Twelve years ago, in response to growing demand from our customers, Shaw Industries set out to create a more environmentally responsible product alternative to the traditional PVC-backed carpet tiles prevalent in the commercial market.
Driven by our commitment to Sustainability Through Innovation and a deeply entrenched dedication to the continuous improvement of both our products and our processes, we created EcoWorx®, a commercial carpet tile that ultimately out-performed our traditional PVC-backed tile in a variety of areas, including:
- 40% lighter product weight (EcoWorx is more efficient to transport and easier to install)
- 30% less embodied energy (EcoWorx is more energy-efficient to produce)
- Greater tear strength
- Higher tensile strength
- Greater delamination strength
In addition to earning the 2001 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Presidential Green Chemistry Award for its environmentally responsible product design, EcoWorx helped redefine product sustainability for our industry — and for our commercial customers.
In 2007, it also became the world’s first Cradle to Cradle Certified flooring product. Today, EcoWorx remains our fastest growing product with thousands of installations worldwide, and 11 straight Best of NeoCon design awards.
Along the way, it has spurred us to integrate Cradle to Cradle thinking across our organization — and to expand Cradle to Cradle certification to products in all our residential and commercial flooring categories, including broadloom carpet, carpet tile, hardwood and rugs. In fact, more than 55% of our total sales come from Cradle to Cradle Certified products and more than 80% of our commercial products are Cradle to Cradle Certified.
But we still have a long way to go, and the opportunities to help make our products and our processes even more efficient and responsible are myriad — from ongoing ingredient materials evaluations to seeking out new approaches to social investment as part of our global corporate citizenship.
So with this in mind, here’s a glimpse at what we have learned on our Cradle to Cradle journey (so far):
- Ask the “What if?” questions. Lots of them. What if we created an alternative to traditional PVC-backed carpet tile? What if we designed that new tile so that it could be reclaimed at the end of its useful life, allowing us to harvest the constituent materials for remanufacturing into new product — again and again? What if we established a post-consumer carpet reclamation and recycling program to help us do just that? What if we provided customers with a global Environmental Guarantee stating that we will collect and recycle EcoWorx when they no longer need it (at no cost)? What if we applied Cradle to Cradle principles to the continuous improvement of all our products?
These are but a few of the questions we have asked — and answered — as we have worked to integrate Cradle to Cradle thinking into the fabric of our operations. And as a result, what started as a single product improvement has spurred the evolution of a whole new approach to product innovation. It has also served as the impetus for whole new business units — such as the establishment of our carpet reclamation and recycling program (Shaw is now the world’s largest reclaimer and recycler of post-consumer carpet). 2. Be willing to challenge conventional wisdom. While we knew there was a clear need for product improvement and innovation in the carpet tile market, conventional wisdom espoused the idea that carpet tiles needed to be heavy in order to lie flat and hold up to the wear and tear of high-traffic commercial environments. Beginning the design process by focusing on the product’s environmental impacts over its whole life (from ingredient materials to the end of its useful life), rather than simply focusing on the finished product itself, liberated us from the constraints of these conventional beliefs. Instead, we were free to focus on selecting high-performance ingredient materials that were also as safe and responsible as possible for humans and the environment — regardless of whether or not the resulting product “fit the mold.” Today, this approach means that our designers are also free to push the limits of aesthetics and design, knowing that the products they create are as sustainable as they are beautiful. 3. **Think bigger.**In essence, Cradle to Cradle thinking means thinking about the total life cycle of your products. Considering all the touch points of those products — from supply chains and manufacturing processes to product use, end-of-life stewardship to the greater impacts of your products and your organization have on local, regional and global communities — is where the real opportunities for innovation and growth reside.
For us, this has included both micro and macro initiatives, from the establishment of a research and innovation team devoted entirely to finding new uses for post-consumer carpet, to investments in the diversification of our carpet reclamation and recycling program, to the recent introduction of LokDots.
A new installation system for EcoWorx, LokDots helped us answer the question of how we might provide a more efficient way for customers to install our carpet tile. The result? An entirely new Cradle to Cradle alternative to traditional wet adhesive — one that uses 97% less material, virtually eliminates VOCs and allows our product to be easily installed in occupied and high-moisture environments. Better yet, it’s completely recyclable right alongside EcoWorx.
What’s next? Well, we may not have all the answers — or even all the questions — but one thing is for sure: Cradle to Cradle thinking is leading us and our business in the direction of positive change.