If you're interested in getting a green, eco-friendly floor, you're spoiled for choices, although some of the choices are more eco-friendly than the others. Here are the choices we've seen touted as eco-friendly and green for any number of reasons.
The nice thing about vinyl floors is that it doesn't need harsh cleaners, which makes it a benefit to people with allergies or a sensitivity to chemicals often found in cleaners. It's durable and long-lasting, so it doesn't need to be treated or replaced very often. But it frequently uses new PVC for materials, which has its own environmental issues. In terms of environmental friendliness, we give it a C+.
Some carpets tiles, especially ones from overseas, often contain harsh chemicals that can cause serious problems for people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Requires special machines and chemicals for deep cleaning, and uses electricity for cleaning. When it gets too dirty, it needs to be replaced. And shipping from overseas uses up all sorts of fuel, which is the antithesis of green. We give carpeting a C.
Yes, hardwood floors use wood, and the first reaction is to be against anything that cuts down trees. However, the best green floors come from FSC-certified forests, which means the trees are grown specifically to be harvested, they're harvested responsibly, and the companies practice sustainable forestry. Green floors also use eco-friendly finishes that contain no VOCs, solvents, or formaldehyde agents. Hardwood gets an B+, or an A- if you get FSC-certified wood with an eco-friendly finish.
We're giving engineered hardwood floors an A, because they solve waste disposal problems. Engineered hardwood floors look just like regular hardwood floors, but they use pieces of wood left over from other wood-using projects. It's not that regular hardwood floors are bad, it's just that engineered floors solve an additional problem while still giving people a good-looking floor. As an added bonus, standard and engineered hardwood don't require harsh cleaners, and are cleaned with just a broom and dustpan, or a dust mop.
Another A+. Not only do they use the bark from cork oak trees — which grows back in 9 years, and trees live as long as 200 years — but cork floors are made from the leftovers of wine and champagne corks. So not only are the raw materials completely sustainable and renewable, but they're reusing what would normally have to be landfilled or burned, which takes it up that one extra notch.
Bamboo is a grass that takes 5 years to grow back to full maturity. Strand woven bamboo floors, which are stronger and tougher than regular bamboo floors, use the leftover materials from the traditional bamboo floors. In strand woven floors, thin strips and leftovers from solid bamboo processing are woven and fused together to form the top layer of the engineered bamboo. Strand bamboo is the hardest wood product out there and can take a lot of abuse and action. Bamboo gets the A+ for both the sustainability but the reusing of castoff material. We're giving bamboo floors, especially strand woven, an A+.