The study also found many types of installed vinyl flooring emit less volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than alternative materials. Independent, small-chamber environmental testing (designed specifically to emulate real-world conditions) demonstrated some proprietary vinyl surfaces were found to emit less VOCs than linoleum and rubber—averaging half the VOC emissions of rubber, and one-tenth that of linoleum.17
In the categories of nutrifaction, acidification, and global warming, vinyl was also deemed to have less environmental impact than linoleum. Only in terms of resource depletion was vinyl considered on par with alternative materials. As a polymer, the material requires more fossil fuel consumption than other products, specifically during its production.
It is important to note there are various studies dissenting or corroborating some of these conclusions.
For example, the UK. Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA’s) Life Cycle Assessment of Polyvinyl Chloride and Alternatives notes linoleum outperforms vinyl in some areas due to the greater fuel energy required. (However, it also states the products’ feedstock compositions means more total energy is required to produce linoleum than vinyl over an equivalent lifespan.) The study also says vinyl results in 19 percent more carbon dioxide (i.e. Greenhouse gas) emissions than linoleum.18 The European Commission’s (EC’s) Directorate General Environment study, External Environmental Effects Related to the Life Cycle of Products and Services, also puts linoleum ahead of vinyl in ‘primary energy’ and in air acidification.19
In an analysis using the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST’s) Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) 3.0 software, generic linoleum and vinyl composite tile (VCT) were compared, using a maximum transportation distance of 1609 km (1000 mi).20 The ‘Environmental Performance’ was set as 100 percent of the weighting, and EPA weight values were used (i.e. major group element = interiors, group element = interior finishes, individual element = floor coverings). The software analysis showed vinyl outperforming linoleum in overall environmental performance, eutrophication, and indoor air quality. On the other hand, linoleum performs slightly better in comparisons on life-cycle acidification, and is the clear ‘winner’ in terms of global warming impact and fossil fuel depletion.
Still, vinyl manufacturers are finding ways to create greener, proprietary materials with ultra-low VOC plasticizers, ‘dry-erase’ wear layers that can reduce mopping/dumping chemical-laden runoff water, and/or 50-percent recycled content that meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBe’s) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® (LEED®) requirements.