Sustainable flooring solutions
- UZIN's approach to sustainability.
The environment and sustainability are at the centre of the UZIN UTZ Group’s corporate philosophy and the majority of our product developments have been based on making our products solvent-free and low emission. A product should not endanger the health of the user or contaminate the environment. Our aim is to work in such a way that everything we create is sustainable and will be there for future generations. That's why we take a holistic, long-term and sustainable approach. This is seen as an essential part of our social responsibility which we owe to future generations.
This philosophy influences not only our products and production processes but also manifests itself in our company’s actions. Our commitment to sustainability is evident when building and constructing new offices and factories such as our factory in Haaksbergen in The Netherlands. Here, the products are manufactured in a CO2-neutral environment, and we make as much use as possible of natural daylight in the workplace. Together with numerous other initiatives, this has led to us having one of the most sustainable factories in Europe.
The UZIN UTZ Group has played a pioneering role in matters of environmental protection. Our products are responsibly sourced and manufactured to meet ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. The “ÖkoLine” range was launched in 1997, a group of products which have been awarded Blue Angel and EMICODE EC1 Plus® certification. Flooring installation products labelled with the GEV sign EC1 Plus® and Blue Angel labels are solvent-free, very low emission and guarantee excellent indoor air quality as well as providing the most ecological approach for flooring installations. We also manufacture several products which have Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), which are suitable for clients and customers which require a SKA rating or require products to meet ISO 14025 (Environmental labels and declarations).
We are also taking the lead in regard to our products packaging and introduced Cube It Simple recyclable packaging. The new packaging is an alternative to plastic bottles and is considerably better for the environment. For example, compared to a 5 kg plastic bottle the 5 kg cardboard packaging produces 77% less CO2 and 85% less waste. The UZIN UTZ Group will continue to invest in developing more sustainable products and adopt the best environment practices.
The UZIN UTZ Group looks at all aspects and areas of sustainability. Part of the company’s ethos is to challenge the status quo and question the methods we use especially in the manufacturing process. Are renewable raw materials used? What is the energy requirement of the raw materials? How many of them have been recycled? The list could go on. We also examine other areas of the business for our environmental impact and implement methods to reduce our carbon footprint. For example, we now send almost all customer invoices via e-mail rather than post to save on paper and needless postage.
- Our expectations of how flooring sustainability will be in 25 years.
Sustainability and the environment is one of the most significant dilemmas facing the construction industry and consumers require products which do not pollute the air and are safe. As the world’s natural resource diminish over the next 25 years we envisage that legislation and demand for more sustainable construction will become even more prevalent both in the UK and other developed countries.
In the flooring industry we have already seen there is a growing demand for ecological products which help reduce emissions and diminish health risks, particularly in Europe. In the UK legislations such as the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) aim to improve the safety of products and create a healthy work environment. The rise of sustainable building practices such as LEED and BREEAM certification also encourages companies to develop sustainable and eco-friendly buildings. We foresee that these type of initiatives will become mandatory and methods within the framework adapted to future technology and sustainable developments. We only need to look at other business sectors such as the energy and automotive industries to see that renewable and more sustainable methods are being developed. We have no doubt that these influences will have some impact on the construction and flooring markets.
- Some easy improvements to improve sustainable flooring.
Do not use solvent based adhesives. Within the flooring industry the majority of the trade currently still use solvent based adhesives to install skirting, capping and coving. This is understandable because the adhesives perform well providing a quick and secure bond. However, solvent based adhesives pollute the air with volatile organic compounds and can be harmful to the user unless suitable PPE (personal protective equipment) is used. A user would need to protect their skin and airways to exposure of the adhesive and its fumes. Many solvent based contact adhesives are also highly flammable. Due to the health and safety risks for both installers and clients the use of solvent based contact adhesives are now becoming banned from hospitals and other sensitive environments. A safer and easier method to install skirting, capping & coving is with skirting tapes such as UZIN U-Tack. Such tapes provide a secure and extremely durable bond. The installation is also quicker, cleaner and most importantly solvent free. The product therefore does not require any special PPE or work protection measures.
- Does it cost more to be sustainable?
There is often a misconception that sustainable products or methods are more expensive than non-sustainable, but is this always the case? When we built our factory in the Netherlands the initial cost may have been more than a normal build, but part of the design was to incorporate sustainable and efficiencies into the construction which will save money over time. The heating of the buildings and the heat required in production areas is generated by a combination geothermal heat and pellet heating using a heat pump. Rainwater is collected and utilised for flushing the toilets. The taps, showers and toilets are also designed so that water consumption is minimal. Part of sustainable practice is to look at the overall life cycle costs of construction.
Another factor to focus on is the health and safety benefits which often coincide with sustainability, many clients wouldn’t want to put the contractors, employees or themselves at unnecessary risk or danger. We just need to look at the Grenfell Tower fire to see how cost cutting and misspecification can have a huge negative impact. Solvent based contact adhesives for example are cheap but also highly flammable.
- What are the biggest challenges to overcome?
The challenge for the UZIN UTZ Group is to convince our customers to use more sustainable products. Advances in technology and our own R&D has allowed us to innovate and develop products which now outperform non-sustainable materials. In the UK due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and its impact on the economy, Brexiters are arguing that the UK should not diminish its international competitiveness in order to comply with EU environmental standards. Whilst many countries will try to support and adhere to The Sustainable Development Goals a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations Development Program there has been a rise in nationalism in many countries which could have an impact to these agreements. The world is facing pressure from the USA, Russia, India, and other developing countries to relax sustainability protection standards to protect their own interests.
- Our message to other manufacturers and customers.
It’s important to plan for the future and not just concentrate on the here and now. Any company which is not concerned with the future may not have one. The UZIN UTZ Group has been proactive in regards to sustainability long before environmentalism became popular. Such groundwork and investment in R&D should provide the UZIN UTZ Group and similar companies with a competitive advantage in the future.