[Philosophy] [Life-cycle assessment] [Recycled content] [Factory location] [Material extraction] [Production integrity] [Indoor air quality] [Health & safety] [Energy efficiency] [Maintenance] [Waste reduction] [Performance & aesthetics] [Ceramic versus stone] [Tile By Design commitment]


An important principle of sustainability is to build for longevity. Structures that are built for centuries rather than decades are certainly more environmentally friendly. Ceramic and stone have exemplified this philosophy throughout their history. And their durability is not just earth-friendly, it's cost-effective. Scharf-Godfrey, an independent construction cost-consulting firm, compared tile to other types of flooring and concluded that tile was less expensive over the course of the product's life span.
Download Life Cycle Cost Study

Life-cycle assessment

The high embodied energy of ceramic and stone (production + transportation) must be weighed against multiple replacements of less durable alternatives. Tile's durability substantially reduces resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, installation, demolition and disposal energy requirements. Coupled with tile's cradle-to-grave environmental impact in a Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA), it will be viewed even more favorably. At this time, there are two tile certifications that recognize multi-attribute sustainability. For tile manufactured in the United States, there is, and for tile manufactured in Europe, there is

Recycled content

This feature may be the easiest to identify and quantify, but it often excludes products that are ultimately more healthful and environmentally preferable. We think recycled content is important for non-durable goods like carpeting, which accounts for 5 billion pounds of landfill waste annually. Why make it a requirement for durable goods like ceramic and stone that do not contribute to our landfill burden?

Most of the ceramic tiles we sell are manufactured in a closed-loop process that recycles 100 percent of raw material and water wastes back into the production cycle. Fired product is inert and commonly ground up for use in paving bricks and road fill. Yet we are penalized for this and instead encouraged to claim the wet sludge and waste water as recycled content. Green building guidelines need to evolve to include overall sustainable practices. Production methods that generate no waste should be valued more than recycled products.

Some manufacturers (Alloy Arts, Betona, Cobsa and Sonoma Tilemakers) are using materials recycled from other industries — even post-consumer, like bottles and old windshields. We think this is more beneficial.

Need recycled on an industrial (affordable) scale? We offer many porcelain tiles with 40 percent or more pre-consumer content. They are independently certified and can provide LEED® credits in the Materials and Resources category.

Factory location

We represent local artisans and major factories located in Tennessee (Fiandre USA), Ohio (Seneca/Epro) and Texas (Marazzi USA). Many of the products we sell are manufactured in Europe and transported by vessel and rail. Factory location and mode of transportation both impact environmental friendliness. A recent study rated rail transportation as eight times better for the environment than truck transportation. We expect vessel transportation will also be rated much better than truck transportation when new studies are completed. The LEED® program does not recognize differences in mode of transport. If your project is in Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas or Northern Iowa, there are a few stones, but no industrial ceramics produced within the 500-mile radius required by LEED®.

Material extraction

Ceramics are made from 100 percent natural and plentiful raw materials, most in close proximity to the factories. They are the perfect expression of nature as model and teacher rather than warehouse. Porcelain tile, for example, combines clay, minerals, water, pressure and heat to mimic the creation of natural stone. Technological advances make some porcelain tiles very hard to distinguish from natural stones that have become difficult to obtain.

Production integrity

European standards have traditionally been more rigorous than U.S. standards (Italian tile production has increased 10 times while energy consumption remains stable). Proof of the manufacturers’ commitment to sustainability in production and all supporting processes are their ISO 14001 and EMAS certifications. Casalgrande Padana, Floor Gres and Italgraniti achieved their certifications in the 1990s. Since 2000, Fioranese/Coem has achieved their ISO/EMAS certifications. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and LEED ® do not currently offer credits for production integrity. Visit the Links page on our B2B to view environmental policy data on individual manufacturers.

Indoor air quality

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) has become a critical concern for design professionals as we have seen a rise in Sick Building Syndrome, Building Related Illness and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Ceramic and stone can reduce indoor pollution since they do not emit or absorb pollutants. In fact, they can be used to contain other hazardous materials, such as vinyl asbestos flooring. Common cement-based setting and grouting materials generally do not contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or other suspect chemicals. In this way, a completely inert flooring system can be formed — one that inhibits the growth of mold, mildew, fungus and viruses. Water-based sealers and cleaners also offer significant advantages for IAQ during installation and for the lifetime of their use in the building. For these reasons, ceramic and stone can contribute to a LEED® credit for indoor environmental quality.

This stands in sharp contrast to soft flooring like carpet and resilient, which may be original sources for formaldeyhyde, fiber contaminants and particulates, dye chemicals, plasticizers, etc. Soft flooring can also act as a "sink," absorbing chemicals from surrounding materials and releasing them later. Soft flooring may permit bacterial or fungal growth and, in the case of fire, produce toxic fumes.

Hard flooring like stone and wood can be a source of VOCs, depending on the installation products, protective finishes and maintenance products that are used. Question the impact of manufacturer-recommended installation and maintenance products on IAQ.

Fiandre USA and Mediterranea  have met the most stringent requirements for low chemical emissions set by the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI), meaning it is certified for children and schools. We expect all our manufacturers will meet the same GEI requirements for maintaining healthy indoor air. The USGBC has approved flooring certified to this standard as an alternative pathway for achieving LEED® credit EQ 4.3: Flooring systems in regards to low-emitting flooring.

Recent studies also link IAQ to improved school performance and office productivity gains. Rick Fedrizzi, founding chairman of the USGBC, said that a new emphasis on health, safety and productivity will be the "smoking gun" that drives demand for green buildings.

Health & safety

Pure, hygienic, hypoallergenic and non-conductive, ceramics are chosen for sterile environments like operating rooms and research laboratories. Residentially, ceramics provide relief for those suffering with multiple chemical sensitivity.

More commonly, ceramics are chosen for applications where cleanliness, safety and ease of maintenance are critical, such as healthcare facilities, nurseries, schools, swimming pools, sports centers, locker rooms, spas, kitchens, cafeterias, restaurants, food and beverage production facilities, etc. Ceramic and stone are fireproof and will not emit any gases, so they are also selected for fireplaces, hearths, stove hoods, elevator cabs and exit corridors.

Technological innovation continues. ACTIVE by Fiandre USA and Hydrotect by DSA/Buchtal reduce surface contamination and clean the air through a photocatalytic process. BIOS by Casalgrande Padana provides continuous and durable protection against germs and bacteria. These products can help achieve the I.D.1.1–1.4 "Innovation in Design" credit envisaged by LEED.

Ceramics are also available in a wide variety of slip-resistant finishes (Technics) appropriate for most commercial and industrial uses and conditions. Specialty tile systems (LOGES) provide accessibility to the blind, the visually impaired and the hard-of-hearing.

Energy efficiency

Excellent thermal conductors, ceramic and stone reduce energy consumption, especially when combined with radiant heat systems.

Ventilated facades — rear-ventilated ceramic and stone facades, increasingly popular in Europe and the United States, are also more energy efficient and can help obtain LEED® credits in the Energy and Atmosphere category (Casalgrande Padana, Floor Gres, DSA/Buchtal, Marazzi USA).

Raised floor systems utilizing tile can also add energy efficiency with below-floor HVAC systems.


Warm water and pH-neutral cleaners are typically all that is required for maintenance. Therefore, tile does not contribute to the level of toxic cleaning products being flushed into our ecosystem by alternative materials requiring chemicals, waxes, strippers, solvents, shampoos, etc. Simple and natural cleaning products also contribute to IAQ.

Waste reduction

Ceramic tile:
• Survives fire and flood;
• Is color-fast and non-fading;
• Can be spot repaired;
• Can be installed over existing tile; and
• Can be salvaged or disposed of easily and inexpensively.

Performance & aesthetics

Careful attention to performance and aesthetics also reduces waste and landfill burdening while improving air and water quality.
• Write performance-based specifications:
Natural wood used in wet or high-traffic areas is more likely to need replacement or frequent refinishing. Ditto for polished marble on countertops or high-traffic floors.
• Resist compromise on aesthetics:
If you're paying $12/sf for your installation, then spend $5/sf rather than $3/sf for your tile. The latter choice only presents a 12 percent savings overall and may offer an aesthetic that's 15 years old, one that you're likely to replace much sooner and at a high cost. This kind of "value engineering" is almost always a false economy.

Ceramic versus stone

Ceramic is more environmentally friendly than stone, primarily in the areas of Material Extraction, Production Integrity and Maintenance. Stone quarries and factories continue to improve their production processes even as porcelain manufacturers have created porcelain stones beautiful enough to fool architects and stone masons. Choose the most beautiful ceramic or stone that you can afford, so that you won’t be tempted to replace it.

Tile By Design commitment

TxD expanded our environmental commitment in 2006.
• We use Windsource® from Xcel Energy for 100 percent of our electricity.
• We subsidize work partner purchases of electric and hybrid gas-electric vehicles and use of alternative transportation.
• We involve all work partners in recycling and operational initiatives (i.e. energy-efficient lighting, electric fork lifts, buying green).
• We also subsidize work partner home energy audits, gardening, tree planting, community-supported agriculture and other individual eco-actions.
• We provide paid time off for community volunteer work.

Articles and lectures by Patti Fasan, Marilyn Black, Arturo Mastelli and Rick Fedrizzi were used in this compilation.