A Guide to Sustainable Wallcoverings

Single-Attribute Designations
While some certifications look at the big picture, others provide simply a snapshot of sustainability and focus on one element.

Criteria for Wallcovering Performance

A product isn’t truly sustainable if it doesn’t last. Performance ratings for wallcoverings are detailed in a federal specification, and products are categorized as Type I, II, or III, with higher types being strongest. Before specifying a product, make sure to ask the manufacturer how it ranks in the following characteristics:

  • Abrasion resistance
  • Breaking strength
  • Coating adhesion
  • Colorfastness
  • Scrubbability
  • Stain resistance

A full list of criteria can be found in Federal Specification CCC-W-408.

For a quick fix or just to snag a quick LEED point, some of these labels might be right for you.

For example, if you’re considering wallpaper or wood veneers and want to be environmentally friendly, look for products that have earned Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.

Claims of recycled content should be confirmed by third parties such as SCS Global Services. Recyclability can usually be verified by the manufacturers directly because some offer to take back the product at end of life.

If indoor air quality is your primary concern, look for GREENGUARD certification for low VOCs, says Colleen James, director of marketing for KnollTextiles. “Chemical offgassing can be harmful and time-consuming,” she says.

SCS also uses its Indoor Advantage program to ensure wallcoverings, adhesives, and other interior products support clean IAQ.

Although these certifications aren’t as far-reaching as others, they can still help you identify an attractive, affordable, and durable option.

Cost, Aesthetics, and Performance
A product can earn every certification out there, but if it doesn’t last, is it truly sustainable?

“Clients want something that will perform, even before considering the environmental footprint,” explains Goldman. “If something looks lousy in six months, then it really hasn’t done any good.”

There doesn’t have to be a tradeoff between sustainability and durability, Hickman adds.

“The two terms aren’t mutually exclusive,” he says. “It has taken a lot of research and development, but they can exist together.”

Because your selection should last for at least a decade, appearance is almost as important as performance. Many options are fully customizable with unique colors and patterns.

“The sky is the limit,” says Hickman.

Many eco-friendly offerings are also price competitive, but when sustainability first became the buzz, they came at a premium.

“It took some time for the price point to come down, but it’s there now,” Hickman adds. “So who wouldn’t want to be good environmental stewards?”

From cost to corporate responsibility and aesthetics to abrasion resistance, there are many considerations to mull.

“The right selection will find a happy balance,” says Hickman. “But unless you hit most of these categories, it’s not a winning combination.”


Chris Curtland christopher.curtland@buildings.com is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

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