From Windshields to Waiting Rooms — Kaiser Permanente’s Role in PVC-Free Carpeting
December 11, 2008
Each year, Americans recycle enough glass to fill several football stadiums, turning millions of bottles and broken windows into new containers, fiberglass and even pavement.
But what happens to the film residue from "safety glass," used in car windshields and office windows? For years, much of that that film — made from polyvinyl butyral or PVB — was pulverized and sent directly to landfills.
That happens much less now, thanks to facilities managers at Kaiser Permanente and a carpet manufacturer that was willing to try a novel approach. The result is a new, "greener" form of carpeting that can be found in several Kaiser Permanente medical centers.
The creation of a greener carpet is one of several ways in which Kaiser Permanente’s green focus and buying power have helped foster a greener health care economy. Kaiser Permanente has either influenced manufacturers to act or selected alternative vendors in order to replace PVC in medical products and materials including exam gloves, neonatal intravenous systems, patient controlled analgesic pumps, reflective roofing, flooring, fabric and bumper and corner guards in medical facilities.
The story of this carpet began in 2000, when Kaiser Permanente launched a national campaign to remove polyvinyl chloride (or PVC) from products and building materials, including carpets. At the time, PVC was ubiquitous in health care settings, even though the material is a major source of dioxin, a known human carcinogen.
But PVC-free carpet suitable for health care settings didn’t exist. Working with the carpet manufacturer, C & A Carpet (Tandus), Kaiser Permanente was able to help create a new type of carpet backing that is free of PVC, while also meeting performance requirements for health care settings. The carpet is also sold at a similar price to the previous product.
Tandus, in an industry known to significantly contribute to landfills, stands out as a company known for its sustainable practices. The company, which was one of the first to recycle used carpeting into benches and wheel stops for parking lots, has worked with Kaiser Permanente since 1993.
Though Kaiser Permanente was not the only health care organization — or non health care organization — interested in PVC-free carpet, the organization used its purchasing power to spur the carpet manufacturer into action.
"Kaiser Permanente has long understood the connection between environmental issues and public health outcomes," says Tom Cooper, Kaiser Permanente’s national manager for sustainable building design and research. "We needed to work with manufacturers to reduce risk posed by harmful chemicals to our patients, our staff, and the communities we serve."
Cooper adds that many companies want Kaiser Permanente’s business because the organization is investing $28 billion through 2015 in building new facilities and upgrading current ones.
Tandus is one of those companies. Within 14 months, in response to Kaiser Permanente’s contract requirement, the carpet manufacturer had developed a carpet with backing made from the film that’s left over from the recycled laminated safety glass. By June 2004, the new product was on the market. Since then, approximately 10 million square feet of this carpet has been installed in Kaiser Permanente facilities.
The carpet is not only sustainable, but also holds up well in a medical setting. The backing is impermeable, which is imperative for infection control and carpet cleaning in health care.
"The carpet is just one example of Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to environmental stewardship," says Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser Permanente’s vice president for workplace safety and Environmental Stewardship Officer. "We are constantly looking for products and materials that are safer for our patients, our employees and the broader community."
Word about the carpet has spread through the industry. Cooper says that he frequently receives calls and e-mails from other hospitals and health plan systems asking how Kaiser Permanente helped create this new carpet.
"This campaign fits perfectly with Kaiser Permanente’s model of care, which is based on prevention," Cooper says. "Using safer products is too big of an issue for us to tackle on our own — we’re more effective when we collaborate with other companies. It’s market transformation. We should all take into account our impact on the environment."