As a vertically integrated manufacturer, we look at the whole of a product’s life cycle — considering not only what we make, but also how we make it. It is this combination of structure and approach that allows us to enhance the sustainability of our products at virtually every point — sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, installation and end-of-life.
Creating a More Sustainable Life Cycle
Increasing the sustainability benefits of our products starts with choosing raw materials that are renewable, sustainably harvested or recycled. We produce flooring from post-consumer recycled material such as PET soda bottles, rubber tires, plastic bottle caps, glass and more. All of our manufactured ceramic products contain recycled materials. We also achieved an industry first with our SmartStrand® carpet, the first carpet made with a renewably sourced polymer.
Globally, our manufacturing process capitalizes on many opportunities to use less water and energy, reduce emissions and divert waste from landfills. Globally, for example, 16 of our 24 ceramic tile manufacturing plants recover and reuse 100 percent of their process wastewater. In addition, our U.S. laminate and board facilities recycle scrap wood into chipboard products or sell waste material to a third party. We also manufacture our flooring to be durable and long-lasting, which keeps it on floors and out of landfills.
When distributing products, our logistics team — which manages one of the largest warehousing and distribution networks in the industry — has become a driver of sustainability. This energy-intensive area offers many opportunities for generating efficiencies. We have implemented energy-saving programs, such as route optimization, the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) trucks in California and the installation of a fuel filling station at our headquarters in Calhoun, Georgia. We continue to seek out and implement best practices in transportation to get our products to market in the most efficient ways possible.
Our product marketing is also growing more sustainable through the increased use of online tools. This makes it easier for our customers and consumers to choose the right products while reducing our use of paper and the production of product samples. QR codes on our in-store samples and displays, for example, drive consumers to our website for product information, enabling us to reduce the use of printed materials. Our suite of interactive tools for commercial customers allows them to deliver a variety of design and environmental options to their own customers virtually and to make changes instantly if needed.
Installation is an important phase for the majority of our flooring products and one in which we seek to minimize the use of materials. Unilin’s patented Uniclic® technology is a good example. Uniclic offers an easy installation method that uses no glue or other chemicals, thereby helping to improve indoor air quality. We also have reduced the chemicals used in many of our carpet adhesives, including zero-VOC NuSpraylok®, used for commercial carpet tiles.
We engineer many of our products for reuse or end-of-life recycling. In Europe, we are studying the feasibility of repurposing post-consumer wood waste in order to develop a more circular economy for laminate manufacturing. In the Carpet business, our ReCover reclamation program for commercial and residential customers keeps carpet out of landfills. With just a phone call, we will arrange for the removal, pickup and delivery to a processor of any type of carpet, regardless of whether we manufactured it.
Finally, our business depends on meeting the needs of our customers with safe, high-quality products for their homes or businesses. We intentionally design our products to meet or exceed all health, safety and quality standards, as well as local, state and federal laws. This is more than just a good business decision. It also is good for our customers and is the right thing to do.
Mohawk will continue to make products using ever more responsible methods and materials in order to protect the health and safety of our customers, ensure the quality they expect and reduce the impact on our environment.
During 2015, Mohawk’s acquisition of IVC added luxury vinyl tile, or LVT, to the list of flooring categories in which we enjoy market-leading positions. IVC, headquartered in Belgium, is among the foremost producers in the world of vinyl flooring, commanding the number-one share of the European residential sheet vinyl and LVT markets and the number-two position in the North American sheet vinyl market.
LVT represents the fastest-growing flooring category today, thanks to its realistic visuals, moisture resistance, sound suppression and simple installation. With IVC, Mohawk gains instant leadership in the category, while IVC gains a well-developed distribution network and customer relationships in both North America and Europe.
Like Mohawk, IVC is a vertically integrated manufacturer, which means IVC looks at the entirety of its products’ life cycle as opposed to just the end products. IVC’s ownership of its own recycling facility, for example, means that it has complete control over the safety, quality, recyclability and content of its products. This makes the use of recycled material both environmentally and economically sustainable.
In addition to these product attributes, IVC has a strong commitment to environmentally responsible manufacturing. More than 40 percent of the electricity consumed at IVC’s vinyl production site in Belgium consists of renewable energy provided by IVC’s wind farm. In addition, a new LVT manufacturing facility in Dalton, Georgia, also features a 654 MW solar array that powers a portion of its electrical needs.
One of our most effective environmental efficiency strategies in recent years has been an ambitious landfill waste diversion program that includes a high degree of recycling. But we also see recycling as a two-way street — minimizing not only what we put in the landfill, but also maximizing what we can pull out.
We’re finding that the second part of this equation, even when it makes environmental and economic sense, has the potential to be a bumpy ride. A closer look at two flooring categories offers insights into what happens when you try to increase the amount of recycled content in product, but the recycled material is simply not there.
On the surface, carpet made from polyethylene, or PET, bottles has been a resounding success. Indeed, plastic bottles are the poster child of recycling in the U.S. The technology has been around for more than three decades and provides a cost-effective alternative to virgin polyester.
Mohawk alone has been able to divert 3 billion pounds of bottles from landfill while offering our customers a carpet with 100 percent recycled content. Extending our commitment, in 2013 we invested $180 million to debut a new manufacturing process to create an even higher-quality carpet from PET bottles, expanding one of our fastest-growing categories.
Demand for PET-recycled content is strong, but what about supply? It’s often constrained. In fact, only 31 percent of PET bottles in the U.S. were recycled in 2014. While that percentage is higher than in the past, it nevertheless means that two-thirds of plastic bottles, or more than 4 billion pounds, are still ending life in a landfill.
Improving plastic bottle recycling is largely dependent upon changing consumer behavior, but there are other roadblocks in the quest to increase the supply of PET-recycled content. Single-stream recycling, for example, has helped to increase PET-recycling volume, but often results in quality contamination of PET material. That, in turn, presents both cost and operational issues for reclaimers.
Uneven material quality can also create a roadblock for post-consumer wood waste, another important input for flooring manufacturers seeking to increase their use of recycled content. Unlike plastic bottles marked with a No. 1, wood has no identification system to distinguish various types of wood waste. Some wood is solid, some is pressed filled with adhesive, while other material is coated with plastic. Although it all may “read” as wood, the hodge-podge chemical composition can easily shut down the recycling process.
There are additional hurdles in Belgium, where much of our wood-based product manufacturing is located. Wood itself presents a sourcing challenge as land constraints limit the amount of virgin material from forests in the region. This makes post-consumer wood waste all the more important. But we’re not the only purchaser seeking the more than 1.3 billion pounds of wood that households and businesses dispose of annually. With the EU calling for 20 percent renewable energy, this resource is also in high demand by electric utilities as a biomass feedstock.
In recognition of how vital wood waste is to manufacturing growth in the region, the Flemish government has stipulated that wood streams must be used as a raw material as often and as long as possible before ending up as biomass. With this support in place, we’ve joined waste collectors, waste sorters and recyclers in a two-year study to develop, analyze and evaluate different scenarios around the many roadblocks to wood waste recycling in the region. The goal is to find a way to repurpose wood waste at least one more time before it ultimately reaches end-of-life as biomass material. This project has led our wood panel business in Belgium to increase its sourcing of urban wood as a raw material from 30 to 80 percent. We’re also collaborating with an external party to transform MDF waste to active carbon, which could result in the first recycled use of MDF boards.
As with any journey, obstacles are to be expected as we pursue our sustainability objectives. We’ve seen how innovation and collaboration can find not only a way around, but also, often a way right through these obstructions. The business imperative is clear: Consumers and commercial customers are seeking more recycled content in the products we offer. That bottom-line consideration will continue to motivate us — but so, too, will the opportunity to be a leader in contributing to a zero waste future.