Why Schools Need Good Acoustics

Sonya Myers

Sound expert Julian Treasure previously discussed how acoustics in the workplace are key to worker productivity and health. But how does that apply to the educational environment? How does noise affect students and teachers in the classroom?

Acoustics in Education

Bad acoustics in schools can be a big problem.

In a typical classroom, noise levels average around 65 decibels (dBs) — the threshold for serious health damage with long-term exposure. Higher noise levels have proven negative effects on health. For students, it can lead to lower academic performance since students have to work harder to understand their lessons. And for teachers, higher noise levels can mean a loss of voice from talking louder to be heard, and a higher risk of heart attack1 caused by a sustained increase in heart rate over time.

Clearly, something has to be done to make schools a better acoustic environment for everyone.

Solutions for Acoustics in Schools

Luckily, designing and retrofitting schools for acoustic benefit is not as difficult as it may seem.

Solutions such as replacing regular ceiling tiles with acoustic panels, or installing sound absorbers on classroom walls are viable approaches to the noise problem. But one of the most effective methods of improving school acoustics is sound-reducing flooring.

Acoustic Benefits of Flooring in Schools

A floor that reduces 30% of airborne noise is a great acoustic fix for schools. When it comes to flooring, carpet with an acoustic underlayment would be best in classrooms, but but luxury vinyl tile (LVT) with Sound ChoiceTM thanks to its durability and easiness to clean. Acoustic standards like Quiet Mark help separate flooring products with real acoustic benefit from other, less sound-reducing products.

Acoustics Case Study: Dawson County High School

The benefits of better acoustic flooring came to life at Dawson County High School in Dawsonville, Georgia. When school staff and students returned for the new school year, they were greeted by inviting updates to the main building.

New Interface carpet tile and LVT replaced the cold, noisy VCT floors in classrooms, hallways, and offices. The changes have not gone unnoticed. “People say it feels a lot less institutionalized, more like home,” says Scott Morgan, director of facilities and maintenance for Dawson County Schools. “The LVT makes the most difference. Everybody loves it. There are two things everybody talks about. That it’s softer on the feet and somehow it just helps with the sound.”

Dawson County High School classroom with Interface LVT

Dawson County High School classroom with Interface LVT

Download the entire case study to learn more about how Interface flooring created a better acoustic environment for Dawson County High School here.

Why Good Acoustics in Schools are Important

For those who spend the majority of their days in school environments, acoustics matter. Research shows that quieter classrooms improve academic performance, reduce stress for teachers, and better student behavior. A good classroom experience leads to increased productivity. And, it creates a better quality of life and improved sense of well-being for teachers and students alike.

The benefits of good acoustics in schools are numerous. Designers, administrators, and facility managers who are responsible for education environments should be paying attention.


1. Tiesler, Gerhart & Oberdörster, Markus. (2008). Noise – A Stressor? Acoustic Ergonomics of Schools. Building Acoustics. 15. 249-261. 10.1260/135101008786348690.

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Home Away From Home: Europe’s Charming Boutique Hotels

Cindy Kaufman

Travel, whether for business or pleasure, is a gift.

Travel removes you from what your muscle memory knows so well and forces your brain to make new calculations. All your senses go to work, bringing new information that changes what you think about, how you view the world, and who you might be tomorrow. You hear new languages, see new smiles, eat new food, and forge new relationships – particularly with yourself.

Port House Antwerp by Zaha Hadid

The Port House in Antwerp, Belgium by Zaha Hadid

I am especially grateful when I get to travel for pleasure; I don’t think there’s anything that compares. When I travel, my foremost intention is to see new cities, immerse myself in new cultures, and have new experiences. Yet while my excitement comes from those experiences, one of my true delights is the discovery of my temporary home while I’m away. Without a doubt, perhaps the moment I anticipate most is waving the card key over the door lock, and opening a hotel room door for the very first time. The discovery of a new hotel guest room – my home for the next 48 hours or so – never ceases to delight. I get giddy every single time.

Hotel Design Matters

A key reason for my delight is that moment of being enveloped by an unfamiliar design, because design matters. The smaller journey that I experience inside the confines of a hotel is just as important to me as the larger journey out in the world.

Design is important because it not only shapes how I move, live and sleep in that space, but it’s also the result of the ideas that some individual, or group of people, thoughtfully crafted in order for me to have just such an experience. They made it their life’s work to create a beautiful, comfortable, and thoughtful interior, and designed all the details so I would have that exact experience while I lay my head there. It’s such an intimate relationship that I have with that designer – who I’ll never even know – but it makes me feel connected to a place and a time in a way that causes the entire trip to feel that much stickier.

Moments of Biophilia

On a recent trip to Europe, each time I opened a new hotel door, I gasped.

A recurring theme from city to city included the conspicuous use of biophilic design elements. Specifically, a great deal of wood: wood that had grown refined and soft from years of human touch, and wood that was raw and roughhewn. There was sophistication in this raw wood – at once both historic and modern – which made me feel grounded and connected to that place. The authenticity was palpable.

Another thoughtful touch that surprised me? The inclusion of fresh flowers everywhere – not only in public spaces, but in guest rooms as well. I can’t recall a time where I found so many fresh flowers in my guest room. Little else feels that special and personal to me, and it created an intimate connection to the hotel and its staff. How often in my day-to-day life do strangers bring me flowers? Not frequently enough, I realized.

I’ll let these photos do the rest of the talking; they will say more than I possibly can. I hope they will create the real context around these memorable design experiences.

Swiss Night in Zurich, Switzerland

The first night we stayed at Swiss Night by Fassbind, in Zurich, Switzerland. This unique little find was tucked into a quiet residential neighborhood in Zurich, just off the beaten path. Quirky and whimsical, this charming boutique hotel greeted me with a smile on its face and a Swiss chocolate bar. It must have known I was coming.

Swiss Night, Zurich, Switzerland

Unique Post Hotel in Zermatt, Switzerland

My next stop was the Unique Post Hotel in Zermatt, Switzerland. The experience was exactly what I hoped for, and still managed to surpass all my expectations. This warm and cozy boutique hotel sat at the foot of the Matterhorn and felt like my own private cabin in the Alps.

Unique Post Hotel, Zermatt, Switzerland

After being greeted with champagne at the reception desk and warmly whisked up to my snug, understated room, I declared that I never wanted to leave. Raw wood and stone lined the walls, a cowhide covered the floor, and the windows were always open to the fresh Alpine air.

1898 The Post in Gent, Belgium

But leave Zermatt we did. Who knew my biggest thrill was next to come?

1898 The Post, in Gent, Belgium: Located in an historic post office on a main platz, converted into the loveliest and most painstakingly detailed boutique hotel, this was the favorite of all stops on my journey. The rooms were a spectacular dark teal the color of night, and I felt as though I had found a precious stone in a river.

1898 The Post, Gent, Belgium

Gent was also a jewel of a town, and this hotel could not have been a more perfect complement to our time there. The lobby lounge was inviting and warm and the cocktails were neat. This is a hotel I would visit again and again.

The Pand Hotel in Bruges, Belgium

Our final stop was Bruges, Belgium, where we spent a few wonderful nights at The Pand Hotel. Sweet and more delicate than the 1898, this tiny boutique hotel had guest rooms that felt familiar (like your grandmother’s house) and a breakfast room that included a warm kitchen wall where our eggs were cooked at the hot stove. Every day, all the spaces were filled with fresh flowers, roaring fire, and friendly smiling faces.

The Pand Hotel, Bruges, Belgium

I’m not always this lucky when traveling. Trust me when I tell you that I’ve had experiences that I’d not care to repeat. But, you can’t deny the wondrous transformation that happens when you open your eyes, your mind and your heart to so many new experiences. We build human connections one moment at a time, and that’s why I leave home in the first place.

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Leading with Ambition: A Conversation with Bloomberg

Christine Needles

Recently, Interface’s CEO Jay Gould was interviewed at the Bloomberg Third Sustainable Business Summit in New York City. A self-described “accidental environmentalist,” Jay discussed how sustainability drives innovation at our company in a conversation with Bloomberg’s Sustainability Editor Eric Roston.

Here are some highlights:

Sustainability and performance

Sustainability and innovation have always been core to Interface’s DNA. When Jay came to Interface, he knew that to raise our ambition level even further would require a solid business case. As a company, we spend 20 to 25 percent of our operating income on sustainability initiatives, which, he pointed out, is something almost unheard of at other companies. That means decisions about what goes past the research and pilot stage to market must be vetted and tied back to our business performance.

Jay believes that performance and purpose are symbiotic. He told the crowd, “We have to perform along the way – it’s really dangerous to say, ‘I’m not going deliver in the top quartile financial performance because I’m purpose-driven or focused on sustainability.’”

Driven by ambition

Jay became COO of Interface during somewhat of a “mourning period” at the company after the passing of our late, visionary leader, Ray Anderson. At the time, Interface was underperforming our peer set. He shared with the audience how he was hired with two key objectives: to focus on growing the business and to create a tangible plan to deliver our Mission Zero commitments. The leadership team brought together Interface’s original Eco Dream Team, including leaders like Paul Hawken, Janine Benyus and Bill Browning. Expecting a pat on the back for the company’s efforts, he was surprised when Paul insisted instead that “doing no harm is not enough” and that, to truly build on Ray’s legacy, we must step up, do more and take on climate change.

Humanity

The team went back to the drawing board. After spending over a year studying the science, climate change trends and industry efforts, we launched our new mission: Climate Take Back to demonstrate that a business can indeed make our climate fit for life again while staying profitable and competitive.

Climate Take Back

One of the core tenets of Climate Take Back is incorporating a mindset to “love carbon” – to stop seeing carbon as the enemy and instead look at it as a resource. We must shift the old industrial model of “take, make, waste” to an entirely new framework of “waste, make, re-take.” The language is intentionally provocative.

Bloomberg quote

Instead of using more raw materials, we want to push using waste materials as manufacturing inputs. And we’re starting to make progress – such as our latest Proof Positive tile, a carbon negative concept carpet tile – a first in the industry. Over the next two years, we aim to introduce Proof Positive as a financially viable product in the market and hopefully lead the next wave of innovation in our product category.

The critical role of the Board

Jay also recognized that while setting ambitious goals is today an embedded part of Interface, having a Board of Directors willing to look at Interface’s performance and health from a 20-30-year time horizon, remains a critical factor in our company’s success. This type of flexibility is rare in today’s business environment, he noted, where most boards are tied to creating short term shareholder value, instead of promoting a culture of innovation and long-term thinking.

Emphatically responding to a question from Eric, Jay said, “[We’ve proven that] sustainability drives innovation. We have 20 years of history on how our approach to sustainability has created profitable differentiation for Interface.”

Leading the way

The movement for us started in 1994 and fortunately, other businesses have since caught on. However, the space has become quickly crowded making the technical differences between companies’ sustainability efforts blurry.

In his closing remarks, Jay stressed to the audience of business leaders and media that this is why Interface has decided to change the general sustainability conversation from “do no harm” to specifically focusing on using carbon as an asset. “We’re hopeful that we can take a leadership position in this space. As a relatively small company, we have to be the pioneers. We have to lead the way.”

Along with leading the way on solutions, we also believe that we must lead the way on building a more positive narrative on our ability to solve climate change. Because, as experts told us overwhelmingly, solutions exist. In our recent global survey we found that 95 percent of climate experts and 91 percent of emerging business leaders believe we can create a climate fit for life. With more demand, we can build a more scalable economy of solutions. Focusing on what’s not working leads to inertia. So along with pursuing our mission to make our climate fit for life again, we are also working on spreading a more optimistic narrative regarding our collective ability to do so.

Visit our site to learn more about Interface’s Climate Take Back mission and get involved.

 

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What is Quiet Mark and Why Does it Matter?

Julian Treasure

Sound – especially sound in the spaces where we work – affects us far more than you might think. When it comes to designing interior spaces, acoustic considerations are often put aside or completely ignored in favor of purely visual aesthetics. However, condemning office workers, hospital staff, students and teachers, guests in hotels and even people in their homes to bad acoustics and the resulting high noise levels is simply unacceptable. This is because noise adversely affects well-being, effectiveness and happiness.

Understanding how sound affects human health is vital for architects and interior designers. Likewise, knowing how to measure sound and apply acoustic standards like Quiet Mark to consumer products will help designers and industry to transform how we feel about and respond to the spaces we inhabit.

Measuring Sound

When airborne sound meets a physical barrier, the barrier will have any or all of three effects on the sound.

How sound can interact with surfaces

Reflect

Reflection is when sound bounces off a surface back into the room. Hard surfaces reflect more sound than soft ones, so rooms with mainly hard surfaces tend to be louder.

The sum of all the reflections in a room is called reverberation. Large spaces with hard surfaces have long reverberation time (RT), which is the time it takes for a sudden sound to die away. Where good speech intelligibility matters, as in a classroom or a meeting room, RT should ideally be under half a second. In most social spaces (including open plan offices), it should be well under one second.

Absorb

Absorption is when sound energy is transformed into heat energy – usually by a soft surface ¬– and disappears. The absorbency of a material is noted with a number between 0 and 1, where 0 is complete reflection and 1 is complete absorption.

Two measurements for absorption which are similar but not directly comparable are the US-based sound absorption average (SAA) and the increasingly universal weighted sound absorption coefficient (αw aka Alpha-w). For simplicity, the International Standards Organization has created sound absorption class (SAC), which groups Alpha-w’s into brands from A (most absorbent) to E (least absorbent).

Transmit

Transmission happens when sound passes through a surface and can be heard on the other side. Most surfaces will reflect or absorb some sound, so not all the sound reaches the other side; this reduction is called attenuation. Attenuation of 10 dB means that sound seems half as loud on the other side.

Sound transmission in buildings

How sound is transmitted in buildings

The US measure of attenuation for airborne sound is called sound transmission class (STC) while the international measure is Rw. Both are dB averages of attenuation across a range of frequencies in dB.

The Quiet Mark Standard

While the above sound measurements are helpful for assessing the acoustical properties of a product, they are calculated in laboratories and can be wrongly interpreted when it comes to complex, real-world installations. That’s why a standard for noise performance in practical real-world applications can be very helpful – which is exactly what Quiet Mark sets out to achieve.

The Quiet Mark Logo

The Quiet Mark Logo

Quiet Mark is the international award program for recognizing excellence in low-noise technology and in solutions to unwanted noise. Associated with the U.K. Noise Abatement Society, Quiet Mark encourages companies worldwide to prioritize noise reduction within the design of everyday products, machines and appliances, giving consumers and industry alike a trusted mark of approval that can help transform the aural environment for the benefit of all. Companies with Quiet Mark-certified products include Dyson, Whirlpool and Bosch.

What differentiates Quiet Mark from other standards of sound measurement is that consumer products are tested in the environment where they’ll be used. For example, lawnmowers will be tested outdoors, dishwashers will be tested in a kitchen and vacuum cleaners will be used on a range of different surfaces. And because acoustic design is constantly advancing, Quiet Mark annually re-evaluates the products bearing its label.

Managing Noise with Flooring

One of the best ways to mitigate the effect of noise in indoor environments is through flooring. With carpet this is obvious because we intuitively know that soft surfaces are quieter.

Acoustics: Sound on Soft Surfaces vs. Hard Surfaces

However, hard flooring is catching up as both an aesthetically pleasing and acoustically effective option. Now, even Interface’s fashionable LVT performs acoustically very well with its Sound ChoiceTM backing, which carries the Quiet Mark label.

Lesson learned: Any floor can look great and improve acoustics at the same time.

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New California Legislation Moves Us Closer to a Circular Economy

Jay Gould

Governor Brown of California recently signed into law an important piece of legislation that will take us a step closer to the realization of a circular economy in the State of California. The Governor signed into law AB 1158, enhancing California’s carpet recycling program.

California Coast

At Interface, we see this new law as a positive step forward to driving a truly circular economy in our industry. We have been committed with our own ReEntry product take back program, and have been recycling product for more than two decades. But, we felt it so important to push for this legislation that we joined a broad coalition of organizations to support and lobby for this bill.

Meanwhile, the majority of our industry – including the carpet industry’s trade association and most of our competitors – aggressively opposed it or chose to do nothing.

Doing the right thing – in this case supporting legislation that improves recycling in the U.S.’s largest state – is in our DNA at Interface. We took this step for our customers, our people and the environment. It’s important for us to be good stewards of the waste our industry creates. Carpet is one of the top 10 landfill materials, consuming 3.2 percent of total landfill space. We know that advocacy sometimes makes people uneasy, but advocacy is also sometimes necessary. Failure to speak up changes nothing, and if we want to create a circular economy, we need to change our current approach.

How does AB 1158 support more carpet recycling?

This new law refines the State of California’s commitment to create a recycling system for carpet products. It establishes tangible goals for the recycling program including targets for recycling rates by annual deadlines. It creates a multi stakeholder council to provide input to the state’s organization and importantly, it requires the state of California to purchase carpet with post-consumer recycled content. Additionally, AB 1158 prohibits spending assessment money on incineration, as some in the industry have skirted landfill diversion through incineration, rather than recycling, of reclaimed product.

The State of California is the only state with a law and a recycling program like this. It provides subsidies to recyclers of California carpet to help them grow and, consequently, raise the recycling rates in the state. State supported carpet recycling like this is important to help transition toward a circular economy model, sending a market signal to manufacturers and providing the needed certainty and incentives to help establish recycling infrastructure.

How can you participate in driving a circular approach?

There are a few key steps you can take to help support this effort.

  1. Make sure you include post-consumer recycled content requirements in your purchasing criteria.
  2. Ask critical questions of carpet manufacturers to ensure they have active recycling programs. Also, ask for details on what happens after the products are collected for take back.
  3. Encourage more carpet recycling whenever you have the opportunity to do so – raise it with your customers on refurbishment projects and talk about it with general contractors.

Together we can make the circular economy a reality. A circular economy is also a low carbon economy, which will help us address global warming and create a climate fit for life. We applaud Governor Brown for signing this new bill into law, with California taking the lead on a critical issue in our industry.

Jay D. Gould
Interface CEO

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