Greening Your Purchase of Carpet Environmentally Preferable Purchasing US EPA

Greening Your Purchase of Carpet: A Guide for Federal Purchasers

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing, or EPP, seeks the overall best value, taking into account price competitiveness, availability, regulatory requirements, performance, and environmental impact. Because purchasers typically have clear sources of information on procurement and regulatory requirements and well-established methods for evaluating price and performance, the US EPA has developed these purchasing guides to help government purchasers consider environmental factors in purchasing decisions. EPA realizes that there are not universal answers for all scenarios and that purchasers must take into account local conditions when weighing the various attributes of a particular product. Please note that EPA is not endorsing any of the products, services, or organizations described in the guides, and has not verified information provided by these organizations. Read more information about the EPP Program’s history. tools. and resources .


Carpet is quiet, soft, slip-resistant and often quite beautiful. These qualities make it a common choice as a floor covering for office space. But, as with any product, various environmental impacts can occur throughout the product’s life cycle. By considering a variety of life cycle attributes, from the materials used to manufacture and install carpet to recycling and disposal issues, purchasers can make informed decisions about carpet.

The purpose of the guide is to provide practical information that will assist federal purchasers in making purchasing decisions. The guide is not a risk assessment document nor is it intended to substitute for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), labels, or similar documents that provide information on proper storage, handling, use, and disposal. More comprehensive information on carpets is available from a variety of sources, a number of which are listed in the «Contacts and Resources» section of the guide.

Why Green Your Carpets?

Health and environmental concerns associated with carpet include indoor air quality, chemical emissions from manufacturing and disposal operations, and solid waste impacts. A variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be emitted from carpet materials, although VOC emissions from new carpet typically fall to very low levels within 48 to 72 hours after installation when accompanied by good ventilation. Over four billion pounds of carpet enter the solid waste stream in the U.S. every year, accounting for more than one percent by weight and about two percent by volume of all municipal solid waste (MSW). Furthermore, the bulky nature of carpet creates collection and handling problems for solid waste operations, and the variety of materials present in carpet makes it difficult to recycle, although new efforts described later in this guide are underway to increase recycling opportunities.

Life Cycle and Tradeoff Issues

As with all products, environmental impacts can occur throughout the life cycle of carpet, from the initial acquisition of raw materials to the final disposal of any product remnants. These impacts vary with the types of materials used, the pattern of carpet use and replacement, and the options available for reuse, recycling, or disposal. An approach for evaluating the life cycle impacts of carpet and other floor coverings is included in the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) tool. BEES includes life cycle impact data on carpet with face fiber made of wool, virgin nylon, recycled nylon, and recycled polyethylene terephthalate (or PET). General information on life cycle analysis and its role in environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) can be found in the EPP General Training Tool. In addition, it is important to investigate new and updated life cycle analysis tools that can assist purchasers in making decisions about environmentally preferable products.

Materials Used in Carpet

Nylon is the most popular fiber used as the face fiber in commercial carpet. Two closely related forms of nylon, «nylon 6″ and «nylon 6,6″ are used in carpet face fiber. Polypropylene (olefin), PET, and recycled PET also are used in carpet face fiber. In general, carpet made from PET and polypropylene face fiber is not as durable as carpet made from nylon face fiber. EPA recommends that consumers refer to the «Selecting Carpet and Rugs» page of the Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI’s) Web site when determining which type of carpet to purchase.

Carpet backing is used to provide structural support to the face fiber. Over 90 percent of commercial carpet is tufted and consists of three possible elements: 1) the primary backing fabric, 2) the applied bonding adhesive and 3) the secondary backing or a special purpose cushion or hard back. Primary backing is a fabric into which pile yarn tufts are inserted by tufting needles. Polypropylene is the most common material in primary backing fabrics, although polyester is used in some specialty applications. Styrene-butadiene latex is the most common bonding material used in carpet backing systems. Secondary backings usually consist of a fabric laminated to the back of tufted carpet. Woven polypropylene is also the most common fabric in secondary backings. The term is sometimes used in a broader sense to include attached cushion and other polymeric back coatings, such as polyurethane, ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), recycled PVC, jute, polyolefin, (i.e. polyethylene), and amorphous polymer resins. Unlike residential carpet, most commercial carpet comes with the cushion laminated to the carpet. The cushion is the foundation and is integral to the construction of the product.

Jute is a renewable bio-based product but is not as durable as the synthetic backings and is seldom available today. PVC backing with up to 100 percent recycled content is readily available and is used by some manufacturers. A new product to the market has a cushion backing made from postconsumer glass and polyvinyl butyral (PVB) plastic recovered from windshield and safety glass recycling. Use of recycled materials is expected to mitigate the impacts associated with manufacture and disposal.

A polyurethane backing under development uses 4 to 6 percent polyol derived from soybean oil. In addition to the renewable resource advantage, initial data indicate that the use of soy-based polyurethane in carpet backing saves energy over the product life cycle compared to the use of standard petrochemical-based polyols. A bonding adhesive makes use of a renewable, bio-based material derived from a tall oil byproduct of the kraft pulping process. This resin is available from a source that is certified under the American Forest & Paper Association’s Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard and under ISO 14001.

Carpet cushion is placed underneath the carpet to provide longer life, additional comfort, insulation, and noise reduction. In some cases a cushioned secondary backing is integral to the carpet backing. Materials used in carpet cushion include polyurethane, PVC, recycled PVC, PVB, jute, synthetic rubber, and other synthetic fibers. Some of these substances can be obtained from recovered materials. Be sure to specify an alternative to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) which have been phased out of production and are subject to a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) under the Toxic Substances Control Act. PBDEs subject to the SNUR were formerly used as flame retardants in carpet cushion. For more information about PBDEs see the OPPT PBDE page .

Federal EPP Authority and Mandate

Spending approximately $230 billion annually on a large quantity and wide variety of products and services, the federal government leaves a large environmental «footprint.» However, by purchasing environmentally preferable products and services, the federal government can wield its spending power to increase the national demand for greener products as well as to help meet environmental goals through markets rather than mandates. In 1995, in response to Executive Order (E.O.) 12873, «Federal Acquisition, Recycling, and Waste Prevention» (PDF) (9 pp. 32 Kb, about PDF ). EPA established the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) program to encourage and assist Executive agencies in the purchase of environmentally preferable products and services. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which establishes uniform procedures and policies for federal acquisition, was amended on August 22, 1997 to support federal procurement of «green» products and services. And, most recently, in 1998, Executive Order (E.O.) 13101, «Greening the Government through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition «, directed Executive agencies to «consider. a broad range of factors including: elimination of virgin material requirements; use of biobased products; use of recovered materials; reuse of product; life cycle cost; recyclability; use of environmentally preferable products; waste prevention (including toxicity reduction or elimination); and ultimate disposal» when making purchasing decisions and to «modify their procurement programs as appropriate.»

Similarly, the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000 (page 72 of the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000, P.L.106-224 (PDF) (100 pp, 339KB, about PDF ). Section 9002 of the 2002 Farm Bill (also known as the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 ), and Executive Order 13134 on «Developing and Promoting Biobased Products and Bioenergy» (PDF) (6 pp, 71KB, about PDF ). have emphasized the potential importance of biobased products to national economic and environmental interests. Together these authorities encourage a strong federal role in the development and early adoption of biobased products and recognize the role of procurement as part of an overall federal policy on biobased products.

Five Guiding Principles

To help federal government purchasers incorporate environmental considerations into purchasing decisions, EPA developed five guiding principles. The guiding principles provide a framework purchasers can use to make environmentally preferable purchases. The five principles are:

    Include environmental factors as well as traditional considerations of price and performance as part of the normal purchasing process. Emphasize pollution prevention early in the purchasing process. Examine multiple environmental attributes throughout a product’s or service’s life cycle.
  1. Compare relative environmental impacts when selecting products and services. Collect and base purchasing decisions on accurate and meaningful information about environmental performance.

What Can You Do?

Environmentally preferable carpet choices each have their own merits, and choosing one depends on the specific need, location, and use for the carpet. Some questions to consider in determining the best choice for your situation include:

What are the durability requirements?

In general, more durable products reduce environmental impacts because of the less frequent need for replacement. It is important to anticipate the expected use pattern and replacement schedule in order to make the best environmental purchase. For example, a highly durable carpet may not be the best choice for a temporary space with light use or where near-term replacement is expected because of a change in tenants, building renovations, or other factors.

What are the proper installation and maintenance procedures?

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation. Industry-recommended standards for carpet installation (CRI 104 for commercial carpet and CRI 105 for residential carpet) are available from the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) website . Choose low-emitting adhesives such as those that meet the criteria developed by CRI’s Green Label program or by Green Seal. Make sure that you select a carpet suitable for the routine cleaning and maintenance procedures in the area where it will be used. Be sure to follow good cleaning practices as recommended by the manufacturer or other reliable sources. CRI’s Green Label vacuum cleaner testing program includes a list of vacuum cleaners meeting the Green Label standards for soil removal, dust containment, and carpet appearance retention. This list is available on CRI’s Web site.

Is there a mechanism for reusing or recycling some or all of the carpet components?

The Carpet America Recovery Effort can provide information and advice on recycling and other end-of-life options. Ensure that recycling operations are currently established and operational and not based on future expectation. Specify your recovery-recycling requirements in the purchase contract — this ensures that end-of-life issues are addressed and incorporates lifetime cost into the purchase price. Waiting to address end-of-life issues until the need arises can result in more limited options and higher costs.

What are the chemical emissions and other impacts from the manufacture of carpet?

The carpet industry as a whole has made substantial progress in recent years in reducing chemical emissions, energy usage, and water usage associated with manufacturing processes. Additionally, some carpet manufacturers are pursuing certification under ISO 14000-series environmental management standards . Ask manufacturers to provide information on their specific efforts and accomplishments in this area. Industry-wide information in this area is available from the Annual Sustainability Report issued by the Carpet and Rug Institute .

What are the emissions from the carpet itself or from other materials used during its installation, e.g. adhesives? Do any of these emissions present indoor air quality concerns?

Find out if the product has met the Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI) Green Label/Green Label Plus (GLP) requirements . The Green Label program specifies emission limits for certain chemicals from carpet, cushion, and adhesive. These emission limits and lists of manufacturers who have met the standard are available at the linked site above. Ask manufacturers or others knowledgeable about emissions testing if any other relevant data or analyses are available.

Standards and Specifications

A number of states and EPA Regions have incorporated contract language that takes health and environmental considerations into account when purchasing carpet. North Carolina’s specification addresses a broad range of performance and environmental attributes. Massachusetts state agencies specify minimum levels of recycled content for carpet purchases; both Massachusetts and Minnesota allow only low-VOC adhesives; and the State of Washington specifies the maximum emissions allowed in the first 30 days following installation. EPA Region 10 purchases only low-VOC and formaldehyde-free adhesives and requires that any carpet unable to be reused must be recycled with the INVISTA Reclamation Program or its equivalent. EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) currently address only carpet cushion and polyester carpet, but proposed changes to the CPG also include nylon carpet and backing for nylon carpet, as well as some proposed revisions to the existing polyester carpet designation. EPA issued a Notice of Data Availability on the CPG proposal summarizing comments received for nylon carpet and soliciting additional comment on the carpet designation. Scientific Certification Systems has issued an EPP specification, based on life cycle considerations, for environmentally preferable carpet and carpet face fiber . Several carpet manufacturers have products that meet this specification. Purchasers can find the above-cited contract language and additional information on voluntary standards and guidelines for carpet in the EPP Database. In addition, the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability (MTS) has a Unified Sustainable Textile Standard (MS Word format, 324K, 37 pp. link to MS Word Viewer ) that addresses global benefits for carpet.

Other Activities/Future Directions

On January 8, 2002, a Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship (MOU) was signed establishing a ten-year schedule for increased rates of reuse and recycling of carpet. Participants in the negotiation process that led to the MOU included representatives of the carpet industry, federal, state, and local governments, and non-governmental organizations. The carpet industry has established a third-party organization, the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) . to facilitate implementation of the MOU goals. The MOU partners have also agreed to develop model procurement guidelines for use by government purchasers. The procurement guidelines will address other performance and environmental issues in addition to end-of-life management.

To assist federal purchasers in fulfilling mandates to purchase recycled content, biobased, naturally renewable, and environmentally preferable products, GSA’s Federal Supply Schedule for flooring 72 I A makes these products available from suppliers listed under Special Item Number (SIN) category 31-601 for recycled and/or biobased content flooring.

GSA’s online shopping service.

SCS is an independent organization that provides a wide range of evaluation and certification services, including a number of voluntary health and environmental standards for products.

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