Green. Green. Green. It seems that in the past decade, everything has been changing its hue. From cleaning products, to the containers that hold them, cars, homes — even clothing — so many items in our everyday lives are being produced with a more environmentally conscious approach. Looking at the recycled content of a finished product and considering the process it takes to make these items, the tile industry is not exempt from the concern ofsustainability. Architects and designers are now working for clients that want more sustainable homes and businesses, and even though ceramic tile by nature is a sustainable material, tile manufacturers have taken measures to make the production of their tiles more earth-friendly.

Designing for sustainability

Susan Welker, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP of Harris Welker Architects in Austin, TX, has embraced sustainability, and she has focused the mission of her firm on sustainable design. “Warm, contemporary, a little edgy, easy maintenance and third-party certifications are just some of what I see clients looking for in terms of green designs in tile,” she said. “Both for our client’s and our firm’s desire to incorporate sustainable materials, it is very important to be able to select from manufacturers who recognize these trends and also have third-party certifications to support these goals.”

Architects, designers and clients today are considering where their tile choices are coming from, how they are being manufactured, how much recycled content is in their tile and how much waste their design is outputting. With the push toward green living, “contemporary” is not a look, but the content and environmental impact of a design. “Recent surveys have indicated that a large majority of new homeowners are now interested in a contemporary interior design; so designs that are both contemporary and sustainable both lend themselves to a newer contemporary expression,” said Welker.

When executing a sustainable design, there are several considerations that Welker takes into consideration beforehand. “Most notably, I review the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), and if there is a third-party certification for the eco-friendly tile,” she explained. “Additionally, recommended installation methods are reviewed for this particular project to insure a successful installation for the client.”

The other green

Although the knowledge of sustainability has become more accessible, not all clients are looking for a green design as budget may outweigh this priority. Anna Marie Fanelli, President and Designer at Floor & Décor in Tenafly, NJ, has worked for years to include sustainable aspects in her designs. “For my clients, going green is a bonus,” she said. “If they like the design, if it’s stylish and if I’m hitting a certain price point — these are the things that are most important.”

When budget may be a deterrent to clients going green, Fanelli has a solution to still make her designs environmentally friendly. “Budget is always a factor, even at the high-end market,” she explained. “These materials cost more. Green is feasible in small doses. In a backsplash, the trim details could be green. If we did it every day in small doses, everybody would be green.”

Sustainable manufacturing

Designs from architects and designers such as Welker and Fanelli would not be able to achieve the sustainability levels desired without the work of the tile manufacturers that are now also concerned with the impact their product has on the environment and making changes to prioritize sustainability. Sean Cilona, Director of Marketing at Florida Tile in Lexington, KY, explained the importance of environmental awareness in their company’s production. “There are a number of things we say contribute to the ‘greenness’ of tile,” he explained. “Number one is the recycled content. Number two is that it is GreenGuard certified and tested to contain no VOCs. Three is meeting the recent Green Squared (G2) certification, which is based on a product line. It is a venture with the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and is a multi-attribute certification. It looks at the overall process, including corporate governance, packaging and production.”

Florida Tile currently uses a benchmark of 40% recycled content in all of its tiles. “The focus is not to have one product line that is eco-friendly, but to have it as a company standard,” said Cilona.

Robert Hurt, Director, Environmental, Health & Safety for Dal-tile Corp., headquartered in Dallas, TX, explained that Dal-tile is also concerned with making more sustainable products. “Ceramic tile is one of the most environmentally friendly floor/wall covering products due to it extremely long life (more than 60 years), zero VOC content/emissions and extremely low-maintenance requirements,” he said. “The way Dal-Tile improves upon that nature is to increase the content of recycled materials used to formulate the product, including the use of post-consumer recycled materials whenever practical.”

 These companies and many others are exploring a number of methods to improve the production of their tiles. While the main focus is the recycled content, many manufacturers are recycling the fired and unfired wastes of old tile to make new ones. They are also manufacturing tiles from unused porcelain dust, so that nothing is wasted.

As water is such an abundant and vital component in the production of tiles, waste water is a huge consideration. Treated water is being used in many facilities. “The wastewater treatment plant serves the same purpose as a recycling facility that collects bottles and cans,” explained Hurt. “It cleans it up and processes it into a form that is useable as a raw material for a manufacturing process.”

How much waste is created during manufacturing is also a major con-sideration. “Dal-Tile Corp. is aggressively pursuing a goal of significantly reducing the waste water we discharge in the manufacturing of our products — with a goal of ultimately achieving the threshold of zero process wastewater discharge at all of our plants through machinery and production modifications and technology upgrades,” said Hurt.

“We’ve actually gone as far as retrofitting all lighting in our warehouses with low-voltage light units that use motion sensors,” said Cilona of Florida Tile’s efforts to improve their manufacturing facilities. “We’ve also switched to intermodal shipping to move products more efficiently. We would like to see a company-based macro approach to being more green.”

The green trend started from concern for the future. These designs, standards and considerations are going to shape the future of the tile industry. With initiatives such as the G2 certification, tile manufacturers are looking to the future for ways to include more recycled content in their tile and manufacture them with as little waste as possible. People are looking for green in their tile designs. “I definitely think it’s here to stay, as long as the consumer is more aware,” said Fanelli. “It’s giving someone the level of excitement — there has to be a reason for it. Then people will reach for it like people reach for their iPhones.”