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Do you know what is in your flooring? The Top 3 Things I Learned from Sarah Robinson at Tarkett

Written by Caitlin Cassidy: Guest Contributor

Does it matter if the flooring in your home or office is healthy for you and the planet? If you’re like me, you might not have given it much thought before. I’ve spent time thinking about the sustainability of my food, toiletries, and cleaners,

by Caitlin Cassidy

but not my flooring. That was before I learned about the connection between our built environment and our health.

I and other Smeal students in MKTG442 Sustainability Marketing taught by Karen Winterich, had a chance to hear from Sarah Robinson. Sarah, who was recognized on GreenBiz’s 2017 “30 under 30, an annual list of promising young professionals in the field of sustainable business, has spent her career in sustainability focusing in clean energy and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building certification. She is currently the Product Sustainability Manager at Tarkett, and she discussed how the flooring company is creating sustainable products that are better for the environment and for the health of their customers.

There are three major lessons that I learned from Sarah in how Tarkett approaches sustainability:

1. There is a strong connection between our built environment and our health.

As humans, we used to spend much of our daily lives outside. However, as the world has modernized, humans have increasingly begun to spend time indoors insulated from the external environment. Until listening to Sarah’s discussion, I thought this kind of living could protect us from harmful pollutants in the air outdoors. But it turns out that the air inside our homes and workplaces can be even more polluted than the air outside, with toxins and chemicals from products we use. This can result in increased levels of asthma and allergies, and an overall worsening quality of life--especially in low-income communities and communities of color according to research in the American Journal of Public Health.

Sarah discussed how the products that go into people’s apartments and houses needs to be healthier – for both the environment and people. Tarkett aims to do this by designing products that are healthy from the start.

2. Creating sustainable products requires a cradle to cradle approach and systems-level thinking

Sarah noted that the consumption patterns of society often result in people buying a product, using it, and then disposing of it, or a linear economy, which creates a massive amount of waste and pollution contributing to the degradation of the environment--and risks to public health. Tarket developed Material Health Statements (MHS) an "independently verified, science-based declaration highlighting the health risks and hazards of materials in a particular product, down to 100 ppm (0.01%)."

In order to prevent this, products need to be designed with a "cradle to cradle" approach. This means that products are designed to be reused or recycled rather than being thrown away, resulting in a circular economy that reduces waste and preserves resources.

However, designing a circular product requires system wide innovation throughout all steps of the production process to innovate. Sarah discussed how Tarkett tries to reduce as much waste from the production of their products as possible as well as designing them for life.

One example is Tarkett’s Ethos carpet which is 100% recyclable. (Check out the short 1-min video above.) The flooring uses recycled material in its production--from old windshields!--and the flooring itself can be repurposed at the end of use. This innovation required coordinating among Tarkett’s supply chain and R&D teams among others, demonstrating the cooperation needed amongst all functions to design and deliver a circular product.

3. Transparency and storytelling are needed to get people to buy into sustainability.

Sarah also discussed how the rise of greenwashing has led a lot of consumers to be skeptical about product claims and labels, and has contributed to an overall lack of trust when it comes to sustainable products. Tarkett aims to overcome this by being transparent in everything that they do. For example, Tarkett has third parties verify the sustainable aspects of their products such as with their Material Health Statements mentioned above, a key aspect of Tarkett's commitment to what it calls "radical transparency". This allows customers to know what is going into their products as well as determine the safety of those materials and ingredients.

In addition, Sarah shared how storytelling can overcome the challenges of connecting personal health with a product's deep chemistry and potentially overwhelming scientific data and jargon. Effective storytelling can make this connection. For example, Tarkett shares a story about how a gymnast faced serval health complications due to toxins in foam blocks used at her gym: Ensuring Safer Spaces for Kids I Doing Good. Together.

Tarkett Inspired My Own Marketing Journey

As a marketing student, I found it very interesting that Tarkett is training its sales employees to use storytelling to communicate the importance of safe products. For sustainable products to succeed, it is critical that there be demand for them and educating people in a relatable way on how Tarkett’s products can improve the health and safety of your environment, is a very compelling way to not only make a sale but inspire people to care.

To learn more about Tarkett’s sustainable innovations, you can check out their website:

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