The Natural Carpet Pioneer

The Natural Carpet Pioneer

More than a decade after its U.S. entry, chemical-free carpet gets mainstream attention and could be part of a market that is “ready to explode”

Some rolled their eyes and suppressed laughter at the idea that a chemical-free, biodegradable, un-dyed carpet could make it in mainstream America. But when Brian Cox saw Nature’s Carpet in the early 1990s, something told him it would be a winner.

After seeing this wool carpet at a Domotex trade show in Germany, Cox returned to his office at the Colin Campbell distribution company in Vancouver, BC, he organized his presentation, and he began calling on retailers.  After the Canadians started selling it, Cox crossed the U.S. border and called on one of the country’s first green-building gurus in Bellingham, WA. The builder in turn installed the product in several green homes, including his own, and he helped Cox introduce Nature’s Carpet to the Environmental Home Center in Seattle, which would later be known as EcoHaus.

“That’s what broke open the United States market,” Cox recalls. “It went from there, all the way down the West Coast to California.”

Now, about 10 years later, Nature’s Carpet is carried by U.S. flooring stores in most states as more consumers demand products that release fewer chemicals into their indoor air. Product education is somewhat confusing, however, as retailers also are emphasizing a host of less-costly, synthetic carpets that have lower chemical emissions.  And shoppers and retailers alike are grappling with terms like CRI Green Label Plus and other indicators now being used to judge whether a carpet is indoor-air friendly.

Carpet industry research minimizes hazards

The Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI), a carpet industry trade organization, has set safety limits for carpets certified in the CRI Green Label Plus process. CRI also has publicized research, which concludes that carpet chemicals do not trigger asthma or allergies.

But first-hand stories from consumers and retailers continue to emphasize the need for a chemical-free product.

“Clearwater,” Part of the “Dark Green” line, near Toledo, OH

“After having lots of negative symptoms with new … carpeting , I was wonderfully surprised at the lack of odor with Nature’s Carpet, which means, of course, there were no chemicals to off-gas,” says Julee, who had the carpet installed last month by Carpets by Otto in Toledo. “I purchased the wool felt padding as well. With my chemical sensitivities, I had zero problems with the product. It was a true God send! “

The need for this product becomes even clearer when you consider what this customer went through, says Alan Woody, general manager at Carpets by Otto.

“She had already purchased carpet at a box store but was suffering an allergic reaction and had them come back out and remove it,” he says. “She was told about Nature’s Carpet by her allergist, who found us online.”

Regardless of the publicized research, Cary Cline, owner of Cline’s Carpets in West Lafayette, IN, says there is growing evidence that more natural products with fewer chemical additives are needed. This evidence includes a customer with severe asthma who purchased Nature’s Carpet from Cline’s and was thrilled that it did not trigger respiratory problems.

The “Dark Green” line

Being made of New Zealand Wool – instead of petrochemicals like traditional carpets – gives the natural carpet an immediate indoor-air quality edge. In manufacturing its “Dark Green” line, the type that was installed in Julee’s home, Nature’s Carpet does not add chemicals such as mothproofing, stain-proofing or dyes. The product uses a natural latex binder and has jute backings instead of synthetics and plastics.

The necessity for natural carpet lies in the fact that more and more people are realizing that they suffer from chemical reactions to some of the common ingredients in carpeting — sometimes something very simple or on a more complex scale, the chemicals found in certain dyes and topical stain treatments.

For many years, Cox recalls, those seeking Nature’s Carpet generally fell into three groups — expectant mothers who wanted to minimize chemicals in their babies’ rooms; people with chemical sensitivities; and, war veterans who became ill after exposure to war chemicals.

Today, however, about 60 percent of Nature’s Carpet customers simply want healthier indoor air, and a product that is better for the planet, Cox says.

Carpets by Otto’s recent customer says it was a combination of both.

“First and foremost, it is important to me to be more green and realize that wool is a great natural product,” Julee says.

“Everest,” Part of the “Dark Green” Line, on a Houseboat near Cincinnati, OH

Customers buying natural carpets also are seeking it simply because it is people-and planet- friendly.

Among them is Kyle Kieper of Cincinnati who is not chemically sensitive, but bought a Nature’s Carpet “Dark Green” carpet early this year when he was remodeling his houseboat with planet-friendly products.

“The carpet is amazing,” he says. “While I have not had it that long, it gets lots of use and looks just like the day it was installed.”

Trisha Hitchcock, a certified health and nutrition coach in Bloomington, IN, also does not have chemical sensitivities. A few weeks ago, Hoosier Carpets Plus finished installing her Nature’s Carpet “Medium Green” carpet, which she says she purchased simply because she wanted to reduce her family’s exposure to chemicals.

“It was very important to me to choose a carpet that would not have toxic chemicals since my children are constantly on the floor,” she says.  “Also, we spend a lot of time in our home and having a good carpet helps the air quality in your home to be more pure.  When children are in an environment that is not full of toxic chemicals, they will be much healthier and have stronger immune systems. We are very happy with this carpet.”

“Intrigue,” Part of the “Medium Green” line, in Bloomington, IN

Like the “Dark Green” line, “Medium Green” is still made of New Zealand wool but it contains synthetic latex, some non-metallic dye, one plastic backing and mothproofing. The company’s New Zealand Wool carpets are made in Australia. Its new Everest line – part of the “Dark Green” line – is made of British wool in Holland.

Will cost by overcome?

The price-range of Nature’s Carpet at Carpets by Otto in Toledo is from less than $5 to more than $20 per square foot, depending on the style selected. This, Woody points out, is comparable to other wool carpets such as Couristan, but those carpets are not available without chemical treatments and synthetic materials.

“Of course, some of the ‘Dark Green’ line is a bit higher, but nobody else is offering the same features and benefits at any price,” Woody says.

Earthweave, a Nature’s Carpet competitor that emerged in the late 1990s, offers chemical-free carpet made of British wool, but the company did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking product information and company history for inclusion in this article.

Any experienced retailer knows that wool, particularly New Zealand Wool, is one of the most durable and resilient fibers that carpet can be made of. Add to that a process for making it without chemicals, and it is bound to be a winner on the indoor-air-quality front, he says.

That said, even though customers are expressing concerns about indoor air quality, the average customer in today’s economy cannot justify paying more for wool. Fortunately are some synthetic options that meet CRI Green Label Plus Indoor-Air quality Certification.

Herein lies another issue that the carpet industry is working hard to address – recycling used carpet instead of disposing of it in landfills.

Under the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) – an industry-government effort to divert carpet from landfills that began in 2002 – 338 million pounds of discarded carpet were diverted from landfills in 2010. While this was a 9-percent increase over 2009, it accounts for just 5.6 percent of discarded carpet nationally.

Carpets that have CRI Green Label Plus certification or recycled content, or are made from renewable materials, or are biodegradable like the Nature’s Carpet “Dark Green” line, all contribute to credits under LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) – the US Green Building Council’s rating system.

Wool carpet, including Nature’s Carpet, has been a somewhat unnoticed mainstay of the green -building industry, says Rob Staveland of Aiki Homes in Bellingham, WA. Staveland was the first US green builder to use Nature’s Carpet after meeting Cox over a decade ago. Flooring distributors like Wanke Cascade, headquartered in Portland, OR, even keep chemical-free wool carpet pad in stock.

Still, Staveland says, there may be a new market ahead for wool, even though, in today’s economy, people building green on the northwest coast are opting mostly for engineered hardwood and polished concrete floors.

“Wool doesn’t have enough visibility, and cost is another factor,” Staveland says, adding that the Nature’s Carpet he put in his own home in 2003 “still looks great.”

Despite visibility and cost issues, he says, a trend that the economy is dictating likely will put wool carpet in the spotlight, again. The economic downturn is spurring homeowners to build smaller, higher-quality homes, furnished with higher-quality products, which include Nature’s Carpet.

“The market for the energy-efficient, smaller house with healthy indoor-air quality is ready to explode,” Staveland says. ©

Nancy Kibbee is editor at naturalinteriors.com

3 Comments
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