In today’s world of design, green has become an everyday word. No longer is the idea of building an environmentally friendly structure a rarity. Many architects and designers are creating withsustainabilityin mind, and a large percentage of tile manufacturers are starting to offer product lines comprised of recycled content. Taking it a step further, tile installation products and cleaners — from a host of leading manufacturers — sport containers that include words such as “Eco,” “GreenGuard certified” and “LEED compatible.” With all these components in place, it is only logical that sustainability and green building are at the forefront of design.

One company in particular that feels strongly about the green movement and has taken an active role to support it is the Italian manufacturer Fila. The company’s initiatives are evident not only in its products, but also in its practices. This includes its involvement to become certified and the ongoing investment in eco-friendly technology and procedures as part of its manufacturing process.

“We have taken these steps to ensure that the finished product not only respects the nature of the material to be treated, but also the health of the individual applying the product and their environment,” explained Francesco Pettenon, Commercial Director of Fila. “Fila’s eco-commitment is reflected throughout its whole operation. Our green actions include the selection of raw materials, processing methods, safety systems and continual personnel updates. As proof of this undertaking, Fila dedicates 70% of its research and development investment to the study of products with low environment impact.”

Many manufacturers of installation and maintenance products share Fila’s philosophy and have their own green initiatives in place. Some that Fila is following include using de-aromatized solvents, which have a lower environmental impact if dispersed in the air; producing water-based solutions; developing filters to reduce fumes during production; treating residues, which involves the use of de-ionized water and adoption of an inverse osmosis plant that does not produce hazardous waste and reduces regeneration water; and reducing packaging and transport.

Additionally, Fila has plans to install a photovoltaic system, which will provide solar power to cover all the company’s needs — from the office and production facilities to the on-site research and development laboratory. “It will also prevent the emission of 766 tons of carbon dioxide; the equivalent of an average car travelling 4,855,307 kilometers,” said Pettenon. “To achieve the same reduction through forest methods, an equivalent of 18,132 trees would need to be replanted.

“It’s important for contractors and consumers to know that we are taking active steps, not only in terms of product development, but also in terms of reducing our own carbon footprint and safeguarding the environment as a whole.”

Benefits of installing with green products

Because Fila’s Green Line products are water based, they can be applied with residual moisture, according to Pettenon. “This speeds up the whole installation process considerably,” he said. “The nature of the products also means that they can be used on a wider range of surfaces. For example, many can be used on internal and external surfaces as well as food contact areas — making application more straight forward. Many of our products can also contribute to credits for eco-rating systems like LEED.

Additionally, green installation products can substantially improve the overall cost of a project, according to executives at Tec. “Improved energy efficiencies, improved waste management, lower water cost, less return calls for maintenance/repairs and decreased material cost due to more efficient raw materials are all examples of ways green products provide opportunities to save money.”

What makes a product green?

We are dedicated to leveraging the latest green technologies in tile installation,”  

--- Frank O’ReillyFrank O’Reilly,

Founder of O’Reilly Tile Design  

Many contractors might wonder, “What makes an installation product green?”  According to Tec, the company’s products include recycled material content. “Many green products contain recycled material such as glass and lightweight microspheres — a byproduct of coal burning power plants,” Tec explained. “The addition of these materials utilizes a product that may have otherwise been disposed of in a way that is not healthy for the environment.”

Moreover, a product is green if it has low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “Choosing less hazardous products that have positive environmental attributes, such as biodegradability, low toxicity, low-VOC content, reduced packaging and low life cycle energy use, can reduce exposure and minimize harmful impacts to the construction workers and building occupants, improve indoor air quality and reduce water and ambient air pollution,” Tec reported.

Challenges in creating green installation products

According to manufacturers such as Tec, low-VOC products can be challenging as volatile organic content will affect the film-forming properties of polymer dispersions. “Reducing VOCs can affect the open time and cure time of polymer-based products,” the company stated. “VOC content can also affect the freeze/thaw stability of these products.”

Adding recycled content to a product may also require formulation changes. “For example, some recycled materials have a very fine particle size — requiring a formula adjustment to accommodate the change in product consistency,” stated Tec. “However, the addition of recycled materials can also enhance properties or provide other benefits in addition to being green. Some recycled materials are lightweight — providing the benefit of reduced package weight. Recycled materials can also improve the workability or application properties of the product. Added glass particles and lightweight microspheres act similarly to a ball bearing, reducing the friction and allowing the trowel to easily glide along the surface.”

What to look for when choosing a product

There are many things that an installer or contractor can look for when choosing a green product. “Installers can look for ‘industry recognized green initiative’ symbols on a product label or data sheet,” stated Tec. “Companies like CRI and Floor Score will lend accreditation symbols to be used on packaging after successful testing has been completed. Additionally, many companies are beginning to include raw material content on labels and data sheets that contribute to a product’s ‘green’ characteristics. The amount of recycled content in a product is a great way to determine if a product is green. The higher the recycled content, the more likely the product is considered green. Referring to a product’s LEED-accreditation points is another great way to choose a product. Typically, the higher the LEED points a product contributes to a project, the more positive green impact it will have.”

What installers are saying

As a National Tile Contractor Assocation (NTCA) Five Star Contractor, Jan Hohn of Hohn & Hohn, Inc. in St. Paul, MN, tries to use green products as much as she can. “Some of my clients are asking for them,” she said. “I haven’t purposely changed to green products, however, if the products I use are now green — that’s great — a lot of them have become green.

“Overall, I have not seen a huge demand from my clients yet, but I think that will change over time as more products come to the market,” Hohn went on to say. “The one thing I do push is that tile is and can be very green.”

Frank O’Reilly, Founder of O’Reilly Tile Design in San Francisco, CA, and a LEED Green Associate, shares similar experiences to Hohn.  While his installation company makes an effort to use environmentally friendly products in their projects, these products aren’t necessarily in high demand from his customers.

“We are dedicated to leveraging the latest green technologies in tile installation,” explained O’Reilly. “Our products have low VOC content and low urea formaldehyde.

“Unfortunately, the market doesn’t show a demand for it,” he went on to say. “People are still leery of them. When the opportunity comes up, I get to ‘flex up’ the products that are out there.”

To learn about new green installation products, O’Reilly spends time researching online, and he also relies on trade shows and local tile stores. “Manufacturers such as Mapei, Laticrete and Custom [Building Products] have reps that put on demos when they have a new product,” he said.

Overall, O’Reilly feels that the message about green installation products is not getting across. “Awareness should be more,” he said. “You don’t hear about them in the mass media. Some of the home networks talk about them, but not everyone is watching those. You don’t hear about it on CBS or NBC, which the majority of the population watches.

“It is a slow [process],” O’Reilly went on to say. “It probably will be the next generation that sees it more.”