If a wallcovering is made of recycled content, is it better than another that can be recycled?
Is a rapidly renewable material more important than one that came from locally sourced lumber?
Is end-of-life disposal as significant as the beginning of the lifecycle chain?
And how exactly do LEED points factor into all of this?
Trying to answer these questions will drive you up the wall. But specifying a sustainable, durable, and cost-effective wallcovering will have you well-suited for the future.
Certifications are crucial for assessing different products and their characteristics, but they differ in what they cover. Let this guide help you make a selection.
Industry groups like the Wallcoverings Associations (WA) are a good source of unbiased information.
“The Wallcoverings Association wants to define what it means to be sustainable. There are a lot of different claims and characteristics. We try to encompass all those,” explains Rick Hickman, president of WA, a trade association that helped develop NSF/ANSI Standard 342 for wallcoverings. “It should be easy to identify a green product, and you should feel confident that certifications come from a balanced approach.”
Standard 342 considers a product’s entire lifespan across six categories and awards Conformant, Silver, Gold, or Platinum status. The ANSI/NSF process gathers input from several perspectives, including designers, environmental groups, and government agencies.
“The standard covers the whole chain from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal,” explains Hickman. “If you have the best manufacturing process in the world but deliver the products on big trucks that pump carbon into the atmosphere, that’s not a good tradeoff.”
Multi-attribute certifications can help you see the whole picture.
“It provides clarification, while single-attribute labels can cause confusion,” explains Beth Rich, marketing director for manufacturer LSI Wallcovering. “Having a certified product is great, but having a certified process is huge.”
Another comprehensive, lifecycle certification comes from the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Products Innovation Institute. It incorporates water use and renewable energy into its process, among other criteria.
“C2C provides transparency and validation, but it also gives us a path to improve on,” says Cliff Goldman, president of manufacturer Carnegie Fabrics. “Thirty years ago, our products relied heavily on fossil fuels during manufacturing. Now they are bio-based and come from sugar cane, a renewable plant material.”
Beware of misleading language, Goldman cautions. Products that are “bio-based” and “bio-preferred” are determined by the USDA and must be at least 25% composed of a rapidly renewable source.
“It’s unfortunate that people have to be skeptical, but it’s also practical,” says Goldman. “Look for third-party input.”