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Its Vinyl Burned, Armstrong Can Make Green Flooring Become A Reality
by Bill Walsh, National Coordinator of the Healthy Building Network May 17, 2004
Armstrong World Industries’ motto is "Your Ideas Become Reality." Here’s the Healthy Building Network’s idea for how Armstrong can turn tragedy into progress, transform the resilient flooring market, and rehabilitate its greenwashing reputation.
Armstrong was a major customer of the Formosa Plastics vinyl plant in Illiopolis, Illinois, which exploded on April 23, 2004. The disaster was so huge that PVC resin prices rose. Armstrong acknowledged that it will be hurt more than its competitors: losing “a key material" from a "key US supplier" will handicap its vinyl flooring operations. On April 29, Armstrong warned shareholders of potential negative impacts on financial performance.  On May 5, Armstrong announced price hikes on vinyl composition tile by June 1, without alluding to the vinyl resin shortage. 
These conditions make natural linoleum more competitive than ever with vinyl. The PVC resin shortage and rising production costs mean that the cost differential between vinyl and natural linoleum flooring will narrow. Forbo Flooring, which controls more than 80 percent of the US linoleum market, reports that linoleum sales growth has outpaced growth in the overall floor covering market by substantially more than double during the last five years. 
Natural linoleum is recognized as an environmentally superior alternative to vinyl flooring. Based upon rapidly renewable fiber sources, it contains none of the toxins associated with the lifecycle of vinyl. But there are no domestic manufacturing plants, increasing cost.
Choosing this moment to invest in domestic linoleum production and marketing could help Armstrong shed its Jekyll and Hyde reputation for greenwash in the green building movement.
Armstrong is a founding member of the US Green Building Council. The firm’s ceiling tile recycling program is renowned. But when it comes to flooring, Armstrong, the company bankrupted by asbestos tiles, misleads consumers by marketing vinyl flooring as green.  This continues even after New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer shamed Armstrong and the Resilient Floor Covering Institute into withdrawing the legal challenge to that state’s green building tax credit. Attorney General Spitzer pointed out that although Armstrong’s vinyl flooring was excluded because of dioxin emissions during combustion, its linoleum line was eligible for a generous credit. 
The Illiopolis vinyl plant was not Armstrong’s facility. But much of the vinyl was Armstrong’s vinyl. As Sandra Steingraber noted in the last issue of Healthy Building News, “more than 40,000 pounds of vinyl chloride, a recognized human carcinogen and reproductive toxicant” was released each year from the Illiopolis plant.  And of course, that is only one of the facilities manufacturing vinyl for Armstrong.
Other firms facing similar adversity changed their ways. When Phylrich International learned its Burbank, California metal plating factory burned to the ground, they saw “a very unique opportunity to do something different.” They rebuilt with the goal “to create the most environmentally friendly object we could” because “we want to be able to sleep at night-we don't want to give our platers cancer or pollute the neighborhood.” 
That’s a great standard for Armstrong to live up to as it regroups after the Illiopolis disaster.
HEALTHY BUILDING NEWS SOURCES
1."Illinois Explosion and Fire Threaten Armstrong Floor Plant Production" Lancaster New Era, May 1, 2004. [link no longer available]
NAIROBI (AFP) May 14, 2004
An international treaty on the elimination of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) comes into force on Monday, marking the beginning of an ambitious effort to eliminate deadly pesticides, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Friday.
The 2001 Stockholm Convention on POPs "will save lives and protect the natural environment, particularly in the poorest communities and countries by banning the production and use of some of the most toxic chemicals known to mankind," UNEP chief Klaus Toepfer said in a statement. The statement said that donor agencies and national investments would in the next several years channel at least 500 million dollars into an initiative to be managed by a Global Environment Facility to protect future generations from toxic chemicals.
"For decades, these highly toxic chemicals have killed and sickened people and animals by causing cancer and damaging the nervous, reproductive and immune systems," the Nairobi-based agency said in the statement. Governments will start action against POPs when they meet for the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention in Punta del Este in Uruguay early 2005, according to the statement.
SEE ALSO: Healthy Building News "Montreal, Kyoto, Now Stockholm: International Treaty Calls for Use of Alternative Materials" (March 22, 2004)