Product quality, design, innovation, Italian origin, and sustainability are all key components of the Italian ceramic tile industry’s success. The intrinsic characteristics of ceramic products make them preferable to other materials in terms of their limited impacts over their life cycle. Their resistance to extreme atmospheric conditions, chemicals, humidity, temperature variations and UV rays mean they are highly durable.
The Italian tile industry has analysed the product’s environmental impacts over its entire life cycle by means of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The assessment was conducted by the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and compared the total life cycle impacts of different types of floor covering materials: porcelain tile, carpet, parquet, marble, resin and linoleum. It revealed the superior environmental performance of Italian porcelain floor tiles. The sectoral EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) was based on data for 84 factories accounting for 82.6% of Italian ceramic tile production.
Italy is also the leading country in terms of the number of companies boasting the EU Ecolabel, the European Union’s ecological quality mark which selects the products and services with the best environmental performance over their entire life cycle. Ecolabel licenses have been issued to over 30 sector brand names and more than 10,000 certified products.
Ceramic products can be certified as complying with the main international green building assessment protocols (LEED, BREEAM, etc.). Ceramic products may be compliant because they possess many of the characteristics required to earn credits, such as: a content of at least 20% by weight of post-consumer recycled material or the equivalent percentage of pre-consumer recycled material, the absence of VOC emissions, sector or product EPD certification, and optimised energy performance.
Today it is vitally important to look for solutions with a low environmental footprint capable of meeting ethical and economic needs while delivering high aesthetic quality. The recent reappraisal of natural materials with a long building tradition such as mud, straw, and clay has been accompanied by methods of use that are more in tune with technological progress and the needs of our times. An excellent example of this “evolution through continuity” is that of ceramic – including both tiles and large-size panels or slabs.
Freed from dimensional constraints, ceramic panels have become much more than just a tablet of pressed clay. Numerous factors contribute to this product’s sustainability. In particular, it combines the advantage of fewer joints – and consequently a more uniform and seamless surface – with well-known qualities such as hygiene, resistance to abrasion, dust and mould, low maintenance requirements, and zero emissions of VOCs.
But, along with these well-established characteristics, ceramic panels have many other newly-developed qualities that make them an appealing and increasingly eco-friendly design solution. High-definition digital printers are now capable of reproducing any kind of material on the surface of ceramic panels with a high degree of realism, making it possible for example to simulate the elegance of marble or the warmth of timeworn wood while avoiding the costs of production, processing and installation associated with the original materials, not to mention the problems relating to depletion of natural resources.
Another important green aspect of thin ceramic panels is the fact that they can be installed directly on top of existing tiling, making it possible to transform existing spaces without the need to perform demolition work. Enormous opportunities are also offered by large sizes and rectified or edge-ground products, which can be used to create artificial and visually striking yet extremely eco-friendly façades. Their characteristics as inert and highly recyclable products also mean they are easy to dispose of, while their lifetime of well over half a century makes them a highly durable long-term solution.
Last but not least, ceramic panels have newly-developed characteristics with unforeseeable potential. Examples include “functionalised” tile surfaces capable of generating electrical energy, purifying the air and eliminating bacteria present in domestic and public spaces. Over the last ten years, Italian ceramic tiles have acquired surfaces with important eco-active functions, including photovoltaic tiles capable of combining use as exterior cladding with electricity production, and antibacterial tiles and panels capable of exploiting the natural photocatalytic process triggered by sunlight or artificial light. Treated using special procedures that exploit amongst other things the properties of noble metals and titanium dioxide, they play an active role in transforming organic and inorganic pollutants present in materials and the air (such as nitrogen oxide, fine particulate and volatile organic compounds) into harmless water-soluble inorganic salts, as well as activating self-cleaning processes and eliminating the main bacterial strains present in confined spaces.
“Ceramic tile is very durable, built to last generations. This helps to limit waste and reduce environmental impact, as ceramic tile does not require frequent maintenance or replacements. It is also produced using natural, non-toxic materials. So, at the end of its life cycle, ceramic tile can be reused to create even more eco-friendly products,” comments Caroline Busch, Marketing Representative for Ceramics of Italy.
The EPD for Italian ceramic was presented at a conference on sustainability held during Coverings 2019 at Orlando. This was a key component of a campaign promoting international awareness of the outstanding results achieved by the Italian ceramic tile industry. The EPD for Italian ceramic tiles is recognised by UL (Underwriters Laboratories): a safety science leader and program operator for the North American market. The EPD is now available on the UL’s SPOT database; one of the largest credible sustainable product databases with more than 50,000 products.
The real value of the study, conducted by Confindustria Ceramica with the support of thinkstep (www.thinkstep.com), lies in the fact that it gives member companies the opportunity to compete for credits in the context of sustainable building protocols. The EPD, a voluntary certified environmental product declaration based on standard criteria, is attracting global interest as a key tool for product selection and in some cases is becoming a prerequisite for entering certain markets. The EPD can be downloaded here.
More at: https://www.ceramica.info/en
See the latest sustainable tile solutions from Ceramics of Italy members (https://www.ceramica.info/products-gallery/archives/) at Coverings 2020.
At Coverings visitors will experience the latest tile and stone trends, meet industry peers, and gain valuable technical knowledge. Coverings 2020 will be held from 20th to 23rd April in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
A new post by Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, January 2020.