By Giselle Walsh
Selecting the most appropriate wallcovering for a project can sometimes be a daunting one. With all of the choices in color and design to weigh against all of the sustainability and durability claims to choose from, it’s no wonder facility management decision-makers are often seeking ways to simplify this process. There is an abundance of choices when it comes to commercial wallcoverings, providing many options for facility managers to meet both practical and aesthetic needs.
Let’s start with the biggest nut to crack. How durable does the product need to be? How long is it going to be on the wall? There’s a big difference between polite traffic of an office space where adults walk around quietly with mobile devices, versus the gritty traffic of corridors used for deliveries or cleaning carts where a durable product (vinyl, for instance) will perform best — withstanding impact, abrasion, and ongoing cleaning. In the areas with the polite traffic, the walls can become a canvas for telling a story — from simple sophistication to edgy vibrant energy with a vast array of choices from fabrics, to handcrafted, to digitally printed murals.
Next, look for third-party certifications of any claims the product manufacturer is making. Check that claims are backed up by testing and auditing each of the credentials.
Look for wallcoverings awarded the ANSI/NSF 342 certification. Products carrying this label have been evaluated and measured by an independent body for all of its sustainability attributes. Rather than trying to evaluate products for single attributes (comparing one choice carrying a certification for indoor air quality while another is touting its recycled content), ANSI/NSF 342 evaluates the products for all of the major sustainability criteria. Attributes are taken into account such as material inputs, manufacturing practices, long-term value, end of life management, and corporate governance. On-site auditors validate the claims made by both manufacturer and distributor and combine these into a certification level of Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum.
Another tricky task: mastering product selection on building certifications. Projects certified under LEED®, Green Globes, or Living Building Challenge have some varying requirements for usage. LEED tends to be the easiest (for now — LEED v4 is for another article); as its straightforward single attribute requirements are relatively easy to research and document. There, you’ll primarily look for recycled content and location of manufacture, with the dollars spent on the wallcoverings contributing toward the point.
Green Globes is similar, but has the added shortcut of rewarding the use of wallcoverings certified under the ANSI/NSF 342 standard.
The Living Building Challenge focuses on the ingredients found in building materials. Its red list of chemicals to avoid greatly restricts the options available for selection. There, you’ll want to stick with specialty products created from materials found in nature, such as natural textiles or grasscloths.
Wellness and Safety.
With wallcoverings, facility managers get lucky when you consider wellness and safety. Because people spend remarkably little time touching the walls, the extent of exposure from this facility element is related to the air they breathe. Nearly every commercial product available will pass the toughest indoor air quality standards out there. Additionally, most products are treated with antimicrobials to ensure that no microbes can live on the surface of the material, and mold/mildew inhibitors to ensure that nothing can grow on or in the wallcovering. Combine that feature with the ease of cleaning found with most commercial products, and you’ve got a surface that will support the wellness and safety goals of most spaces.
End of Life.
Some easy details often missed when shopping for products installed at facilities are the end of life options. A vast majority of the commercial wallcoverings installed are fully capable of being recycled with a small additional effort from the installer. Getting material returned for recycling can go a long way toward reducing the waste on a job site (perhaps helping with a LEED point for waste management) as well as continuing to contribute toward the manufacturing of new product made with recycled content.
One small step to help get the wallcovering off the construction site for recycling is if that very act of preserving the wallcovering is written into construction documents and lease agreements. The ability for facility executives to assist in this fundamental shift will have great impacts for the industry.
Lastly, the best part about selecting wallcovering is the opportunity to use this medium as a tool to protect the wall from damage, develop an aesthetically pleasing space, and even boost brand image for the organization. Following a few basic steps will help your space look better, for longer, while helping to achieve aesthetic needs and furthering health, human wellness, and sustainability goals.
Walsh is director of environmental affairs for MDC, a wallcoverings, coatings, and design solutions company based in suburban Chicago, IL.