Green Building with Tile
January 1st, 2009

The Tile Industry’s First Guide to Green Products

Green Building, 2009

By Zoe Voigt

The Green movement seems to be everywhere these days. At Coverings 2009 in Chicago, there were a dozen conferences offered specifically about environmental issues. Naturally, lots of new green products and technologies were launched. Also at the show, many manufacturers were touting sustainable products, handing out environmental mission statements and in case anyone missed the point, there were even a number of booths that were literally the color green.

The media and manufacturers are not the only source of this shift toward sustainability. Dealers report that their customers are coming into showrooms asking for environmentally friendly products.

Alan Court, of East Hampton, NY, says he’s seeing real demand for green products in his showroom, “There are two ways it happens. The first is that this interest in green products is architect-driven rather than client-driven. Architects are interested in LEED points and that seems to be important in projects,” says Court. “The other way we are seeing this desire for green products is with contractors and spec builders. They see the green improvements as something they can advertise to sell the house. Buyers would prefer to get green products, if they can, so that makes those spec houses more appealing.”

“Being environmentally conscious is interesting to professionals, because there are a number of people who really care. Therefore, we’ve tried to have any number of materials that qualify.”

With all the attention environmental issues have been getting in the news, green seems to be the new neutral. This is great news for the tile industry, as industry leaders begin to get the news out that tiles are green. Ceramic tiles contain no VOCs, require little maintenance, have a long life cycle, and many contain recycled materials. These attributes all contribute to the eco-friendly nature of tile.

Bill Griese, LEED AP, Standards Development and Green Initiative Manager for the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), points out, “Tile is a natural choice when building green. It is ecologically advantageous, and the use of tile is consistent with green building practices.” In fact, he adds, “Tile is inherently green. It was green before green was cool.”

Executive director of TCNA, Eric Astrachan, says that TCNA put together 60 technical experts to work on green initiatives. Some of the information can be found in the TCNA 2009 handbook, where there is an eight-page insert called “Tile is the Natural Choice,” which details the reasons why tile is green.

Dark green vs. light green

In many ways, tile manufacturers have always used sustainable practices, because they were cost efficient and just made sense. These practices include closed loop water processing and recycling pre- and post-production waste and dust within the factory. Still, if tile is intrinsically green, how does one distinguish those manufacturers who take extra steps to stand out in the crowd and make their products even more sustainable?

According to Griese, “One should look beyond inherent green properties of tile to identify the companies that are using innovative technologies to add to the green quotient.”

Now manufacturers are taking sustainability even further by coming up with novel ways to recycle post-consumer waste, reduce transportation burdens, and even use innovative technologies to convert smog to breathable air.

With everyone claiming that their products are environmentally friendly, it can be hard to distinguish between green and what is referred to as “greenwashing.” In a recent focus group by Market Resource Associates, the builders surveyed had little idea of what was available, beyond energy efficiency. Dealers were seen as merely setting price and were judged on location, not on ability to provide reliable info for their clients.

Griese says, “Green building is not static, it is dynamic. Definitions vary, depending on objectives, current events and point-of-view. One way of looking at it is to consider natural resource conservation, to reduce the environmental burden. Environmental and human health, sustainability and affordability must also be considered.”

“The tile industry should also be talking about life cycle, recycled materials, transportation, air quality, and maintenance issues,” says Griese.


TCNA had an independent consultant analyze flooring life cycle cost, which includes installation, materials, maintenance and removal. The results show that all kinds of tile, “Cost less per year than all other floor finishes over the life of a building.”

Because replacing flooring uses resources, it is much better for the environment that tiles do not need to be replaced nearly as often as other products. This cuts down on manufacturing, transportation, installation and waste materials. While the study suggests that tiles last fifty years, obviously tiles can last significantly longer.

Regarding air quality, Griese says, “Unlike other flooring industries, like carpet and resilient flooring manufacturers, the tile industry is late to promote itself in this way. While carpet manufacturers tout their ‘reduced VOCs,’ (volatile organic compounds) we have not gotten the point across that tile has no VOCs whatsoever.”

Griese explains, “Tile is inhospitable to dust mites and mold. The tile itself has no VOCs and the adhesives have little or none. Tile has no VOCs because they are fired at high temperature, and at 2000 degrees not too many organics can survive.” As for setting materials, he says, “There are no VOCs in sand adhesive cement, and if there are no VOCs at the beginning, you won’t end with any. Mastic and resins may contain a few VOCs, but nearly all manufacturers are in compliance.”

Cleaning a product with harsh chemicals detracts from its indoor health factor. “Tile requires low cleaning and maintenance, which negates the need for chemicals,” says Griese.

Ceramic Tiles of Italy’s Green card emphasizes this point, “Maintenance is simple: warm water and neutral cleaners are the only cleaning products required. Additionally, tiles are inert and do not release any substance; therefore they do not increase the level of toxicity of cleaning products that, after use, are flushed into the ecosystem, such as chemicals and solvents. This easy maintenance contributes to consumer cost savings over the life of the installation.”

According to Court, “One of the criteria people are looking at is the distance [between manufacture and installations]. Some are interested in local products, and apart from that, shipping costs matter. We scout out materials not only for how they are made, but where they are made.”

“There is a perception that green products cost more,” says Court. “I tell my clients that they can think of this comparison: ‘Why do organic groceries cost more?’

“While cost is an issue for some, it just depends, and green isn’t always that much more money. Many times, the tiles are comparably priced to another high end, handmade ceramic tile. Green tile does not cost more than art studio produced handmade tile. Stone, if it comes from closer, can cost less money because of the shipping. Cork isn’t expensive to begin with. Cement tiles aren’t expensive. Recycled glass is comparable to other glass products. So it isn’t really accurate to say that green products cost more, at least not in all our materials. That isn’t why they are expensive,” says Court.

Anti-pollution tile

Several years ago, Italian tile manufacturer, Gruppo Ceramiche Gambarelli promoted a new technology that enabled them to incorporate titanium dioxide into the surface of the tile. Those tiles are now in production and have been used in multiple installations in Italy.

Oxygena works by converting pollutant gases into nitrate ions, which combines with water to become inert. According to the company, sunlight hits the titanium oxide in the tiles, and the photocatalytic properties produce oxygen. The tiles come in five lines and multiple colors and sizes for interior and exterior applications.

BionicTile by Ceracasa is an innovative new product that uses nanotechnology to filter nitrous oxide from the air. The company says that BionicTile improves the environment by continuously decontaminating the air, filtering harmful nitrous oxide, the air contaminant responsible for acid rain and a leading cause of climate change and pulmonary diseases.

The company claims that one square meter of BionicTile is able to decompose 31.2 mg of nitrous oxide an hour. At this rate, an urban core of 200 buildings covered in Bionic Tile would remove 82 tons of nitrous oxide a year.

The tile won the 2009 Alfa De Oro award for most innovative product. According to Spanish tile manufacturer Ceracasa, this new tile will be available to come to market by the end of this year.

StonePeak Ceramics announced new titanium dioxide photocatalytic tiles that will reduce organic and inorganic pollutants. According to Dr. Jennifer Ariss, research scientist at TCNA, “Photocatalysis is a simple chemical reaction, requiring only light and water to be activated.”

Noah Chitty, Director of Technical Services and Quality Assurance at StonePeak Ceramics, adds, “The main difference between the two technologies [StonePeak and Ceracasa] is that we are not using nanotechnology in the manufacturing process (micrometric is the terminology we have used). We have also found higher reactivity in the technology that we have developed than some of the other similar products we have studied. The reduction in NOx gases is for exterior use and the interior would be the anti-microbial benefits.”

“The main market for this type of tile is definitely vertical and exterior application,” says Elena Limon, StonePeak’s Southwest Regional Account and Architectural Manager.

This photocatalytic tile will be launched in the fall of 2009 with one or two collections in 12″ x 24″ and 24″ x 24″ formats.

Ultra thin, technical porcelain

This year, several manufacturers have introduced ultra thin, high performance, large format porcelain tile. These tiles are very light, minimizing transportation burdens on the environment and reducing installation costs.

SlimmKer by Inalco is 4 mm thick porcelain, available in 18″ x 35″. It is easy to cut or perforate, and is lightweight. A new anchorage system allows for easy replacement, reducing landfill waste and demolition mess.

Ceramiche Ceasar offers large format porcelain, 3m x 1m and only 4.6 mm thick, mounted on fiberglass, with 40% recycled content.

Provenza’s EcoMood is a very thin tile for walls and floors with texture available in large format. It consists of 40% certified recycled content.

Kerlite by Cotto D’Este offers a range of colors and sizes in 3mm thick porcelain tile for interior and exterior cladding. Optional fiberglass backing adds one half millimeter to the thickness. The tiles are available up to 3m x 1m.

Products with recycled content

Crossville Tile has been committed to sustainability issues for years and their website is a good source of information on the subject. “We’re a member of the Green Building Council,” says marketing manager Laurie Lyza.

“This is a great illustration of how Crossville works,” says Lyza. “We’re going to be able to recycle fired tile. This is a huge investment, but it will solve the problem of how to make new tile from old tile.

Eventually we’ll implement a tile take back program for previously installed tiles, resolving the issue: ‘What do you do with a product that was designed to last forever?’ Well, we’re working out the details and we will start productions with our fired tile this summer.”

Depending on the color, the Echo Glass line contains 10% to 100% recycled content. “We’ve worked on formulations and we’re in the process of getting this line certified by Scientific Certification Systems,” says Lyza.

The first certified recycled tile, EcoCycle is Crossville’s certified recycled porcelain stone. It is available in 24″ x 24″ and 12″ x 24″ with a minimum 20% pre-consumer waste.

For introduction this summer, Urban Renewal is a line of metal accent and trim pieces made with 60% post consumer recycled material. Because of a dimensional composite body, the pieces are very light.

Plan is a stone look, technical porcelain for commercial and residential exteriors. The minimalist, textured surface provides a high coefficient of friction and metallic micro-crystals create a subtle shimmer. Plan is the first tile to receive the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency’s new “Certified Porcelain Tile” designation.

Canadian company Interstyle primarily manufactures glass tiles, but has ceramics, terracotta and glass countertops as well. The terracotta tiles have 50% recycled glass content, which gives them low water absorption, according to senior vice president Mike Hauner. Icestix is a 100% post and pre-industrial recycled glass tile line. Countertops are made of leftovers from glass tile production. They are available up to 4′ x 8′ and are made to order from over 300 colors.

Roca Ceramica’s Green Earth and Green Urban series use 80% recycled pre-consumer waste. Green Earth is a porcelain tile for rustic interiors, while Green Urban is a minimalist stone look suitable for floors and walls, interiors and exteriors.

Artisan tile and countertop slab factory, Trinity and Squak offer a natural stone alternative made with low-carbon cement, waste paper and recycled glass. Squak slabs are ¾” thick and are available from 12″ x 12″ up to 56″ x 96″. Handfinishing with natural variation gives it a rustic character and an aged look.

According to owner Ameé Quiriconi, “Trinitry is a more refined look and is as close to natural stone as you can get. It has the same characteristics with reduced quarried materials.” Slabs are made with 70% recycled content.

In its plant located in Tennessee, Italian tile manufacturer Graniti Fiandre uses a 100% closed loop process to recoup raw material and water. Eighty products from 15 collections have been certified as having over 40% recycled content.

Demand for Green Tile

“Here on Long Island, interest in green materials has grown, so we have found lots of tile to satisfy that need. The other reason we sell green products is that we like to do it. I would add that the products are also beautiful—they aren’t second rate at all,” says Court.

“Ultimately, it may not be the final choice that they make, but green products are requested and considered by my clients. It seems like something they are looking to do whenever possible.”


Tile Council North America

Gruppo Ceramiche Gambarelli


Cotto D’Este



Graniti Fiandre

Trinity and Squak



A dramatic video on YouTube that describes how BionicTile works,

Alan Court


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