Julie Dempster, marketing manager, Forbo Flooring Systems looks at the environmental benefits of linoleum.

With an influx of manufacturers claiming to have strong environmental credentials, specifiers need to be able to identify the most sustainable products available. In order to select products, specifiers need to consider the performance characteristics in addition to the relevant sustainability aspects. The starting point for many is to evaluate what raw materials are used in the flooring; the manufacturing processes; and any independent environmental accreditations the flooring has received.

Already widely recognised as a sustainable product, linoleum, invented in 1855, is a natural product made predominantly from harvestable, renewable, natural raw materials. Forbo’s Marmoleum contains 97% natural raw materials 67% of which are harvestable and has a 37% recycled content.

Although “the lino” is an expression still sometimes used today to describe any floor covering apart from carpet, stone or parquet, in fact, the name ‘linoleum’ derives from the Latin words linum (flax) and oleum (oil), and means oil from the flax plant a reference to the linseed oil which is the key raw material in the product. This oil is a harvestable and renewable crop produced by the seeds from the flax plant, widely grown in temperate climates, notably in Canada, the UK and Argentina.

Other harvestable and renewable raw materials are: the rosin tapped from pine trees, which is mixed in with the solidified linseed oil; woodflour, a fine sawdust which comes from managed softwood plantations; very finely ground limestone; and jute, a vegetable fibre grown in India or Bangladesh.

Linoleum manufacturers have to prepare the raw materials themselves. First, a mixture of linseed oil and liquefied rosin is exposed to oxygen in a large machine known as a ‘smacker’ at a set temperature, producing linoleum cement, a sticky binding agent. Further oxidisation takes place during storing prior to mixing.

Once it has cooled down, the linoleum cement is mixed with finely ground limestone, various natural pigments and wood flour to help bind all the elements together. This mixture forms linoleum granulate. The manufacturing processes for the granules have been developed to enable them to absorb many colours. They are mixed in pre-determined quantities to create the finished colourways.

The calendering process is used to press blended granules together into a sheet. This sheet has little strength at this stage and has to be matured in a large chamber for several weeks at a relatively low temperature for the oxidation to occur, to give the product its toughness.

The jute backing can withstand this curing temperature without degrading and is used to support the linoleum during this process.

When it reaches the desired hardness, flexibility and resistance to pressure, it is removed from the drying rooms. Finally, the linoleum is given a protective finish, trimmed to the correct size and stored in rolls in a warehouse. Rejected material is ground into powder and returned to the production line for reuse.

Linoleum is naturally biodegradable, so Marmoleum fits perfectly in sustainable building concepts, as it is rated as A/A+ by the BRE and has been specified within projects classified as BREEAM ‘excellent’.

Many manufacturers now employ responsible manufacturing processes and hold ISO 140001. In addition, eco labels and accreditations are independent assessments or third party endorsements where the products have been externally assessed based on strict environmental criteria, which set targets for them to achieve higher sustainable objectives based, for example, on individual Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) elements, and specifiers should refer to these. Marmoleum now has 11 independently awarded eco labels, including the Swan Mark and the natureplus label, and it has an independent LCA available on the web.

Independent Life Cycle Assessment studies (LCAs) are crucial in measuring a product’s true eco credentials. The studies investigate the environmental impact of a product from cradle to grave from raw materials, pre-processing, production, distribution, installation, use, maintenance and recycling, to disposal.

LCAs therefore allow all environmental aspects related to a product to be taken into consideration. Linoleum performs very well in these studies.

It is a natural, raw materials-based product, and during linoleum’s manufacture, raw materials and energy are used efficiently, while waste and emissions are minimised.
Eco labels and third party accreditations act as a vital tool in conveying to specifiers the sustainable credentials of a product. When it comes to linoleum, there are certain labels to be aware of. The Nordic Swan label is one of the most highly regarded ratings across the built environment and is of particular value, as it is only awarded to the most sustainable product in each category.

The Swan label is a voluntary, cost-effective and simple way of communicating environmental work and commitment, as well as quality, to customers and suppliers. The label indicates that the product’s environmental impact is less than corresponding products, without compromising performance characteristics. Forbo Flooring Systems has maintained the Nordic Swan Label for Marmoleum, its own brand of linoleum, since 1996.

Other recognised eco labels include the Netherlands Environmental Quality Mark, which covers the whole life cycle for packaging and product information against strict requirements, whilst the New Zealand Ecolabelling Trust is initiated and endorsed by the New Zealand government to reduce the environmental impact of products.

Manufacturers that actively seek third party assessments and independent labels demonstrate a solid basis from which to support sustainable product claims.

Consumers and specifiers are now more considerate in their choices. That is why they more often favour a sustainable product like linoleum. This rising demand is not only down to linoleum’s superior environmental profile, but also because of the ever-expanding and versatile design offer, which forms a winning combination.

To ensure strong sustainable qualities are combined with aesthetic appeal, Forbo Flooring Systems has produced Global 3, comprising its latest collection of linoleum products with an emphasis on good design.

Global 3 draws its inspiration from current and emerging architectural visions, and includes 12 structures from its three most popular linoleum-based products Marmoleum, Artoleum and Walton across 163 colours, offering the widest choice of product designs within any linoleum portfolio.

In addition, Forbo has recently launched a new Marmoleum collection, ‘The Unexpected Nature of Linoleum’, which draws its inspiration from nature’s more unusual colours and combinations, reflecting the delicate balance of the world’s resources.

All products in the Global 3 collection incorporate Topshield, a water-based finish for easy and cost-efficient cleaning and maintenance, which does not compromise the environmental profile of the product.

Being seen as ‘green’ has become important for all businesses, as customers not only ask for sustainable production and products, but demand them. To enable them to separate the genuinely ‘green’ companies and products from those that merely make the claim, they must be able to access independent, accredited information. Therefore, manufacturers have a responsibility to not only incorporate sustainable production processes, but also to actively seek out ways to improve the environmental footprint of the products manufactured.