So the question that gets asked is what is “green”? “Green” as we refer to it deals with a carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is “the total set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event, product or person”. For us simple people, it is the amount of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent of other GHGs, emitted. If you are going to bid a LEED project you are using a point system to determine how environmentally friendly your project is. Personally I like this idea. It keeps the costs similar from bid to bid, so no one can really gain a large advantage without cutting their own profits.
Most of us are never going to understand the ins and outs of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), but what we should understand the difference between materials advertised as “green” and those that are not. If you are dealing with hard surfaces this sounds simple, but it’s not. Just because wood is a natural product does not necessarily make it green. This all depends on the products finish. Nothing can just be assumed. What you need to do is look for the correct labels. If you are installing a floating floor the underlayment could be an issue. Natural products such as cork may be better than plastic, but only if the manufacture allows it. The linoleum industry is working on ways to keep gasses from the linoleum from evaporating into our environment. Carpet manufactures are creating new fibers that are more environmentally friendly. Heck, most of us have been using recycled pad for years. These are all manufacturing remedies.
What can we do as installers to create an environmentally friendly or “green” atmosphere around us? Anyone of us whom has children does concern themselves with their well being and future. Most of us believe we should be leaving this earth in better shape than we got it. So what can we do to help? What most people do not understand is that everything we do affects the world around us. What we drive, the way we drive. How we take care of our vehicles. Simple things we do every day help make us green. As installers we take care of our work trucks way better than we used to. We used to drive trucks with tires from the ‘60s. Some had treads, some were showing steel belts. It used to be common for a work truck to leak oil like a spaghetti strainer. These days have been over for a while. Simple economics has taught most of the installation community that a cleaner running vehicle regardless of age is cheaper to run than one that is always breaking down due to lack of simple maintenance. Conventional wisdom tells us that we will never get 40mpg in our work trucks. However, we do not need to settle for 5 mpg either. Where we throw our garbage affects our environment. Heck, what we eat can affect our environment. I have met a few installers whom I believed were just plain bad for the air quality around them after they ate lunch.
The very first question that pops into my mind is about recycling. Do you recycle? Or do you just take your trash to the dump? One of the things that has changed in my area since I got into this trade is hauling away the customers old carpet and pad. We used to leave it outside in a pile. This is no longer acceptable. Hindsight being 20/20, I think removing the pile from the front of the house for a nominal fee is a good idea. You will never get a complaint about the customer’s kids hurting themselves on what you leave behind and you have increased your bottom line. It’s a win-win scenario. What you do with the old material after you leave is up to you. Behind the warehouse I work out of, there is a large trailer for recycling. We recycle everything we can. If you are in a situation that there is not enough room for a recycling trailer, there are many supply chains that have programs where they accept padding for recycling. I have a deal worked out with a local recycling company. I put all my carpet and pad into the trailer. Used carpet along side all scraps from the jobsite. This cuts my dumpster fee down tremendously. I get charged a flat rate for the trailer to be replaced with a new one. Then I get paid back for everything that can be recycled. If I make sure the trailer is packed correctly, I can break even on the cost.
A method of marketing yourself as green can be done through the supplies we use. If you are using a direct-glue method for installation, the adhesive you use deserves some consideration. A lot of installers have been using green adhesives and do not even know it. Some adhesives are “greener” than others. Some supply houses only carry green adhesives others have a variety. They run in the same price range just omit less VOCs. Seam sealer can also be green. Any adhesive manufacture that sells products in the state of California has to adhere tougher standards than other states.
How does any of this stuff affect the everyday installer who works for a retail outlet. Everything you do represents who you want to be. If you want to protect your environment, start with what you can control. The air quality that surrounds you affects both your health and your customer’s health. Make sure the carpet is vacuumed before you remove it. This does not have to be done by you, the customer can vacuum too. You just need to have this conversation to assign responsibility before you begin removing the old carpet. When you decide to vacuum, use a hepa vacuum, or one with a hepa filter. This does not sound like much, but it does promote goodwill. Something else I started doing is cover cupboard doors and counter tops with cardboard or plastic. I do this to protect the finish but, it also keeps whatever is inside the cupboards clean. You have to remember, as you work inside a home you are disturbing the surrounding environment.
Dust gets everywhere. Another thing we can do is reuse garbage bags. This both saves money and the environment. I know a couple of installers who spent thirty bucks on the most expensive and thick bags they could find four years ago and just keep emptying them into our trailer. Sounds silly but it helps. These are just a few suggestions that can help you market yourself as someone who care about the world we live in. If the customer believes you are the type of person that is concerned about the environment, then to them you are.
Something that rarely gets thought about is where your tools and supplies are manufactured. An American tradition is to get everything as inexpensive as possible. People want to maximize their dollar by shopping price instead of quality. This idea has pushed some manufactures to produce their product overseas. In order to produce a product in the USA, manufacturers have to follow pollution laws. These laws are not as stringent in other countries. You should understand that there is a reason your tool is so cheap. Also understand that you could unknowingly be part of the problem. I am not going to get into which tools are made where or where your tackstrip is coming from, but you should find out. If you are the type of person that cares, this could end up affecting what you purchase.
The point is, most of us are more “green” than we realize. We just do not market it. If a client asks us what we do for the economy be prepared to answer. When you have your answers ready you look confident. This does make you appear more professional. Personally, I will take whatever edge I can get. There is an old saying though. if you are going to talk the talk. You better walk the walk. If you are going to talk a big game about how much you care, and you mix your floor prep next to your customer’s furnace. You will probably end up looking a bit disingenuous. Also if your installation is not right, none of this matters anyway.