Architectural Record BE - Building Enclosure

New Standard Assures Sustainability in Carpets

A Guide to Specifying Low-Impact Materials
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Advertorial courses provided by The Carpet and Rug Institute
Continuing Education

Learning Objectives - After this course, you should be able to:

  1. Discuss sustainability issues relating to carpet.
  2. Interpret the leading national standard for carpet, NSF 140-2007, Sustainable Carpet Assessment Standard.
  3. Specify green carpet using this standard as a guide.



Sound absorption, underfoot comfort, improved slip resistance, thermal comfort in an astounding array of colors, textures and patterns: the benefits of carpet are enticing. In fact, carpet covers nearly 70 percent of all floors in the United States and the country's carpet industry produces more than 19 billion feet of carpet each year to meet demand.

The carpet industry is among the most progressive in the country in addressing the potential human health, environmental and sustainability factors of its products. Strides have been made in reducing the environmental footprint of carpet, including landfill use, carbon dioxide emissions, energy consumption, waste generation, water usage and hazardous air pollutants. In the period from 1990 to 2002 the carpet industry significantly reduced its environmental footprint per square yard of production. ¹

The next step in achieving sustainability is the market's use of a tough new comprehensive standard based on science and backed by diverse stakeholders. In the fall of 2007, the American National Standards Institute approved NSF 140-2007 as an American National Standard that establishes performance requirements for public health and environment, and addresses the triple bottom line-economic-environmental-social-of sustainability throughout the carpet industry's supply chain. This article will discuss sustainability factors relating to carpet, and focus on the NSF 140-2007 standard as it contributes to laying a foundation for specifying flooring materials with a lower environmental impact.

Carpet Basics

In commercial applications, over 90 percent of the fibers used are Nylon. Yarns can be either bulked continuous filament or staple. In order to make fibers, polymer is forced, at high temperature, through a spinneret (extrusion) in uninterrupted filaments, which are then formed into a bulked continuous filament yarn. These fibers may also be chopped into short fibers and then spun into staple yarn, twisted, and set with heat to hold the twist.

All carpet has some type of backing system or chemistry that helps keep the tufts in place. Backing systems are made from a variety of materials.

The methods and chemicals used depend upon the performance requirements of the backing and the carpet. These decisions will be based upon the specifier's performance considerations and the manufacturer's recommendations. Performance considerations are especially important for demanding environments. It is important that the specifier identify the highest priority needs for how the carpet will perform, whether that is resistance to wear, moisture-resistance, or heavy foot traffic. The manufacturers' end use recommendations help determine which product will meet the established performance expectations.


Carpet covers nearly 70 percent of all floors in the United States.
Photo courtesy of Hedrich Blessing, Chicago, IL.


Carpet backing systems contain the following elements: a primary backing, a chemical adhesive, and often a secondary backing. In the most common system, the yarn is secured into the primary backing by synthetic polymer (this could be water-based latex or some type of thermoplastic), and a secondary backing (cushioned or non-cushioned) is attached with a bonding agent or adhesive to add dimensional stability and other performance characteristics to the carpet structure.


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Originally published in GreenSource.