The chronically unfashionable floor covering linoleum is making a comeback, with a brand new, super-sustainable and stylish image.

Floor coverings have been manufactured at Forbo-Nairn’s Kirkcaldy site since 1847. The company is part of the Forbo Group and employs around 200 people at the Scottish facility. It had a turnover of £34m in 2007. Julie Dempster gives an insight into the resurgence of linoleum.

What do you do?

We manufacture linoleum, primarily for the commercial market, and also sell all our sister company’s products – including marmoleum and artoleum – to commercial and residential clients.

What sectors are busy at the moment?

Linoleum’s been enjoying something of a resurgence in recent years. The healthcare and education sectors are particularly buoyant because of the PFI and Building Schools for the Future programmes. We’re also working on products and solutions for retail schemes and offices, which are the UK’s two biggest sectors. They tend to use carpet, carpet tiles or vinyl tiles, so it’s a sector we are trying to get into.

Why the renewed interest in linoleum?

A major reason is sustainability. Linoleum is made from natural products – linseed oil, rosin (which is tapped from pine trees) and wood flower, pressed onto a jute backing material – and it is also biodegradable. It gets an A rating in the BRE’s current Green Guide. Marmoleum also has the Scandinavian Swan and Nature Plus labels.

Another reason is durability – it typically has a design life of 20 years. It also has a wide range of design options. Historically, it might have had a reputation as being old fashioned, but we’re always developing new colours, textures and finishes.

Also, indoor allergens such as dust mites cannot breed on marmoleum’s smooth surface. Independent testing has shown that it inhibits the growth of common hospital pathogens such as MRSA, which supports its use in healthcare environments for everything from operating theatres to patient rooms.

What are the lead times?

In the UK, commercial products are available from stock in 48 to 72 hours.

What product developments are you working on?

We update our commercial collection every four years and our residential collection every two to three years. We go through a worldwide consultation process where we take new ideas to architects to get their feedback on design trends in terms of colours, textures and finishes.

Currently we’re working to meet the demand for increased slip resistance and acoustic performance, which is growing in the UK.

What we wanted was a linoleum product that gave the same scuff resistance as a PVC polyurethane wear layer, without compromising its environmental credentials. Topshield is a water-based surface finish.

It is applied at the curing stage and it dramatically improves the scuff and scratch-resistance properties.

What other recent developments have there been?

Marmoleum decibel, which is the only linoleum product in the world with an impact sound reduction of 17dB. It is 2.5mm thick, calendered on polyester backing, and laminated onto a 1mm thick layer of polyolefine foam. It is available in 16 colours and has been designed for use in spaces such as libraries, receptions and offices.

What developments will affect your future?

The growth of the sustainability movement, green specification and environmental awareness in the UK. In the past five years we have seen a real shift in purchasing habits. It’s not something that will fade or get superseded – global warming will only continue. We see it coming through from local authorities who are asking people to specify products on a points system.