Making eco-friendly choices in your fitness facility seems relatively uncomplicated. But when it comes time to make green flooring choices, things get more complicated.

Without a nationwide set of regulations for eco-friendly flooring, it's difficult to determine what the best products would be for your fitness center. However, there is hope. Organizations that evaluate and rate buildings' eco-friendliness give fitness facility owners a starting place for flooring green. Two such rating systems are offered by the U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, D.C., and the Green Building Initiative, Portland, Ore.

LEED rating system

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a non-profit organization composed of leaders from across the building industry working to advance buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy places to live and work. According to the USGBC website, "The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. LEED provides building owners and operators with the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings' performance."

Ashley Katz, communications coordinator for the USGBC, explains further: "LEED is a design guideline for green buildings. The LEED Green Building Rating System is a voluntary building certification program that defines high-performance green buildings, which are more environmentally responsible, healthier and more profitable structures. LEED addresses a variety of buildings and building project types through individualized systems, including new construction, existing buildings, commercial interiors, core and shell, homes and neighborhood development."

Low VOC-emitting flooring. Most paints, coatings, inks, solvents and adhesives contain smog-forming air pollutants called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). In order to obtain a favorable LEED rating, "Fitness facility managers should look for resilient flooring products that have low VOC, or flooring made out of rapidly renewable materials like bamboo, cork, flax and true linoleum," says Katz. "Cork flooring provides cushioning under foot and has good sound mitigation qualities, which is important in a fitness facility. Natural linoleum is a very durable product, and allows for endless design opportunities." In addition to purchasing low-VOC flooring, don't forget about the other products used to install the floors. "It's important to consider using sealants and flooring adhesives with low-emissions and low VOCs," says Katz.

Recycled flooring. Many flooring manufacturers sell recycled flooring, which Katz describes as a "great option." She adds, "A good flooring for fitness facilities is resilient recycled rubber mats. Some product manufacturers even make these rubber mats out of recycled rubber tires, which is a unique material." Fitness facility owners, "should look for flooring with 10 or 20 percent post-consumer material, and half pre-consumer material," says Katz. "The [LEED] rating system defines post-consumer material as waste material generated by households or by commercial, industrial and institutional facilities in their role as end-users of the product, which can no longer be used for its intended purpose. Pre-consumer material is defined as material diverted from the waste stream during the manufacturing process." There are, however, some materials that do not meet the LEED requirements for being considered recycled. "Excluded is reutilization of materials such as rework, regrind or scrap generated in a process and capable of being reclaimed within the same process that generated it," Katz explains.

Green Globes

The Green Building Initiative (GBI) wants fitness facilities to install flooring products that are good for the environment. This type of flooring makes "efficient use of other resources, minimizes pollution and waste, and reduces overall environmental impact," says Kevin Stover, commercial program consultant for GBI.

Stover contends that there are many benefits for facilities that take the trouble to install green flooring. "There are many advantages to implementing green building techniques," Stover says. "For instance, [green flooring offers] better indoor air quality when used in conjunction with low-VOC adhesives and finishes; using green building techniques demonstrates [a facility's] commitment to sustainability that could give [them] a competitive advantage in the marketplace; [and] there is peace of mind in knowing that the materials they use are better for the environment, healthier for occupants and save money over the long term."

GBI's rating system for buildings is called the Green Globes, and there are two available modules: new construction and continual improvement for existing buildings. A building earns points toward a ranking of up to four Green Globes.

GBI recognizes a few environmentally friendly flooring options. Some of these include flooring with a significant R-value (insulation). "Green Globes credit is also available ... for re-used and recycled materials, as well as durability, adaptability, disassembly and bio-based materials," Stover says. "Finally, credit is available for wood from a certified sustainable forestry source; Green Globes recognizes SFI, FSC, ATFS and CSA certifications."

Low VOC-emitting flooring. Low VOC-emitting materials and acoustics also earn points. "For a solid wood floor, the available installation adhesives and finishes would apply," says Stover. "For composite wood, the internal adhesive material would also apply. Acoustics in a fitness facility is a specialized area; Green Globes requires a registered acoustics engineer to validate the design for credit."

Stover recognizes two primary areas of benefit for choosing low VOC-emitting materials. The first is "health and comfort. There is documented data regarding sensory irritation and odor, and government-sponsored evaluations with conclusions regarding acute and chronic non-cancer outcomes," he explains. "Many VOC-emitting materials are suspected carcinogens. The California Air Resources Board is the most prominent government body involved in regulating indoor air quality; its current draft standards are used throughout the United States." Stover's second benefit is energy. "Ventilation requirements may be less if low-VOC-emitting materials are utilized, resulting in less air changes and, hence, less energy for heating and cooling," he says.

Recycled flooring. "Green Globes provides credit for both re-used materials and materials with recycled content," says Stover. "Reused materials garner credit for up to 10 percent or more of total materials in a project, based on cost. Currently, recycled content is considered for both post-consumer and pre-consumer content. Claims for pre-consumer content are difficult to verify, and require extensive documentation. Credit is provided where 1 to 20 percent or more of total materials have recycled content, based on cost."

Lessons from a frog

Until there is a nationally recognized standard for labeling flooring products as "green," fitness facility owners are responsible for doing the research necessary to make responsible choices. Independent organizations can make the process simpler, but it's still easier to buy traditional flooring that has little or no environmental benefits. It may not be easy "flooring green," but, hopefully, more fitness facility owners will embrace Kermit the Frog's attitude on the subject. "Green is beautiful," the puppet sings. "And I think it's what I want to be."


Purchasing Guide

Action Floor Systems LLC 800 746-3512; www.actionfloors.comAction Floor Systems offers a line of multi-use athletic floors made from recycled rubber. Action ReFlex is a high-impact flooring product designed for extreme-wear applications. A wide variety of colors and sizes are available.

Aeson Flooring Systems, Div. of Stagestep 800 523-0960; Aeson Flooring Systems offers a selection of rubber mats and rolled flooring suited for weight rooms. MegaLock, Surestep and Flecstep are designed to be shock- and sound-absorbent, and to exhibit excellent traction.

Centaur Floor Systems 800 536-9007; Indoor Boflex Sport Floor is a pre-finished hardwood gymnasium floor system. Using a patented foam channel understructure, Boflex exceeds all the requirements of D.I.N. standards, aiding in shock absorption, resilience, performance and safety. The shock-absorption channels allow even small children or lightweight athletes to gain immediate resilience.

Covermaster Inc. 800 387-5808; Covermate II is designed to provide safety in floor protection and handling. The Ultima Series gym floor cover features safety outriggers for added stability. The Ultima 5000 cover (shown) is Covermaster's thickest, most durable cover, and is available in a range of colors. The company also offers the Ultima 4000 cover, with a diamond tread-plate pattern, or the Ultima 3000 cover, with a decorative holographic cube pattern. All covers are manufactured with the knife coating process that saturates the core for durability.

Dinoflex Manufacturing Ltd. 877 713-1899; Interlocking Sport Mat Flooring is recycled rubber flooring that installs quickly. The precision-cut interlocking system provides a seamless, uniform look, without using adhesive or double-sided tape. This fully reversible product can be turned all at once, or as needed to renew high-wear areas. It is durable, slip-resistant, sound- and shock-absorbing, stain-resistant, low maintenance and golf spike-resistant, and reduces muscle fatigue.

Everlast Performance Flooring 888 383-7655; Everlast expanded its line to include 40 colors, including new earth tones, bolder blues and a greater selection of grays. Custom color and logo capabilities are available.

FieldTurf Tarkett 800 724-2969; FieldTurf Tarkett provides a line of flooring that includes hardwood and synthetic basketball, volleyball and gymnasium courts, squash and racquetball courts, floor protection systems, weight room flooring, indoor and outdoor running tracks and a complete range of tennis and golf surfaces.

Fitness Flooring 800 428-5306; Fitness Flooring's Exerflex group exercise flooring is designed to be durable and easy to maintain, and has been installed in fitness centers worldwide for more than 25 years. It is a pre-finished solid hardwood system that uses a patented clip-system installation, making the floor entirely free-floating. This ensures that the floor can be installed quickly and easily, and later be removed, added to or reconfigured.

FitnessRubber 888 894-0204; Flexgard Interlocking Tiles are a versatile surface for fitness and workout areas. They are moisture- and odor-resistant, and also protect existing floors. They are ideal for weight rooms, cardio areas and circuit training areas. They feature slip resistance and tight-fitting edges that hide seams, and no adhesive is required. Tiles measure 29.5 by 29.5 by 3/8 inches, and the floor is also available in rolls. Colors include black, blue/gray, blue, green, red and gray.

Gerstung/Gym-Thing Inc. 800 922-3575; Flex Tred is a 3/4-inch-thick recycled rubber flooring that is durable, resilient, sound-absorbent, and spike- and slip-resistant. No border or corner pieces are needed. Four-foot-wide rolls are available in four speckled colors, as well as solid black.

Humane Manufacturing Company LLC 800 369-6263; Full-color mats feature a smooth top surface and a choice of interlocking or straight edges. The vulcanized, 1/2-inch-thick mats are available in four standard colors: brick, mocha, forest and royal.

JCH International 800 328-9203; JCH manufactures recycled rubber interlocking tiles. Its new Interlock BloX is a 19.5-by-19.5-inch tile that is 3/8 inches thick. It features do-it-yourself installation and many colors, both flecked or solid. Other fitness flooring options are also available: rubber, recycled rubber, PVC or polypropylene carpet, tile, mats or rolls. JCH has been in the industry for more than 30 years, and can provide free samples.

Johnsonite 800 899-8916; Replay flooring is molded from recycled rubber tires. The 3/8-inch-thick flooring is impact-resistant, and shock- and sound-absorbent. Standard and custom color combinations are available in 24-inch-square tiles and 48-inch-wide rolls.

Linear Rubber Products 800 558-4040; Gymatts are 48-by-72-inch, 5/8-inch-thick mats featuring a raised-button, non-skid traction pattern that won't trap dust or dirt. Thousands of tiny nubs on the underside act as an anti-fatigue cushion, while providing sound absorption and air circulation.

Lonseal Inc. 800 832-7111; Lonmetro UV, the latest offering in the Lonseal line of flooring, is sheet vinyl composed of 20 percent recycled vinyl with a factory-applied, 100-micron-thick, clear, UV-cured urethane surface formulated to provide maximum resistance to foot traffic. A middle layer provides dimensional stability, sound-absorbing properties and resiliency underfoot. The flooring is easy to maintain and is available in eight colors.

Magnum Fitness Systems 800 372-0554; Dura Flooring provides two options: DuraRoll and DuraTiles. Both are made with recycled rubber that can be ordered in thicknesses of 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2 inch. DuraRoll comes in 4-foot widths, cut to any length up to 125 feet, and glued down for best results. DuraTiles come in 3-foot squares cut into centers, borders and corners, and can be loose laid, allowing facilities to flip or replace individual tiles. Dura Flooring comes in solid black, or a variety of color flecks and percentages of color.

Mitchell Rubber Products Inc. 800 453-7526; For more than 50 years, Mitchell Rubber Products has been producing durable weight-room surfacing worldwide. The company's odorless virgin rubber Interlock comes in 2- and 4-foot-square tiles, requiring no adhesive.

Mondo USA 800 368-3747; Mondo's Sport Impact and Ramflex vulcanized rubber surfaces are designed to resist abuse from weights and equipment. Both products contain a heavy-duty wear layer for resistance and structural elasticity, and a shock-absorbent lower layer for safety and comfort.

Natare Corp. 800 336-8828; NataDek is flooring for wet recreational environments, aquatic facilities, swimming pools and locker rooms. It is made from a PVC/polyester composite that can be installed over concrete, tile, masonry and wood to provide a waterproof, slip-resistant surface. It resists staining, deterioration, delamination, cracking and ultraviolet light. Add SoftDek Safety Padding for up to 4 inches of soft landings. Applied under NataDek, SoftDek is closed-cell energy absorbing foam that reduces the risk of injuries from falls or slide landings.

No Fault Sport Group LLC 866 NF-SPORT; No Fault Sport Floor can be used in weight rooms, recreational facilities or a multitude of other flooring applications. Resilient, durable and easy to maintain, it is available in a variety of colors and is easy to install. It comes in two thicknesses (1/4 or 3/8 inches) and in 4-foot-wide rolls custom cut to the length needed, or in 2-by-2-foot interlocking "zig-zag"-style tiles.

Northwest Rubber Mats Ltd. 800 663-8724; Northwest Rubber's SportFLOOR is 100 percent recycled rubber flooring. The Décor Series is available in 35.5-inch-square, 3/8-inch-thick tiles, and in a choice of 12 colors. The tiles can be interlocked for a more stable floor, and company logos can be incorporated.

Oscoda Plastics Inc. 800 544-9538; Made from 100 percent recycled vinyl, Protect-All flooring is designed to withstand extreme dead-weight loads and repetitive heavy impact. Sheets measure 5 feet square, or 5 by 8 feet, and can be permanently adhered or used as temporary floor coverings. Colorful interlocking tiles snap into place and require no adhesives.

Parterre Flooring Systems 888 338-1029; The Compete Sports Floor product line offers durable, multi-use athletic flooring ideal for commercial applications. It is available in three thicknesses (2.8, 3.5 and 6 millimeters), two standard wood designs and five solid colors. Custom designs and colors are also available.

Pawling Corp. 800 431-3456; Made of 100 percent virgin rubber, Hid-N-Lok II Athletic Tiles feature a hidden interlock system that allows for quick, no-glue installation and results in a seamless appearance. A hammered surface helps repel dirt. Thirteen colors are available.

Power Systems 800 321-6975; Shock and energy absorption from the encapsulated air within PaviGym Aerobic Flooring delivers a durable and noise-reducing surface. Made from virgin rubber, it is waterproof and stain-resistant with an anti-slip surface. Available in five colors (red, blue, gray, black and beige), each interlocking 100-by-100-centimeters square is 3/8 inches thick. Beveled edge wedges and corner pieces (black or gray) make for a smooth transition to other flooring surfaces. It cleans easily with water and mild detergent.

Premier Specialty Flooring 800 805-4654; Premier Specialty Flooring manufactures rubber and PVC flooring. Rubber flooring is available in 4- and 3-foot rolls at 1/8-, 1/4-, 5/16-, 3/8- and 1/2-inch thicknesses. Interlocking tiles are 24 by 24 inches, 36 by 36 inches or 48 by 48 inches, and are available in 3/8- and 1/2-inch thicknesses. Both rolled floors and interlocking tiles are available in solid black, with a large range of color flecking and full-depth options.

RB Rubber Products Inc. 800 525-5530; RB Rubber produces colored rubber surfacing for weight rooms. The company's products - including RB Rolled Rubber, RB Mega-Lock, RB Flec-Lock and RB Athletic Mats - are distributed nationwide, and contribute to the recycling of more than 4 million tires annually.

Robbins Sports Surfaces 800 543-1913; Pulastic floors deliver durability and wear resistance for any indoor application. All Pulastic systems feature high-quality polyurethane resin and a resurfaceable wear layer, providing traction, correct ball rebound, and excellent shock and sound absorption. Pulastic floors meet LEED Certification requirements for use of recycled products, and are free of mercury, lead and other heavy materials. Pulastic is strong enough to stand up to heavy loads, while offering a surface that is comfortable and long lasting. A full array of floor options is available for every age group, activity and budget.

Signature Fencing & Flooring Systems 800 569-2751; Signature is a worldwide manufacturer and direct distributor of RubberDeck interlocking rubber tiles and roll-out mats. Made from 100 percent recycled rubber, RubberDeck comes in 0.25- and 0.375-inch thicknesses, and is available in solid black and six different fleck colors. Interlocking tiles can be configured to match any space requirement, and have a small, zipper-like tab system that leaves the floor smooth and seamless. Roll-out mats can be used both indoors and outdoors, and are available in three roll sizes. RubberDeck is resilient, shock- and sound-absorbent, provides excellent traction and is anti-skid.

Sika Corp. 800 933-SIKA; Valsport WP-4.1 Sealer and WP-8.1 Finish are eco-friendly yet durable oil-modified urethanes (OMU) for use on athletic wood floors. The VOC of each has been reduced by as much as 36 percent without sacrificing performance or application characteristics. WP-4.1 is a polyurethane sealer that dries in as little as two hours to reduce time between coats, while deeply penetrating into wood for hardness underfoot. WP-8.1 clear finish offers superior gloss, rubber burn resistance and overall film hardness that extends floor life. It ages naturally to a golden amber.

Summit Flexible Products Ltd. 888 367-6287; Vulcan interlocking weight room flooring is reversible for longer wear. Featuring a button design, each natural-rubber tile is 40 inches square, 5/8 inches thick and weighs 45 pounds. The odor-free tiles install in minutes and are easy to clean.

Surface America Inc. 800 999-0555; Surface America's fitness surfacing line includes TuffRoll, a versatile speckled flooring; the seamless EverTop system, which features a wide variety of color combinations and inlaid graphics; and the high-density DuraTile, which combines aesthetic appeal with durability.

Taraflex Sports Flooring by Gerflor 800 727-7505; Taraflex Locker flooring helps prevent the spread of bacteria and chance of slipping. It is treated with Sanosol, a permanent anti-bacterial and anti-fungicidal treatment that prevents the development of micro-organisms and reduces skin-related infection risks such as MRSA. Its slip-resistant, raised-dot surface makes locker rooms safer for walking barefoot. Product treatments protect against scuff marks and food stains, and ensure easy cleaning with daily damp mopping. Taraflex Locker comes in seven color patterns and is 2.2 millimeters thick.

Tuflex Rubber Flooring 800 543-0390; Long-lasting sports floors by Tuflex are engineered to withstand the punishing weight-room environment and maintain its appearance. This 3/8-inch-thick resilient flooring is available in 20 patterns and five solid-color feature strips.

Zebra Mats 800 989-8085; The Zebra Mats mat and flooring system is perfect for any facility looking to add a martial arts or grappling program to their gym. Facilities can purchase individual mats for stretching areas, or mat the entire floor of a room. The Zebra MMA Mat features an easy-to-clean smooth vinyl cover and a rubber anti-skid bottom for stability. It is available in red, blue, black, grey and camo, comes in a 1.5- and 2.0-inch thickness and is backed by Zebra's six-year limited warranty.