There is a deep seated relationship between humans and nature, we feel happiest when we are surrounded by natural elements, the air is fresher, we think more clearly and feel at peace. Yet over the centuries we have built urban cities that are really hard. We are surrounded by concrete, glass and metal which are all man made materials that leave us feeling cold and disconnected. Subsequently, we should be focusing on ways we can increase our interaction with natural textures and finishes within the home. You may be thinking, ok wool carpet or timber flooring… tick! However, in our assessment, the two are not always equal when it comes to sustainability.
When it comes to the environment it is important to consider the sourcing of raw materials, manufacturing process, installation, maintenance and finally its disposal. Solid timber flooring for example is not only durable and hard wearing but requires very little maintenance to upkeep. Once installed it should last a lifetime or even better, installing recycled or reclaimed timber flooring can mean it lasts for several decades. Carpet on the other hand, at best, has a lifespan of 10 years, with regular maintenance and is very hard to recycle.
Deforestation can be a common concern when it comes to timber flooring, yet there are some easy ways to ensure your timber hasn’t been illegally harvested. Look for either FSC [Forest Stewardship Council] or PEFC [Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification] certified timbers. Whether your chosen timber is from a plantation or native forest, if it has the FSC logo it means the timber is from a sustainably managed forest. In Australia, you can also look out for AFS (Australian Forest Standard) which adheres to sustainable principles as well. Bamboo or Oak floors are considered to be one of the most sustainable in the US & UK due to protection programs ensuring these trees are regularly replanted. In Australia, choosing local species such as Tasmanian Oak or Spotted Gum is a great way to ensure that the timber has not been harvested illegally.
Natural carpet on the other hand can seem like a good alternative. Options like untreated wool, organic cotton, jute or sisal promote low amounts of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). However, quite often during the manufacturing process they can be treated with detergents and chemicals to remove the greasy material, so it’s really important to ensure the manufacturer is not releasing these pollutants into the local waterways. All things considered carpets made from natural fibres are more environmentally friendly than synthetics, however they can also be less durable, therefore requiring replacement more often which defeats the purpose of being more sustainable.
Another option is carpet made from Econyl. Econyl fibre as received a lot of acclaim as it is the process of turning existing plastics, predominantly fishing nets into a new nylon fibre. Many carpet producers around the world have started making collections using Econyl as the awareness and demand increases for sustainable products. Aquafil (the company that makes Econyl) does not disclose the exact process of manufacturing, however they do use a process called depolymerization indicating a chemical process used to break down existing nylon polymer before it is transformed into a polymer. Therefore, we think the environmental benefits of Econyl may be questionable.
For these reasons and many more we opt for solid timber flooring in our designs when possible. Having the one floor finish throughout a home makes it feel unified and therefore larger. In saying this, we are also realistic and understand that if you live in a colder climate or in an apartment where acoustics are an issue then a softer floor finish may be necessary. In this case, we would recommend natural fibre rugs in the key areas like the bedroom. They will help to insulate the room, are easier to clean regularly and generally have lower levels of VOCs as no installation is required.