Design Collaborative: Colors that Care

March 26, 2007
By Janet Wiens

Sustainability and an expanded color palette come together in nora’s® environcare—a bold new way to look at rubber flooring.

Bring together a healthcare provider and a manufacturer committed to sustainability and good design and you have the impetus for the creation of noraplan® environcare™ rubber flooring. This new product reflects a successful collaboration between Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest nonprofit healthcare system and Freudenberg Building Systems Inc., manufacturer of nora rubber flooring.

"Several years ago we decided to actively pursue alternatives to products with polyvinyl chloride (PVC)," says Tom Cooper, program lead for Design and Construction Standards and chair of the High Performance Buildings Committee (green buildings) for Kaiser Permanente. "We began researching to find alternatives to vinyl composition tile (VCT), which is the least expensive flooring to install but the most expensive to maintain."

Cooper describes that the team went through an exhaustive process that involved testing and pilot project installations of various types of resilient flooring, including linoleum, laminate and rubber products. Flooring materials were evaluated based on total cost of ownership, product and environmental characteristics, maintenance requirements, and the ability to resist stains. In the end, two products met the standards established by Kaiser Permanente for resilient flooring, one of which was rubber flooring by Freudenberg.

"We realized that our decision might involve higher first costs," notes Cooper. "When we evaluated nora's product, it became clear that its environmental properties and minimal maintenance requirements fulfilled our Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) goals while also costing less to maintain. In addition, Kaiser Permanente is keenly focused on improving workplace and patient safety, and we expect the new flooring to help reduce injuries due to the improved resilience and slip resistance. We believed that we could focus our resources in partnership with nora to bring a new and better product to market that would not cost significantly more to use."

The product development piece refers to Kaiser's desire to address noraplan's aesthetics. They had a product that fit their commitment to care from an environmental perspective but they also wanted one that "cared" for the company's new design philosophy.

"Hospitals and medical office buildings have a life span of 30 to 50 years," says Abelardo Ruiz, Kaiser Permanente's senior project manager for the Care Environment. "We developed the Care Environment based on a human- centered design philosophy. It reflects how our facility environments support three distinct groups: our patients, their families and our staff."

Ruiz explains that in many instances, healthcare design still has an '80s and '90s approach when it comes to color. Kaiser is working with its partners, such as nora, to develop new colors and materials for the next 10 to 15 years. "Healthcare design needs to change, and shifting the colors that are used in our buildings is an important piece in what must be done," adds Ruiz. "Colors need to be more engaging and work to create environments that show variety while also being healing and soothing. Nora was very open to working with us to develop a color palette to meet our needs."

When nora was selected, the company initially offered a palette of 24 colors, but Kaiser wanted an expanded line. Bringing the new product, environcare, to life involved conducting a workshop at Freudenberg's facility in Germany.

Representatives from Kaiser Permanente, including Cooper, Ruiz, and the company's design team, came together with nora to establish a new flooring product with the goal of helping to change healthcare design in America while also meeting Kaiser's own requirements. Other members of the design team included: Kay Lee, Perkins+Will; Brad Smith, Taylor & Associates; Joyce Polhamus, Smith Group; Phyllis Martin-Vegue, Martin-Vegue Design Studio; and Claudia Styrsky, ZGF.

"Working with Kaiser Permanente provided an opportunity for us to showcase our company's commitment to the environment and the healthcare market," says Carol Fudge, nora's marketing manager. "We had never developed a new product before, using this process, and it was an exciting and engaging challenge for us."

The team brought color samples they liked and reviewed some 1,000 color samples provided by nora. After sifting through the available colors, the team established a palette of 48 colors in neutrals and coordinating and contrasting shades. Nora took the selected samples and reviewed them with other customers to gauge their reaction, which was very positive.

"The environcare name reflects two very important tenants," adds Fudge. "First, the product is environmentally friendly. It does not contain PVCs and does not require waxing or stripping, which reduces the use of chemicals and maintenance costs. Second, it relates to our commitment to care about the health of individuals."

Environcare is available in tiles or rolls, and comes in thicknesses of 2mm and 3.5mm as well as 2mm AL and 4mm acoustic. The product is GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certified®; GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certified for Children and Schools™; meets California 01350 standards; and is slip resistant in compliance with OSHA requirements.

"We believe that environcare has many applications outside of the healthcare market," concludes Fudge. "Our collaboration with Kaiser Permanente helped us bring a product to the marketplace that is also very appropriate for education and public facilities among other building types. The product's sustainability and impact on the bottom line, based on its ease of maintenance, are important factors that we believe customers interested in these areas will find attractive."

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