How sustainable are ceramic and glass tiles? Whether used for durability or decoration, tiles in lobbies, corridors, pool areas, restrooms and professional kitchens are an opportunity to specify products that are environmentally responsible. Learn
how Green Squared, a multi-attribute certification, ensures that tiles
and related installation materials are green from start to finish.
It’s Hip to Be Squared
Made from inorganic materials, tiles don’t usually come to mind
as an environmental offender. But just because something isn’t
harmful doesn’t mean that it’s sustainable. Spearheaded by the
Tile Council of North America (TCNA), Green Squared is the result
of industry consensus and formalized as ANSI A138.1.
The standard applies not only to ceramic and glass tiles, but
also to all installation materials: “powder goods (grouts,
mortars), panel installation products (backer boards, underlayments), liquid and paste installation products (trowelable membranes, polymer additives) and sheet installation products (crack
isolation and waterproof membranes).” This comprehensive
scope ensures that all aspects of a tile project have been vetted
for eco-friendly qualities.
Green Squared is the only such standard for the tile industry,
says Bill Griese, TCNA’s Director of Standards Development and
Sustainability Initiatives. Manufacturers seeking the label must
go through a third-party certification with UL Environment, NFS
International or SCS Global Services. This authentication step is
why the standard is commonly recognized by major building
certification programs, Griese adds.
As a multi-attribute label, Green Squared doesn’t focus on
only one criteria to assert a product is green.
“Sustainability can be tricky to define – how do you decide
what is most important? For example, is low or no VOCs better
than having recycled content?” asks Griese. “As the experts for
these products, we saw a real need to define what is most important for sustainability. To have a true multi-attribute standard, you
can’t look at ingredients, the use phase or manufacturing alone –
you have to consider the full lifecycle.”
Green Squared covers five areas of environmental responsibility:
product characteristics, manufacturing, end of product life
management, corporate governance and innovation. Each of
these areas have prerequisites to achieve, with elective points for
going above and beyond, Griese explains.
Product Characteristics – This category addresses raw materials
and packaging, including recycled content, level of volatile
organic emissions and the amount of indigenous materials. For
example, all tiles must be no VOC but installation products can be
Companies must also demonstrate that their packaging is
“minimal, biodegradable or compostable (in accordance with
ASTM biodegradability criteria), recyclable, reusable on-site, or
has recycled content.”
Manufacturing – Environmental responsibility is further emphasized during the production process, says Griese, including full
disclosure of all materials and sustainable procurement policies.
Factory safety is also addressed by prohibiting visible particulate
matter emissions, which can cause health problems.
Fuels are limited to natural gas, LP, landfill-generated methane,
or biobased sources. The standard also requires companies “to
have an environmental management plan that addresses waste
minimization, lighting efficiency, heating fuel usage, electricity
consumption and water conservation.”
Reuse and Recycle – Tiles are unlikely to wear out like other
flooring options, but in the event they ugly out, Green Squared
ensures they can be reused or recycled safely.
One option for compliance is to have materials meet the EPA's
clean fill definition, which means they are non-water soluable, inert
and can’t decompose. This puts them into a class with rocks, bricks
and concrete – solid materials that won’t leach caustic liquids.
“We also offer points if the tiles can be reused in other products, such as ground up into asphalt mix, or the producer offers a
takeback program,” Griese notes.
Corporate Governance – Most environmental standards are
focused on the product itself but Green Squared asks for a manufacturer’s business practices to exhibit the same sense of accountability, explains Griese. This section requires companies to show
leadership in areas of fair labor, marketing claims, environmental
regulation compliance and workplace safety.
The standard also includes a fifth area for innovation, rewarding
points for using creative manufacturing practices and adopting
The Scoop on Sustainable Tiles
Certification spotlight on Green Squared