From retro to revered. By Elizabeth Butcher, UK Marketing Manager, Healthcare and education Tarkett UK.
LINOLEUM ticks all the boxes when it comes to key design trends. Trends may come and go, but regardless of the season, sustainability is always in fashion. Fast becoming the number one consideration for specification clients, an understanding of where their chosen materials come from is often front-and-centre in a design brief.
But, when selecting a flooring solution, which option is the most sustainable? Perhaps linoleum doesn’t necessarily first spring to mind, but it ticks all the boxes. Here, leading flooring manufacturer, Tarkett, explores the lesser-known benefits of a material that has stood the test of time.
Linoleum, or ‘lino’ as it’s commonly referred to, might conjure up images of vintage-inspired decor, but its attributes are distinctly modern. Discovered in 1863 by Fred Walton, who noticed that an opened tin of oil-based paint began to develop a layer of rubber-like skin, the natural, hard-wearing floor-covering has since been used in interiors around the world – favoured for its durability and easy maintenance.
So, does a floorcovering, invented over a century ago, still have a place in modern-day specification? Currently experiencing a renaissance, the resurgence of linoleum has its roots in what first made this flooring so popular – its practicality, value and aesthetic appeal – not to mention its eco friendliness.
Comprising a completely natural recipe of linseed oil, gum, resin and ground cork – it’s surprising that its sustainability credentials often go unrecognised by customers. But being made from natural ingredients, linoleum is, in fact, an ideal solution for the environmentally – and style – conscious.
In addition to its ‘green’ benefits, linoleum also responds to another major trend: design personalisation and customisation. The Tarkett linoleum range, for example, is available alongside its unique Floorcraft design service, whereby any pattern can be cut into lino. This offers designers complete creative freedom.
With a rich design history, linoleum has never really been ‘out of the running’, though perhaps has never really been in the spotlight either. And with its core qualities now more relevant than ever before, there’s never been a better time to specify this sustainable flooring solution.
Over 90% of the raw materials that make up Tarkett’s linoleum products are naturally occurring and renewable. With plants, trees and minerals providing the foundation for linoleum’s production, specifiers can rest assured of its ‘green’ credentials.
The materials required for producing linoleum actually seem more likely to appear on a supermarket’s shelves than what is typically associated with flooring production. These are illustrated below and includes:
1. Linseed oil. An oil made from dried and pressed flax seeds, harvested from flax that is grown near the Tarkett factory in Narni, Italy. The oil is used to bind the other ingredients together.
2. Pine rosin. A solidified resin from coniferous pine trees. Like linseed oil, pine rosin is used as a binding agent.
3. Wood flour. A finely pulverised wood, which gives the finished product lightness and durability.
4. Cork dust. It keeps the mixture strong and flexible.
5. Calcium carbonate. An organic chemical compound found in rocks that is used as a filler.
6. Jute. A vegetable fibre spun into strong threads that forms the base for the flooring.
By combining the linseed oil with pine rosin, linoleum cement is created – acting as a binding agent. Wood flour and cork dust are then added to the linoleum cement, which gives the mixture durability and flexibility. Calcium carbonate is then added, which acts as a filler material.
The mixture is then combined with the jute, the vegetable fibre spun into strong threads, which forms the base of the linoleum. Finally, pigments are added to create a rich palette of colours.
The linoleum produced today is not at all dissimilar to the mixture devised by Mr Walton in the mid-nineteenth century, and its celebrated eco credentials remain unchanged – only recharged with interest for a modern specification base.
A lean, green production process
In addition to its natural properties, linoleum is also made through an ecologically-friendly production process. Because it doesn’t matter how sustainable the raw materials are if the production process in which it is created isn’t also sensitive to environmental principles.
Tarkett, for example, ensures its production facility is as green as possible. Based in Narni, Italy, the factory holds several ‘green’ certifications and environmental accreditations, including ISO 14067 (Greenhouses Gases – Carbon Footprint of Products), ISO 50001 (Energy Management System), ISO 14001 (Environmental Management System), OHSAS 18001 (Health and Safety Management System) and SA 8000 (Social Accountability).
A culture of recyclability and reusability has also been instilled in the factory. Based on the principles of closed-loop design, the production off-cuts are captured, stored and then recycled into new linoleum products as part of Tarkett’s dedicated ReStart® recycling programme. This approach combined with a commitment to increasing its recycling capabilities has allowed the factory to recycle 1,600 tons of linoleum each year.
In line with its cradle-to-cradle philosophy, Tarkett also ensures the Narni factory uses as much renewable energy as possible. Through the addition of photovoltaic panels, biomass boilers and geothermal systems to its production facilities, the manufacturer is building a sustainable and carbon-neutral process.
And, given that it’s made from natural materials, linoleum is practically carbon neutral itself. Plus, the energy created by incinerating it at the end of its useful life is almost equal to the energy needed to create new linoleum.
Local and proud
In support of this ecological production process, Tarkett collaborates with local farmers to allow for the cultivation of local linseed in fields neighbouring the Narni production plant.
One of the factory’s objectives for the near future is to collaborate with local farmers in order to extend the local linseed production and thus reduce the carbon footprint by using more local raw materials.
Because using sustainable materials doesn’t matter much if they will then be flown across the world to the factory. Every part of the process takes the carbon footprint into consideration, doing everything possible to reduce it.
By continually improving its production processes and bringing raw materials closer to its production facility, Tarkett is achieving its ongoing goal of creating a modern, durable, and sustainable floor covering for the current and future market.
Supporting healthier indoor spaces
As well as contributing to a better ecological system for the planet, linoleum’s benefits extend closer to home.
With most people spending 90% of their time indoors, it’s only natural we should want to ensure this time is spent in comfortable and healthy spaces that promote wellbeing.
As specifiers are increasingly looking for interior solutions that prioritise health and wellbeing, linoleum stands out as being an ideal material to facilitate this.
Tarkett has made a commitment to supporting the health and wellbeing of its end-users through the dual approach of producing linoleum flooring using phthalate-free technology, plus creating a product that reduces VOC emissions.
Phthalates are compounds added to plastic to increase flexibility and are often found in flooring materials. However, research has shown that phthalates are potential carcinogens. Tarkett ensures its linoleum is free from phthalates, but also that the technology used to produce linoleum is also free from phthalates.
Linoleum’s total volatile organic compounds (TVOC) emissions are 10 times lower than the most stringent industry requirements, which contributes to improving a space’s indoor air quality.
Offering a dream cleaning regime
When specifying flooring for the healthcare sector cleanliness, in particular, is of the utmost importance. Linoleum offers ease of cleaning, anti-bacterial capabilities and electrical resistance.
Surface treatments applied towards the end of the manufacturing process means that linoleum is much easier to clean than other flooring options. These treatments reduce the amount of water, detergent and electricity needed to clean the surface.
Linoleum prevents the spread of bacteria in two ways. First, the natural antibacterial properties of linoxyn (solidified linseed oil), which is present in the composition of linoleum, inhibits the spread of bacteria. Second, unlike ceramic tiles, linoleum doesn’t have any cracks or crevices in which dirt and grime can build up and act as breeding grounds for harmful bacteria.
Linoleum’s ability to prevent the build-up of static electricity is also a significant benefit for hospitals and other medical facilities. The countless machines and instruments housed inside these buildings can often be highly sensitive to electrical interference, including that from static electricity.
Putting a personalised stamp on style
While function is extremely important in today’s commercial interiors market, form also plays a key role.
Linoleum offers complete creative flexibility. Colours and patterns can be used to achieve any aesthetic outcome a client requires. Whether this is to create a cosy, rustic, natural-inspired space through a wood effect, or a maximalist look with bold shapes and colour blocking, the possibilities are endless.
In addition, unlike other heterogeneous variations of linoleum, Tarkett’s unique homogeneous blend looks good for longer. This means that even when subjected to heavy footfall, the flooring pattern refrains from being worn down over time – ensuring that designs look just as effective after up to ten years, as they do on the day of installation.
The go-to solution
Linoleum is more relevant to today’s market than ever before. What started as a chance discovery for Fredrick Walton, has become an iconic design staple. But rather than being resigned to the history books – remembered only as a kitsch relic – linoleum is still having its day. And rightly so. With benefits spanning sustainability, simple maintenance and customisability, not to mention being bang on-trend – it’s a wonder flooring material suitable for any commercial project. Long live linoleum.
For more information on linoleum, its sustainability credentials or how it can be used to transform your next specification project, visit https://professionals.tarkett.com.