Steven Spencer, Facilities Specialist with State Farm, recently chatted with us to discuss best practices for flooring sustainability. With over 21 years of experience at State Farm under his belt, Steven has reviewed a lot of flooring specs and multitudes of maintenance proposals. Previous job experiences in healthcare, sales and hospitality place Steven in the “subject matter expert” category when it comes to cleaning and interior maintenance.
Floors that last a lifetime sometimes seem like an unattainable goal. But what is a lifetime in the flooring world? 5 years? 10? Is 20 unheard of? Not according to Steven. “We sign 20 year leases on buildings and we don’t want to replace the carpet until the lease is up,” Steven says. How does he do it? It starts with picking the right product.
What an architect or designer proposes for a space may be aesthetically pleasing and functional, but how much will it cost to maintain? The question of maintenance usually doesn’t get asked until after the floor has been installed and Steven believes that’s too far along in the flooring life cycle. Maintenance hits the bottom line and when you begin talking dollars and cents, managers start to listen. “They listen in money,” Steven says. “They talk in other things, but they listen in money.”
On Flooring Longevity:
“By picking the right product, with proper installation and a well-crafted maintenance program, we get what we want appearance wise for 20 years.”
By asking questions about maintenance at the beginning of the flooring discussion, specifying the right product becomes much easier. “By picking the right product, with proper installation and a well-crafted maintenance program, we get what we want appearance wise for 20 years,” Steven says.
But what is the right product? In terms of carpet, for Steven, it’s a combination of:
- Level-loop construction
- Cushion-back carpet tile
- Antron fiber
Back to that well-crafted maintenance program … Steven notes that walk off matting is a key factor in the longevity of the carpet he maintains. His specifications include 30-40 feet of walk off material at every building entrance, including elevators. “We’ve found that when we trap the dirt at the front of a building, we have less cleaning to do,” he adds.
For Steven, getting a lifetime of use from a floor isn’t only about the cost. It’s also about the environment. He mentions programs where after 5 or so years of use, manufacturers will buy back the used carpet and recycle it. “Think about this,” Steven says. “You put that carpet down and it’s there for 5 years and they pick it up. Even though they give you $.50 per square yard, it’s going to take energy to ship that back to their plant. It takes energy to break that product down to raw materials. It takes energy to make the new carpet and it takes energy to ship it back out. If you’re doing it every 5 years, that’s a lot of energy you’re using and that’s basically what sustainability is. It’s saving energy.” In Steven’s view, the longer the carpet stays on the floor, it’s sustainable. And again, that’s why a first-rate maintenance plan is key to sustainability. By keeping the carpet looking good, you’re keeping it in a building and out of a landfill.
On Recycling Carpet:
“People talk about recycle, recycle, recycle as the number one choice. Reuse should be the number one choice.”
Over 18 years ago, Steven put the Landfill Avoidance Program into place for his employer. In that time, they’ve sent ZERO square yards of carpet to landfills. Yes, zero. “We’ve diverted over 2 million square yards of carpet,” Steven notes. He works with installers that, upon taking possession of the old carpet, dispose of it in one of four ways:
- Clean and reuse, sell or donate
- Sell for down cycle (used for parts in other industries)
- Recycle as carpet
- Burn at a licensed waste-to-energy plant
“What’s your definition of sustainability,” Steven asks. “People talk about recycle, recycle, recycle as the number one choice. Reuse should be the number one choice.” Consider this: 40% of used carpet has never been walked on. “It’s under cabinets,” Steven points out. “It’s under desks. It’s within 12 inches of the wall and no one walks there. That’s good quality carpet.” Clean it and sell it. Donate it. Use it in places that see a lot of traffic – like a mailroom. There are so many other alternatives to having old carpet find its final resting place in a landfill.
There are many factors and regulations that determine the future of the maintenance industry. One that’s often overlooked – but so vitally important – is water. Steven mentions, “Someone came up to me at an ISSA show and said ‘You’ve got to come see our new extractor. We can put out 6 gallons of water per minute onto the carpet.’ And I thought, you know, that’s not a smart thing because there are a lot of issues with flooding and droughts around the United States.“
Steven has researched drought conditions in the US over the past decade and believes that a shift in water usage awareness in other industries will create an impact in the flooring and maintenance industries as well. Consider the increasing local, regional, national and global restrictions on water. “I’ve seen waterless urinals in airports. Some buildings are moving to composting toilets. Should we really be making hot water extractors that put out 6 gallons of potable water per minute?”
A focus in the maintenance industry on using less potable water now will benefit the industry greatly in the future. “Will there be restrictions in the future on using potable water for cleaning,” Steven asks. “Gray water may be used. Will the chemicals that we currently use work with gray water?” Asking these questions now will eliminate the deadlines and time restraints that may come with putting the questions off.