In the realm of ecologically-minded home improvement, choosing flooring can often feel like a pesky SAT question. What’s better: hardwood or laminate? Synthetic or natural carpet? Ceramic tile or vinyl?

Thanks to the increasing number of manufacturers who are thinking of Mother Nature as much as the bottom line, the answer to the eco-friendly flooring question is now all of the above.

Hardwood

Few things are as simultaneously timeless and contemporary as hardwood floors. And yes, they come from trees, but when the forests are managed properly, that doesn’t make them any less eco-friendly.

“I would say one of the most compelling characteristics of hardwood flooring, and even its cousin, laminate flooring, is you start with renewable materials,” says David Wilkerson, Shaw Floors’ corporate director of sustainability and product stewardship. “That’s the wood itself because you can grow it. It’s not like fossil fuels, where there is a finite supply. You can take care of your harvest, growing it in a sustainable manner. You can get plenty of raw materials to replace the ones that you used.”

Shaw Floors offers multiple eco-friendly hardwood brands, but one of the company’s overarching hallmarks is that it no longer sells exotic woods. Wilkerson says there was concern that many of the forests these woods come from weren’t managed sustainably. Instead, the company developed a method of mimicking the look of an exotic wood in domestic species. The company offers several hardwood lines, including Epic, which uses about half as much newly harvested wood than hardwood floors of similar thickness.

The flooring is an engineered hardwood product, which means it’s made of bonded layers of wood rather than one solid plank. The layers of wood in engineered hardwood are thin, so less wood is used overall, and more of each tree can be used, creating less waste. The core of the Epic line is made of recycled wood byproducts, enhancing its sustainability.

For DIYers, engineered hardwood products are a must: They can be glued directly onto cement, making for a home improvement project that is easy on both the environment and the homeowner.

Anyone who’s planted a small row of accent bamboo in a backyard can attest to its regrowth capabilities, making this member of the grass family a popular hardwood alternative showing up in many companies’ lines of wood flooring products. But just because bamboo grows quick doesn’t mean this rapidly renewable resource is grown and harvested responsibly.

EcoTimber Flooring, a company that has specialized in forest protection since 1992, offers a comprehensive bamboo line featuring solid and engineered products in colors ranging from the all-natural and classic wood shades to edgy dyed products in shades of near-black and exotic textures. Ecotimber’s solid bamboo flooring can be glued down, and its engineered bamboo can also be a floating floor.

These companies and many others work with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. FSC certification indicates that the lumber has come from a responsibly-managed forest adhering to the council’s standards.

Laminates

Gone are the days of laminates’ association with noxious fumes and water-damage nightmares. Today’s models can handle just about anything a hardwood can and cost a lot less. And, because many are snap-and-lock, they’re a favorite for DIYers.

Pergo is synonymous with laminate, and the originator of the material remains at the forefront of the market. Today, the manufacturer has a texturing process that makes the laminate look so similar to hardwood that many people can’t tell they’re looking at a laminate.

Pergo has more than 150 varieties, including imitations of Brazilian cherry, ebony, teak and Australian eucalyptus, which allow homeowners to attain an exotic look without harming rare forests.

Laminates are most often considered a wood alternative, but products aren’t restricted to that appearance. Mohawk creates laminates that mimic stone, in addition to a full line of wood laminates. Additionally, Mohawk’s laminates are a minimum of 74 percent pre-consumer recycled content, which the company says keeps 680 million pounds of material out of landfills.

Carpet and other materials

The average carpet in the country is made of synthetic materials, and that’s actually a good thing, so long as it’s nylon. This deceptively tough material is infinitely recyclable and is a longer-lasting fabric for well-traversed home interiors, to boot. The industry saying is that nylon uglies out before it wears out.

Mohawk, Beaulieu and Shaw Floors offer carpets with recycled content. Shaw uses Anso nylon, a longstanding brand of fiber that contains recycled content and is also recyclable, and the company supports carpet recycling through its Evergreen Nylon Recycling facility in North Georgia.

Mohawk offers several collections focused on reused fibers: EverStrand fibers are made from recycled plastic bottles, SmartStrand is made from a polymer produced from corn sugar, and the company’s popular Wear-Dated brand now includes Wear-Dated Revive, which uses recycled content.

Anyone who’s taken a tour through ancient ruins of Greece and seen a tile mosaic knows that ceramic and porcelain tiles are built to last. And considering they’re made from clay, it’s safe to say this flooring material is sourced from a rapidly renewable resource.

That said, laying tile can be painstaking, leading some consumers to vinyl alternatives (resilient flooring, in industry speak), an easier-to-install but pesky material for the eco-conscious since it’s made of plastic. Mannington, however, makes resilient flooring with recycled content, so DIYers needn’t worry that by trying to save themselves some labor, they’ve put the cost back onto Mother Earth.

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Environmentally-friendly flooring