Every day, we surround ourselves with products and materials that can influence our lives in ways seen and unseen. While it can be easy to see how their tangible experiences can enhance our every day, such as the comfort of cushion-backed carpet, more intangible attributes, like a PVC-free construction, can be less obvious yet are equally as important.
The material ingredients that construct products play a key role in how they impact the natural environment, and that of consumers.
Acknowledging this critical understanding, today, green building encompasses a myriad of product certifications, building standards, and manufacturing processes. Transparency tools range in focus, from environmental impacts to those that post potential risks to human health. It’s no surprise either. Americans spend approximately 90% of their time inside, where the EPA estimates that pollutants are between two and five times higher than those outdoors.
At Milliken, we strive to push the limits of what sustainability can be in each and every market we serve – this extends from environmentally friendly attributes to taking steps that give our customers transparent assurance in the products with which they choose to surround themselves.
Philip Ivey, sustainability leader for the Milliken floor covering division, and his colleague Jennifer Smith, sustainability development leader for the Milliken floor covering division, are doing just this. The team recently led Milliken through a year-long process to provide a revolutionary level of material transparency from a floor covering manufacturer as one of only two companies piloting the new LEED v4 MR Building Product Disclosure and Optimization - Material Ingredients credit (Option 3).
The goal of the credit is simple: to have a formal plan in place to optimize supplier chemistry, and understand what is in 99% of every ingredient in a supplier’s product, such as nylon yarn, from 99% of its suppliers. If hazardous ingredients are found in supplier formulations, a collaborative strategy is developed to phase it out as logically as possible.
Building material transparency is no longer a bonus when comparing finishes for commercial interior environments such as flooring – it is mandatory. This movement is something that Philip and Jennifer understand at its essence.
“If we are to ‘do good’ for our customers, we must continue to think differently about our products through their entire value chain and entire lifecycles to meet the dynamics of a circular economy,” Philip shared.
When piloting the credit, Philip and Jennifer knew that Milliken had to strive for higher standards. They aimed to exceed this requirement by understanding 100% of the materials used in 100% of our products available in North America, covering 100% of our suppliers.
“By doing more than we were asked to, we found out more than we would have at the normal requirement,” noted Philip. “Part of piloting a new green building certification credit is helping determine where the credit should be taken next – including whether standards should be elevated.”
The result of the credit exercise is known as Product Manufacturers Supply Chain Optimization. The credit language states that product manufacturers must engage in validated and robust safety, health, hazard and risk programs, which at a minimum document at least 99% (by weight) of the ingredients used to construct the building product.
Milliken expanded its interpretation of the credit language to include policies and procedures for how to manage every aspect of a manufacturer’s product ingredients – regardless of the percentage that a material makes up in a final product. This method is also proactive. If a supplier were to alter its product formulations, there are policies and procedures in place to review the new list of ingredients to ensure that they conform with both Milliken’s and the market’s material standards.
Arcadia, the first Milliken floor covering collection certified as compliant with LEED v4 MR Building Product Disclosure and Optimization - Material Ingredients credit (Option 3), is inspired by the organic flowing textures and intriguing paths found in nature.
WAP Sustainability authored the approach to fulfilling the new requirement for Milliken, serving as the necessary third-party resource to evaluate proprietary supplier formulations confidentially, while having upfront conversations with suppliers about single ingredients that may pose potential risks to environmental and human health.
Breaking industry norms once again, Milliken chose to have their efforts third-party audited by Green Circle Certified; completing one of the first third-party audits of material transparency. Green Circle Certified is an independent organization, which verifies that claims of sustainable aspects of products and manufacturing operations are valid. Going through these rigors ensures that Milliken and WAP Sustainability’s method of reviewing and understanding supplier product chemistry for potentially hazardous components is not only accurate, but widely accepted – giving consumers once more level of confidence.
“At Milliken, our job is to question the status quo. It is something we have been doing since 1900 when we established our first recycling policy. We wanted to take a more critical view of reviewing the accuracy of transparency labels to 99.99% (or 100 parts per million) from our customers’ perspective,” Philip stated.
“Doing so requires a lot of time, resources and dedication, but we knew it was something we needed to accomplish in order to do our best work and be as transparent as possible about Milliken’s material chemistry,” he continued. “Seeking third-party certification is how we validate our efforts to the industry, building occupants and to ourselves.”
According to William Paddock at WAP Sustainability, this elevated level of transparency is above industry standards and norms, and exemplifies “what it takes to move green chemistry forward.”
“Milliken is raising the bar of building material transparency by auditing its pilot of LEED v4 MRc4 Option 3,” William noted. “It demonstrates Milliken’s dedication to move sustainability and material transparency forward in architecture and interior design through meaningful ways.”
Philip is confident that the result of this pilot credit will lead to a butterfly effect for the betterment of the architecture and design industry – and the industry is taking note.
“Milliken is at the leading edge of pushing our industry to partner with suppliers to understand and be willing to disclose their full ingredient formulations. It enables Milliken to make informed decisions and design healthier products for the future,” noted Philip.
The LEED v4 MRc4 Option 3 credit is the apex where accurate material transparency leads to healthier building products and healthier work environments. The result enables the architecture and design community to be empowered to make better decisions as they pursue The WELL Building Standard, USGBC’s LEED v4, Google Portico, or other green building requirements.
Through Philip and Jennifer’s leadership, Milliken has officially completed the LEED v4 MRc4 Option 3 credit. Now, Milliken is the only floor covering manufacturer that can provide the maximum amount of LEED points for carpet to contribute to LEED v4 certification.
Our associates’ drive to ‘do good’ is what enables Milliken to achieve a true values-based business. Through their daily leadership and action, we’re able to carry out our commitment to improve the world in which we live, through ways that revolutionize industries and enhance our everyday.
This article is an update to one originally published on the Milliken Flooring blog.
Feature image: AXIS in Chicago, IL, designed by Whitney Architects. Photography by Christopher Barrett.