An Interview with Roxane Spears, LEED AP, Vice President for Sustainability, North America
| By E&I Cooperative Services
We sat down with Roxane Spears, LEED AP, Vice President for Sustainability, North America at Tarkett. With a background in interior architecture, Roxane has been with Tarkett for 15 years, beginning her career at the company in sales. Two years ago, she became the Sustainability Director for the east coast before assuming her current role as Vice President for Sustainability, North America.
Roxane discussed Tarkett’s commitment to sustainability and wellness, and how the company’s manufacturing practices contribute to indoor air quality.
Please tell us about Tarkett’s sustainability program and practices. What is your focus as the Vice President of Sustainability, and what is Tarkett’s sustainable vision as a whole?
Tarkett’s sustainability program incorporates the overall wellness of people and planet. We created our strategy by asking ourselves, where do we want to be in 15 years and how are we going to get there? We’ve always had a holistic view of sustainability, using circular economy and Cradle to Cradle as our guiding principles.
Instead of just focusing on making one or two ‘healthy’ products, we believe everything we do as a company should encompass a sustainable philosophy. We want to offer an entire portfolio that allows our customers to make their selections based upon the needs of their facility, knowing that any product they purchase will have healthy ingredients, low VOCs, low impact on the planet, and end-of-use management for the product.
Why does indoor air quality matter, especially for children?
The number one reason children miss school and the number three reason children are hospitalized is for asthma. With that said, we’ve been working with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), which has resulted in Tarkett being the first commercial flooring manufacturer with a selection of products that are certified as asthma- and allergy-friendly.
The AAFA has stated that the indoor environment is the primary risk for children when it comes to asthma. Since children spend most of their day in school, if those buildings have poor indoor air quality, this could be causing asthmatic attacks or allergic reactions. We want to ensure our materials are healthy so these children aren’t exposed to anything that could cause a health risk or is going to make them sick.
To put it into perspective, the AAFA conducted research on low-income areas that were also high-risk for asthma. The reason why these are such high-risk areas is because the schools and apartments are not well maintained, resulting in high levels of mold. Many of the buildings were constructed using low-quality materials and products that contain ingredients like heavy metals and caustic chemicals that we know have adverse effects on human health. This causes the children in these communities to become sick and stay home from school, which usually means someone must miss work to stay home with the child. For a low-income family, missing a day or two of work is significant. This shows that the health of the material you’re putting into a space has a larger socioeconomic impact.
What is Tarkett doing to affect IAQ?
As a manufacturer, Tarkett looks at our products to ensure they have the lowest VOCs possible. The standards for most floor products are either FloorScore® certified for hard surface flooring or GREENGUARD certified for soft surface products. We decided to take it another two steps:
- We have the Asthma and Allergy Foundation certify some of our products asthma- and allergy-friendly©. This stringent certification process involves installing the product in a testing space and maintaining it the way it would be maintained in a facility. This gives a true reading to ensure that, with proper installation and maintenance, the product is not going to cause an asthmatic or allergic reaction.
- We test for TVOCs. A product that is typically independent third-party certified tests for 32 VOCs, but when you up the ante and test for TVOCs, that’s testing everything that’s being released from the product. By taking this extra measure, we’ve set guidelines that help us determine whether we need to re-evaluate what’s being used in the product and how we can lower the TVOCs so it’s better for the space and the people.
Please talk about Tarkett’s commitment to the use of healthy materials and sustainability.
It was important for us to be third-party certified rather than to self-declare, and so we started working with Cradle to Cradle.
Cradle to Cradle takes an inventory of the materials in our products, and screens them to determine if any of the ingredients are concerning. They then either give the product its approval or tell us which ingredient(s) should be removed, and in that case they’ll work with us to find a healthy replacement. This really helps us optimize the product to ensure it’s healthy. This has been our guiding principle and allows us to be transparent about what’s in our products.
On a more holistic approach, Cradle to Cradle also evaluates our energy use, water use, and social commitment. Each year we must account for each of our factories, and report on whether they have reduced water and energy use. If not, it could cause an issue with our certification because we must prove that we’re continuously making improvements.
This process ensures we are mindful from the beginning of product design, all the way through production. We even take this through our supply chain to ensure they are committing to those same standards. This means that, at the end of a product’s life, we can take it back and either reuse it in some capacity or recycle it. This creates that circular economy, which is so important to our commitment to sustainability and wellness.
What are some trends you’re seeing in this area?
As buildings are becoming more energy efficient, they are also becoming better sealed. It’s more important than ever to consider the quality of the products and materials because any emissions are trapped inside. Manufacturers are getting better about eliminating formaldehyde. Flame retardants are a big concern, too – Tarkett has gone to all-natural flame retardants in our products. For a long time, people were all about anti-microbials, but we learned these are a problem because they create “superbugs”. When I first started at Tarkett, we had recently removed ortho-phthalates from our products. Ortho-phthalates are common plasticizers, but they are also endocrine inhibitors. Tarkett recognized this risk and replaced our plasticizers with a healthy alternative. We haven’t had any phthalates in our products for 10 years.
Regarding indoor air quality, people are looking for third-party certifications about VOCs in products. They are also starting to look at the filtration systems in their buildings and being very conscious about maintaining them, whereas before there would just be a standard system without any maintenance plan in place. We’ve been talking a lot about proper ventilation and windows. Many buildings have been constructed where you cannot open windows, which affects air circulation. All of these things work together, and you must make it a healthy system.
What are Tarkett’s future plans to continue supporting sustainability and wellness?
As manufacturers, we must continue to make intentional decisions about what we put into our products. There are currently 80,000 ingredients/chemicals on the market, and only 200 of those have ever been tested or regulated by the EPA. We’ve got to remain conscious of what we’re putting in the marketplace because it’s going to be there for a long time. If you’re installing products in a school, they’re not going to remodel that school in ten years. It’s going to be 20 or 30 years, and we are accountable for that.
Tarkett will continue to create healthy products, evaluating our materials, and adjusting as needed. We will continue to use Cradle to Cradle and circular economy as our guiding principles. Our transparency and commitment to sustainability, working together to reduce new material resources that can’t be replenished… these are all a part of our future. Tarkett will use more recycled products and focus on renewable energy and water reduction. And we will continue to be responsible for the air quality of the areas we’re manufacturing in.
It’s all one working system and we’re proud to be contributing to it in a positive way.
About the Author
Tarkett provides a wide portfolio of integrated flooring solutions suited for the unique needs of education. The company produces a variety of flooring, including modular carpet, broadloom and woven, vinyl, linoleum, rubber, and laminate.