Benefits of Cork Flooring

1 / 2
Cork flooring comes in a variety of shades and patterns.
Cork flooring comes in a variety of shades and patterns.
2 / 2
Harvesting bark from cork trees doesn't kill the trees.
Harvesting bark from cork trees doesn't kill the trees.

If you’re looking for warm, cushiony flooring, think cork. Soft like suede, it has the insulating qualities and resiliency of carpet; the easy-to-clean surface of wood or tile; plus luxurious appeal from its earthy colors and rich visual texture. Made from tree bark, it’s also a natural and renewable resource, so it’s environmentally friendly, right?

The answer is yes, but with a footnote.

Cork has a multitude of green characteristics. The material is acquired by stripping most of the outer bark from the cork oak tree. This regular harvesting does the tree no harm, and the bark grows back, to be stripped again every nine years. The trees live for 200 years or so, and the forests, called Montados, are highly prized and passed down through generations of families in the cork-producing business.

Even cork processing is relatively straightforward: The cork sheets or pieces are cured, boiled and pressed. Scraps are collected for reuse, so almost nothing is wasted.

Yet for those of us in North America trying to be more eco-friendly, cork has a notable drawback: It comes from Europe. Forests of Quercus suber, the one oak species that produces cork,grow in the Mediterranean, primarily in Portugal. Fuel consumption from shipping cork adds to the embodied energy in every cork flooring product. Although the trees have been successfully grown in California, they haven’t produced the corky bark, likely from a subtle difference in the ecosystem.

  • Published on Dec 8, 2008
Online Store Logo
Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368