When you hear California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger bragging about the state's green carpet, he is not referring to the color. He is instead praising the high performance environmental features incorporated into every square foot of carpet California has bought since September 2006.

Each year, California buys 12 million square feet of carpet, enough to cover 47 miles of four-lane highway. Last year, the state began requiring manufactures to meet the new California Gold environmentally preferable carpet standard. The standard includes an extensive variety of environmental requirements covering indoor air quality, hazardous-materials content, recycled- and bio-based content, and dozens of related criteria.

There are currently six companies with 13 California Gold or Platinum certified products available in a
wide variety of styles and colors. According to Dan Burgoyne, the Sustainability Manager for California's Department of General Services, California is not paying any additional cost for the more environmentally preferable carpets.

Human Health, Environmental Impacts

Purchasing professionals have been addressing the potential human health and environmental impacts of carpet since the late 1980s when people became aware of the indoor air pollution associated with some carpet materials. At that time, purchasers began routinely including indoor air quality requirements in carpet specifications to better protect building occupants.

In addition to the indoor air quality impacts, carpets also have a significant environmental impact when they are manufactured and discarded. The carpet industry in the United States makes more than 18.5 billion square feet of carpet every year. Manufacturing that much carpet takes billions of gallons of petroleum and other valuable resources.

Manufacturing carpet also produces significant global warming pollutants. One estimate concludes that the carpet industry produces 3.6 billion tons of global warming greenhouse gases every year. That figure does not include the additional global warming pollutants required to deliver the carpet to its intended destination.

Each year, five billion pounds of carpet enters the country's waste stream. Most of it ends up in landfills. Only 4.5 percent is currently recycled. In California alone, 840,000 tons of carpet ends up in landfills annually, which is about two percent of California's overall waste stream.

The California Gold Standard

The California Gold carpet standard is a point-based evaluation system comparable to the LEED rating system for green buildings or the EPEAT standard for green computers. While known as the California Gold standard, the standard actually has two recognition categories--gold and platinum.

To earn gold recognition, a product must earn at least 52 of the 114 possible points, including 23 mandatory requirements. Platinum products must earn at least 71 points, including the 23 mandatory ones. All earned points must be fully certified by an independent third-party certifier.

The points are available in six different categories:

  • Safe for Public Health and Environment (31 possible points; 4 mandatory points)
    In this category, the mandatory points require manufacturers to identify the chemicals and other materials used in their products. It also prohibits PBDE, a brominated flame retardant that has been found accumulating in human tissue in surprising quantities. PBDE has been linked with brain and thyroid problems in animal studies. Additional points are available for reducing or eliminating other chemicals with potential adverse human health effects.
  • Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (19 possible points; 1 mandatory point)
    Earning the mandatory point requires manufacturers to provide an inventory of all of the energy sources used to manufacture a product. Additional points are earned as manufacturing facilities and their suppliers use increasing percentages of renewable energy generated by sources such as wind, solar, or small scale hydro-electric. These points can also be earned by purchasing Green-e certified renewable power. (See www.govinfo.bz/6777-200)
  • Biobased or Recycled (23 possible points; 4 mandatory points)
    The four mandatory points require products to identify all of the bio-based (plant-based) and recycled-content materials in each product. They also require at least 10 percent post-consumer recycled content. The post-consumer content requirement is, according to several officials, the most challenging aspect of the California Gold standard. It requires that at least 10 percent of the product (by weight) must contain materials that were recycled by consumers and used to manufacture the new carpet. Additional points are earned for increasing percentages of biobased or recycled-content materials.
  • Facility or Company Based (18 possible points; 6 mandatory points)
    To receive the six mandatory points in this category, a manufacturer must publicly declare its environmental goals and metrics for evaluating success. It must also publicly report its employment practices and human rights and social policies. Companies can earn additional points for implementing design for the environment, environmental management, and other sustainable business practices.
  • Reclamation, Sustainable Reuse, and End of Life Management (23 possible points; 8 mandatory points)
    This section rewards manufacturers for decreasing the volume of carpets that are sent to landfills. The mandatory points require manufacturers to meet increased product durability standards and to make opportunities to recycle old carpets available to purchasers. It also requires at least seven percent of a manufacturer's products to be recycled. Additional points are available for increased recycling rates.
  • Innovation (8 possible points)
    The standard makes up to 8 innovation points available for improving the energy efficiency of the manufacturing process or reducing the amount of material required to manufacture each square foot of carpet.

Origins and Future of the California Standard

The California Gold carpet standard emerged from work begun in 2003 by the California Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Task Force's Carpet Subcommittee. They began by reviewing a variety of existing environmental carpet standards. After determining that none of the existing standards met their needs, California began working with a standards development company to improve upon one of the available standards.

Shortly thereafter, the Carpet and Rug Institute--the industry's trade association--and another standard setting organization approached California about working together to develop a national standard. This effort evolved into a draft public domain standard administered by NSF International, a not-for-profit leader in standards development, product certification, education, and risk-management for public health and safety.

In December 2005, the jointly developed standard was issued as the Draft American National Standard for Trial Use, NSF 140-2005 Sustainable Carpet Assessment Standard (Draft NSF 140-2005). The NSF draft standard uses a point system to rank products on a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum scale.

According to Dan Burgoyne, California was planning to reference the NSF draft standard in its carpet specification. Department of General Services lawyers, however, expressed concern about referencing a draft standard and encouraged state officials to develop their own.

California officials worked closely with NSF to adapt the NSF draft standard for California's use. The resulting California Gold standard uses a point-system framework identical to the draft NSF standard. California added 14 additional requirements and eliminated the lower bronze and silver options. It also required that each point be certified by an independent third-part certifier.

"We are hopeful NSF will incorporate California's changes when NSF finalizes its carpet standard," explained Burgoyne. "If NSF's gold and platinum ratings mirror California's standard, we plan to discontinue the California standard and reference the NSF standard in the future."

Other Green Carpet Purchasing Initiatives

California is not the only state interested in buying more environmentally preferable carpet. Many other states routinely include human health and environmental performance requirements in their specifications. Both Connecticut and North Carolina recently revisited their carpet specifications.


The State of Connecticut Department of Administrative Services issued a recent invitation to bid for a carpet and flooring program that references the California Gold standard. While its specifications do not require compliance with California's standard, they emphasize the importance of environmentally preferable products and require manufacturers to submit an environmental statement detailing the company's environmental initiatives.

Connecticut's specifications require products to contain at least 10 percent recycled content or document that carpets will be refurbished at the end of their useful life in a process that will "render it ‘almost new' and reusable."

All products must also meet the Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label criteria, which addresses indoor air quality. In addition, Connecticut expressed preferences for carpets that maximize post-consumer recycled content, for manufacturers with plans to increase post-consumer recycled content, and for products certified by a neutral third-party.

North Carolina

In January 2007, North Carolina revised its specifications for nylon carpet. While recognizing that its specification is not yet as comprehensive as the new California standard, North Carolina does require carpets to meet the indoor air quality requirements established by the Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label or Green Label PLUS standards. The state also established minimum recycled content requirements.

Additional Green Carpet Standards and Specifications

The California Gold standard is not the only green carpet standard. Additional standards have been developed by the following organizations:

  • Environmental Choice Eco-Logo www.govinfo.bz/6777-201--The EcoLogo flooring products standard (CCD-152) covers a variety of flooring materials, including carpet. Like the California standard, it includes recycled content and indoor air quality requirements. In addition, it also prohibits the use of antimicrobials.
  • Federal Green Construction Guide for Specifiers www.govinfo.bz/6777-202--Part of the Federal government's Whole Building Design Guide, the green construction specifications include requirements for carpeting that cover indoor air quality, recycled content, and related environmental criteria.
  • Green Label and Green Label PLUS www.govinfo.bz/6777-203--Developed by the Carpet and Rug Institute, the industry trade association, the Green Label and Green Label PLUS standards focus exclusively on indoor air quality concerns. The Green Label standard was established in 1992 to establish limits on indoor air pollutants. In 2004, the Green Label PLUS standard added additional testing requirements for a wider variety of potential indoor air hazards.
  • NSF Draft Sustainable Carpet Assessment Standard www.govinfo.bz/6777-204--The NSF standard is the backbone of the California standard minus a few additional environmental considerations California elected to add.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Buy Recycled Requirements www.govinfo.bz/6777-205--Federal statute requires all federal agencies buying polyester carpet or purchasing selected types of carpet cushion to buy them containing recycled content. EPA recommends that federal agencies buy polyester carpet containing at least 25 percent post-consumer recycled content face fiber. It also recommends post-consumer recycled content ranging from 15 to 90 percent for different carpet cushion materials.

Closing Comments

For years purchasers have been taking a stand and, with the help of policy makers and manufacturers, using government purchasing power to drive human health and environmental improvements in a variety of commodities. It remains important for purchasers to continue taking a stand on these important issues. It is also important for purchasers to take a look at what they are standing on. Not all carpets are created equal.

Additional Resources:

  • California Gold Standard www.govinfo.bz/677-206--Includes a link to the California Gold carpet standard and a list of the 16 products certified as meeting the standard.
  • Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) www.govinfo.bz/6777-203-- Includes information on CRI's Green Label and Green Label PLUS indoor air quality standard and testing. Also provides information on the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), a program to increase carpet recycling.
  • Scientific Certification Systems www.govinfo.bz/677-207-- SCS certifies products meeting the California Gold and NSF draft standard. The site lists the 27 products meeting the NSF standard and the 16 products meeting the California Gold standard.

About the Author

Scot Case has been researching and promoting responsible purchasing issues for 14 years. He has consulted with the world's largest purchasers and the world's largest companies. He is currently Vice President of TerraChoice Environmental Marketing in Reading, PA. He can be reached via e-mail at scase@terrachoice.com.

Editor's Note:

In the February 2007 Green Purchaser article, "Fighting Global Warming: Government Purchasers Play an Important and Growing Role," Government Procurement mistakenly attributed the following quote to President Bush rather than the author, Scot Case: "Every single purchase has human health, environmental, and social impacts. Every purchase also has global warming implications."

Sample Specification Language

The California Department of General Services encourages purchasers wishing to reference the California Gold standard to use the following language:

"All carpet purchased shall meet California Gold Sustainable Carpet Standard certification and provide proof of certification of specific product in submittals and upon delivery of materials. See www.green.ca.gov/EPP/Standards for more information."

Recycling Old Carpet

Replacing worn carpet with new environmentally-preferable carpet is only part of the story. Any carpet that is removed should be properly recycled to reduce the five billion pounds of carpet that are landfilled every year.