Versatile Green Product Richlite Embodies Sustainable Manufacturing, Materials and Design
by Paul E McGinniss
I did not have a chance to make it to Green Build 2012 which took place last Fall in San Francisco, California. Luckily, my most excellent friend, passionate green interior designer Laura Angelini, did attend the crowded, annual USGBC convention. So, Laura and I got together to talk about the cool products presented that impressed her the most.
One of the inspiring, multi-use products Laura was most excited about was Richlite, a super durable, paper composite material. It is used to make a wide variety of products including skateboards, skate ramps, exterior cladding for homes, furniture and kitchen counter tops. Richlite can be ordered in many pleasing colors. It is super dense, moisture proof, sanitary, and both stain and heat resistant. Talk about resilient! In the kitchen realm, it's definitely elegant, eco-cred competition for popular materials like corian and granite which are often used in swanky interior design.
While talking with Laura in her tranquil, Woodstock, NY studio, she explained how Richlite, based in Tacoma, Washington, has been Made in the USA since the 1940s. It is manufactured from either FSC certified or 100% post-consumer recycled paper. As for concerns about emissions from resin used to bind the layers of the paper which are molded under high temperatures and pressure in the manufacturing process: the material is certified by Greenguard for indoor use in residential, school and institutional environments under NSF Standard 51.
Interestingly, like many cutting edge products that eventually hit the consumer market, Richlite, in the early days and before it became commercially popular, was used in the military. Because the composite was so strong and water resilient, it was perfect for making storage containers that could be submerged underwater. Our conversation turned to post Super Storm Sandy building issues and the benefit of water and mold resistant materials. Laura pointed out that "Richlite could be under water for a 100 years and it would still be in good condition." She even showed me a picture of the decking on a boat dock made out of Richlite. We quickly realized how it could also be a great, elegant, yet super functional, long lasting decking material for homes or decks on green roofs.
The sustainability of the physical material itself is only a part of the whole sustainable ethos at the company. For instance, Richlite captures energy from the manufacturing process and recycles it back into the heating system as energy. This improves Richlite’s carbon footprint by reducing fuel consumption by 83%. What's more, the manufacturing process used to make the Richlite composite emits four to five times less the amount of CO2 as other manufacturing processes used to make composite paper materials. And, during the Richlite manufacturing process, 99.9% of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are captured and destroyed while reducing Richlite’s natural gas consumption by more than 80%.
Just prior to Green Build 2012, Laura took a job working with ECO Supply, an excellent green materials distributor that carries the Richlite line. While at Green Build, she had the chance to meet the Richlite team. Before meeting with Laura, I was somewhat familiar with Richlite, having previously interviewed Brooks Perlin, CFO ECO Supply. With Brooks I saw some beautiful products made with Richlite at Pure Kitchen in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC. I knew the product mostly as a surface material used in interior kitchens and baths and also in commercial retail and restaurant businesses. But Laura and Brooks opened my eyes to this amazing, versatile material which could find a use by a Top Chef, a famous skateboarder like Tony Hawk or homemaker extraordinaire Martha Stewart. While not specifically certified by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, Richlite is "Cradle to Cradle" if anything is!
While having a great conversation about sustainable business models and green building and green materials, Brooks Perlin ruminated passionately: "Let's not do less bad. Let's start to do good. Let's not just use less plastic or less rain forest materials; let's use more materials like sustainably harvested bamboo manufactured in a "Cradle to Cradle" ethos, and source only sustainably harvested wood, reclaimed wood or recycled and resilient materials like Richlite."
Check out some of the other products carried by ECO Supply. They include Plyboo bamboo floors and Durapalm flooring which is made from coconut palm and sugar palm.
Martin's FSC-Certified guitar using Richlite's FSC Black Diamond as the bridge and fretboard.
One more thing I forgot to mention. Richlite is now substituted for ecologically sensitive hardwoods such as ebony or rosewood, traditional components in custom made guitars made by the likes of Gibson and Martin. Very cool indeed.
Thank you Laura for an enlightening discussion and I look forward to joining you this Fall for Green Build in Philadelphia.
Copyright Paul E McGinniss 2013
Check out the video below from Richlite. (Double click to watch full screen.)