difficult to install if provided in irregular sizes and shapes.

Cork

Pros – Cork comes from the bark of cork oak tree which can survive repeated strippings so completely renewable resource; natural and biodegradable; fantastic properties including thermal and acoustic insulation, natural rot, mildew and fire-resistance, durability due to compressibility and impermeability to liquids; DIY installation if in tile form; soft and warm underfoot.

Cons – may not be durable enough for high traffic/heavy wear and tear; may need to be imported long distances so could attract a high carbon and energy cost; can require adhesives (although damage can be minimized by choosing less toxic types), can be expensive. Some cork flooring comes treated with formaldehyde binders – avoid these, as well as cork blended with synthetic rubber and PVC laminates. Also, although it is sustainable, it does take the cork tree 10 years to regenerate bark (and 25 years to reach maturity in the first place) so if not managed properly, demand will exceed supply and it will no longer be sustainable.

Bamboo

Pros – Bamboo is a fast-growing grass so is a truly abundant and sustainable resource. (Be aware that care needs to be taken to ensure you do not use species required in the diet of the endangered giant panda.) It is one of the strongest and more durable types of natural flooring available (some varieties tougher than hardwood and with higher tensile strength than steel!); natural beauty; relatively low cost.

Cons – Requires transport from Asia so has a significant carbon cost; it may be treated with pesticides, fungicides and formaldehyde; vulnerable to moisture – which can lead to warping and weakening of fibres, so may not be suitable for kitchens, bathrooms and laundries; may scratch easily if not finished correctly and if subjected to high wear and tear (e.g. from dog toenails).

Natural Linoleum

Pros – Natural Linoleum is extremely easy to maintain and care for; it is made of natural renewable resources; available in a wide variety of colours and styles; durability – ideal for areas of high traffic/heavy wear & tear; relatively cheap form of flooring; biodegradable so no waste pollution; easy installation – available as clickable floating floor); stain-resistant; warm underfoot.

Cons – It may contain volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) – especially from linseed oil fumes – which may be problem if occupants are chemically sensitive. Adhesives used for installation may also contain toxic chemicals – We suggest you opt for “green” versions (water-based, low VOC, formaldehyde-free); many brands are imported from Europe so associated transport cost and carbon footprint needs to be taken into consideration.

NB:- Whichever type of flooring you choose, always check that the processes and products used in refinishing and installation are also environmentally-friendly as it is no use investing in a sustainable flooring material if it is then refinished and installed with a host of toxic chemicals and using practices that promote pollution, waste and carbon emissions!

Commercial Carpet tiles

Many of the major flooring manufacturers have set clear targets which they are focused on achieving. To make this possible Desso flooring for example have launched DESSO EcoBase. DESSO Ecobase is a backing specifically designed with disassembly and recycling in mind. Their innovative process is fully recyclable at their production plants around the globe. Their yarn is a Polyamide, which can be converted back to the basic material which manufacturers can use again to produce new yarn.

Another example is the work that Interface flooring is undertaking to ensure that they are market leaders in carbon neutral flooring.

A percentage of the profits that they make at Interface from their floor products are reinvested into green global causes. The work they do in relation to Carbon Neutral Floors means they can support a range of projects that are working toward fostering a cleaner environment for the future. Working together across with different institutions to ensure global change.

Below is a list of the different causes and where that Interface are supporting:

  • Madagascar, Thailand and China – New renewable energy projects involving solar, hydro and wind power to reduce the amount of carbon emissions entering the atmosphere.
  • Guatemala and Kenya – Community fuel switching and water purification projects tackling carbon emissions alongside human health and community empowerment.
  • US, Cambodia and Zimbabwe – Reforestation projects to keep carbon stored and sequestered in the soil and plants

As a sustainably conscious and driven contractor, the product we specify most within our commercial installations is carpet tile. This is why we have highlighted the actions of both Desso and Interface above. Their efforts as a key member of our supply chain and the way in which they work deserve promoting as highly commendable. We need to further support their efforts by specifying and procuring products from suppliers focused on green processes. Aztec are making a conscious effort to bring the use of environmental materials to the forefront of what we do and are advising our clients accordingly.

Sustainability policies tend to lay down rules to lessen the impact on the environment. The path we have chosen and what we are doing for our clients at Aztec is promoting actual behavioural change – putting nature first.

If you would like to find out more information about eco materials and office refurbishment. Please don’t hesitate to contact paul.ashmore@aztec-limited.co.uk or call Tel: 0151 255 0850 for more information.

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