Carpe carpet: what lies below the surface

It’s really easy to forget about the ground we walk on. We often take it for granted, just seeing carpet, wood or pavement. However, there is so much more beneath the surface. Some perfect examples of this are the new carpets recently installed in Ormsby Hall. Though it may seem as if these are just new carpets, much thought was put into the sustainability of the entire process. When asked what sustainable practices were used in replacing Ormsby’s carpets, Heather McCombs, Designer and Project Manager at Lawrence (and the person who selected the carpets and created the design), highlighted four specific choices.

“The first sustainable practice was in the choice of flooring manufacturer. We chose Interface because they are the most sustainable flooring manufacturer in the world. Their Mission Zero program means that through many initiatives, their flooring company will be carbon neutral by 2020.” Though Interface may not be well known to most of the general public, they are a household name to those familiar with the architecture and design industry.

As McCombs elaborates, “Interface is a global commercial flooring company and the largest carpet tile manufacturer in the world. Founded in 1973, Interface is one of the pioneers of sustainability in the A&D [architecture and design] field. The work that Interface has done to integrate sustainability into their supply chain, manufacturing and operations has been transformative throughout the A&D community over the last 25 years as companies compete for an increasingly green market … Lawrence is using Interface as their flooring standard for carpet and resilient flooring.”

The second sustainable practice McCombs highlighted was the selection of the carpet itself. “By selecting carpet tile instead of broadloom, we can replace the smaller carpet tiles in areas that get worn or damaged instead of replacing an entire room of broadloom.  All of Interface’s carpet tile contains a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content. Post-consumer recycled content is material that has been in the waste stream and diverted from a landfill.” This practice reduces waste in both the present and the future by using recycled materials and making it easier to replace smaller parts of the carpet in the future.

The next sustainable practice highlighted was the adhesive decided upon. “Conventional carpet adhesive is glue. Because adhesives and sealants contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which can be toxic, Interface invented the Tac Tile … It is a faster, cleaner and more earth-friendly alternative to traditional carpet adhesive that is easy to use and eliminates the mess, odor and drying time of spread adhesives and contain virtually zero VOCs.”

The final sustainable practice McCombs highlighted was the disposal of Ormsby’s old carpets. Ormsby’s old carpets were put into Interface’s Re-Entry recycling program. “The Re-Entry program takes back your old carpet whether it is Interface or not. Their recycling facilities remove the backing from the face and recycle the yarn into new carpet yarn and the rubber from the backing into new carpet backing.”

Unfortunately, because Ormsby’s carpets were so old, none of it could actually be recycled, but Interface even had a solution for this. “Instead they took it to a waste-to-energy plant called Covanta in Illinois. There it was burned for energy.” Ormsby’s carpets will be the first of many to be renovated through Interface. The flooring in Big Exec and Small Exec is up next, scheduled to be completed over Winter break.

McCombs has worked at several universities, but says that Lawrence sets itself apart from other schools in sustainability in an interesting way. “What I like about being part of Lawrence’s sustainability efforts is that Lawrence is nimble. Decisions and action can happen relatively quickly. That is an asset that I have not seen at some of the larger universities I have worked with.” McCombs urges students to think “of new ways you can reduce your water and energy use and your waste [to] help the buildings reach their full sustainable potential.”

The new carpets in Ormsby are yet another example that sustainable efforts are everywhere here at Lawrence. Though some efforts, like the new waste bins, are extremely visible, other just as important ones are hidden just below the surface, or in this case, just below the carpet.

If you have an idea to make Lawrence more sustainable and would like the opportunity to receive funding by the Sustainability Steering Committee, go to the “Sustainable Lawrence” page on the Lawrence website and click “Apply to the Student Sustainability Fund.”