Vinyl Products Face a Number of Challenges, But Opportunities Abound

Jan. 31, 2020

Despite concerns over vinyl, it is being specified more and can be the best alternative in certain applications. Find out more now.

During the Wallcoverings Association (WA) 2020 annual meeting at the Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach, FL, attendees heard from a number of industry experts on a variety of topics facing the wallcoverings industry.

Among them was a presentation from the Vinyl Institute’s CEO Ned Monroe about the use of vinyl and the threats and opportunities facing the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) industry.

The Vinyl Institute’s CEO Ned Monroe addresses attendees at the Wallcoverings Association Annual Conference, discussing the biggest threats and opportunities facing the vinyl industry. Credit: Robert Nieminen

Despite the fact that PVC has been identified as a chemical of concern by a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) through the years, the use of vinyl among architects and designers has increased 13% between 2015 and 2019, according to Monroe. Further, a Vinyl Institute survey revealed that nearly 85% of interior designers continue to recommend vinyl wallcovering products.  They cited the product’s durability, life cycle cost and ease of maintenance as reasons for its continued specification.

Case in point: Monroe referenced a case study at a university in the Midwest in which the hospital suffered $8 million in product failures due to its decision to follow certain Healthier Hospitals Initiative protocols that Monroe suggests don’t always consider all of the ramifications of banning certain products like vinyl.

[Related: 4 Criteria to Consider When Specifying Wallcoverings]

“The concern though on a Red List is a product de-selection that is so broad that it precludes the opportunity to put a product like vinyl in a setting where it’s really needed,” he says. “You don’t want [a situation] where they had $8 million worth of failure because you need to have those funds put for cancer research and diagnostics and testing. So what you want to do is not have a broad-based, unfounded or non-scientific-based assessment that would harm the opportunity to use vinyl and in unique situations.”

Vinyl Industry Threats and Opportunities

Monroe identified the three biggest threats and opportunities facing the vinyl industry today and how it can move forward in ways that can benefit manufacturers, specifiers and the design industry alike:

1. Reputation
Monroe says the biggest threat and opportunity for the industry lies with product deselections by NGOs or standard-setting bodies that are relying on substandard data or science that have damaged the reputation of vinyl as a viable product for certain applications.

“We have to make sure that we’re working together. If we present our data [and] our life cycle assessments, and we look at the unique products that we are offering that meet specific specifications for facilities like healthcare, we really have an opportunity to educate consumers, educate audiences, educate the users and make sure that we get the right product into each of those settings,” he explains.

[Related: Future of Open Office Design Will Focus on Occupant Health and Personalization]

2. Perception
The second threat/opportunity has to do with the perception of PVC and vinyl in the industry. “In our surveys of architects, designers and specifiers, PVC is still widely used and widely respected. There are unique attributes of vinyl wall coverings, for example, and the designers and specifiers that know the background and know the characteristics of our products are really putting them into place,” he says.

As news of the new coronavirus is making headlines, Monroe says it’s a great illustration of how vinyl is the best-use product to meet stringent demands in healthcare settings where staff may need to clean and disinfect a room in 30 minutes between patients.

“Vinyl is a great opportunity to ensure that they’re meeting the specifications that they need,” he says. “Then if you look at the vinyl baseboards and the vinyl backing behind the handrails and in senior living facilities, that’s a durable product that can withstand the cleaning and the heavy use that’s required.”

3. Advocacy 
Finally, Monroe says the Vinyl Institute is actively engaged in what’s going on at the federal, state and local level related to plastics legislation. He says the Vinyl Institute is having conversations with organizations like the USGBC, the Cradle to Cradle Institute and other NGOs “to make sure that we have a presence where anybody’s talking about vinyl. We want to make sure that we have an opportunity to be there to make sure they hear all the great things and the characteristics of vinyl,” he continues. “It is a unique product, and it can be the product of choice, depending on specifications for the product and for the use.”

While some architects and designers categorically refuse to specify PVC, Monroe says the Vinyl Institute is seeking common ground to ensure they have access to scientific studies and data that prove vinyl’s unique characteristics and design benefits. He notes that the life cycle assessment of vinyl is compelling and the efforts to improve recycling is growing.

“We’ve done a lot. We have ways to go, but we’re really committed—the Vinyl Institute and the industry is completely committed to telling the good stories that we have in recycling. We are going to do more in landfill diversion, but we’ve had a 40% increase in landfill diversion since 2014, and we’ll continue on that journey.”

Read Next: KI Helps Oklahoma School for Homeless Students with Flexible Furniture

About the Author

Robert Nieminen | Chief Content Director

Robert Nieminen is the Chief Content Director of Architectural Products, BUILDINGS and i+s, sister publications of Smart Buildings Technology. He is an award-winning writer with more than 20 years of experience reporting on the architecture and design industry.

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