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Features

Sustainability Yields Quality

Mohawk's sustainability initiatives contribute to improved quality of life, the environment, and the company's products and processes.

Janet Bealer Rodie, Associate Editor

I n Mohawk Industries' corporate environmental policy statement, CEO Jeff Lorberbaum states that sustainability is an essential business practice in today's global economy. The policy outlines the company's commitment to support and comply with programs that foster environmental stewardship and safety in line with its common goals.

Affirming the environmental movement's mantra, reduce, reuse and recycle, Mohawk has developed numerous programs to reduce waste and consumption, and to recycle used products into new carpet and other floor covering products. Its recycling efforts began in the 1990s as technologies became available to convert used materials into new products. They are consistent with overall US carpet industry initiatives through the Carpet America Recovery Effort, of which it is a corporate sponsor, to divert 40 percent of used carpet from landfills by 2012, and eventually to recover all carpet for recycling or reuse. The company continually reevaluates its operations, design processes and the raw materials used in its products looking for alternatives to current practices, materials and natural resource use that will help it reduce its environmental footprint. Last year, its Lees Carpets plant in Glasgow, Va., received ISO 14001 certification for its environmental management system and became one of only a handful of carpet manufacturers to have earned both ISO 14001 and ISO 9001:2000 certification related to product quality (See " Floor Covering News," TW, May 2005). Mohawk's Landrum, S.C., woven carpet plant, which has had ISO 9001 certification for more than 10 years, is currently working toward ISO 14001 certification; and several other carpet-manufacturing plants are working toward earning both ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certification within the next 24 to 36 months.

plant

Recycling Program

Mohawk converts approximately 25 percent of all the plastic bottles used in North America into 160 million pounds per year of high-quality polyester carpet fiber that generally matches or exceeds the quality of fiber made from virgin resin. Since 1999, when it acquired a bottle recycler, it has recycled more than 17 billion polyethylene terephthalate beverage bottles, and claims to be the largest recycler of plastic bottles in the world, estimating its recycling system accounts for more than 70 percent of all post-consumer recycled carpet fiber produced.

Mohawk Home uses 10 million pounds of used tires per year to make designer doormats. The number of tires recycled in this way is 28 times the number used by the entire Chicago taxicab fleet. In a recycling/waste reduction initiative, the company converts waste including carpet edge trim, soft drink bottle caps and film used to wrap pallet loads into man-made fiber carpet cushion and plastic carpet roll cores. The cores, themselves recyclable into new cores, replace cardboard rolls, lasting three times longer and providing better support for the rolled carpet. Mohawk reports this initiative saves 68,000 trees each year.

Mohawk counts among its commercial product offerings more than 200 that contain recycled materials from both post-consumer and post-industrial sources. These include nearly 100 broadloom products offered under three commercial brands and containing an average of 15 percent post-consumer content based on weight. The company says the recycled content in these products represents more than 9 million pounds of discarded product diverted from landfills annually, and projects this figure will grow as it converts other carpet products to similar systems.

One of the most recent developments is a proprietary carpet tile made of materials that include recycled carpet and carpet-related components. Through a closed-loop system, the carpet is eternally recyclable into new carpet. In addition, certain components contain materials mined from the nearby Dalton/Whitfield County, Ga., landfill.

Mohawk also has implemented a National Carpet Recovery initiative whereby the company utilizes its distribution systems logistics and infrastructure as well as external resources nationwide to recover and recycle its carpet products at the end of their useful life. Mohawk anticipates its ReCover system will reclaim millions of pounds of used carpet annually.

Reductions

In terms of reductions, Mohawk cut its water usage in half from 1995 to 2003 through conservation initiatives and development of new processes. Its Dublin and Sugar Valley, Ga., facilities include water treatment plants that restore the effluent to a quality much higher than is required by the Environmental Protection Agency, the company reports.

Mohawk has reduced the phosphorus content in its wastewater by 70 percent as a result of a processing change. Today, hazardous waste streams from most company facilities fall below base levels that require reporting under federal regulations. Over the last decade, Mohawk also has made substantial reductions in energy consumption through the implementation of energy conservation programs and manufacturing equipment upgrades. Although no renewable energy is available locally, the company has committed to purchase renewable energy tags from totally renewable energy sources as offsets. It also has initiated proprietary research into developing renewable energy for one of its major manufacturing plants.

Beyond reductions in water, energy and chemical waste streams, Mohawk has reduced the amount of fiber needed to manufacture some carpet and rug products through production of woven carpet which uses 30-percent less fiber and lasts more than twice as long as tufted carpet.

Carpet From Corn

sodayarnWithin another year, Mohawk expects to be making carpet from bio-based man-made fibers. The company has partnered with Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont to bring to market a new line of residential carpet offered under the SmartStrand with DuPont Sorona® polymer brand. Sorona, a family of polymers made from 1,3-propanediol, originally was developed as a petroleum-based polymer, but DuPont has developed a bio-based variety made partly from corn sugar. The bio-based polymer will be in commercial production later this year, and Mohawk will begin producing the new tufted residential carpet line in 2007.

 


The Right Thing To Do

Commenting on Mohawk's commitment to environmental stewardship, Monte Thornton, president, Mohawk Flooring, stated: First and foremost, it is the right thing to do. Next, there is a financial reward associated with good environmental stewardship. It costs more on the front end to implement these programs, but these commitments yield great returns, from reduced depletion of natural resources, and reduced water and energy usage, to improved employee morale and being good corporate and community citizens. The informed consumer now expects to purchase products from environmentally responsible companies.

July/August 2006



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