Naturally wonderful and sustainable, cork is used not only for wine stoppers and boards, but also for the construction of buildings and interior design. This article provides an overview of cork’s natural advantages, and explains how it’s the perfect material for sustainable design, both inside and out!
Sustainability of Cork
One of the key benefits of cork is its environmental friendliness. Practically speaking, cork is a 100% rapidly-renewable and sustainable resource! Since cork is made from cork oak tree bark, the trees themselves are never cut down. And while the bark is regenerating over a period of nine years, the trees absorb up to five times as much CO2 as normal. Thus the production and use of cork in sustainable design actually improves the environment! (See infographic below on the cork bark sustainability lifecycle.)
Cork as Sustainable Building Material
Our illustration above is precisely why Green Building & Design includes cork in their 20+ Sustainable Building Materials in 2023—Natural, Recycled, and More. In their endorsement of cork they state:
Unlike timber, bamboo, or even hemp products, cork products do not require that the entire plant be harvested – rather, the bark is all that’s collected and doing so doesn’t harm the tree itself. This means that a single cork oak tree can be harvested multiple times throughout its natural lifespan, typically at intervals of once every nine years.
After it is harvested, cork is shredded, compressed into sheets, and baked in a kiln – the finished product is then cut into planks, tiles, or left as a sheet, at which point it can be used for construction purposes, typically as either flooring or insulation…Once cork products reach the end of their construction – use cycle, they can be composted back into the earth.
Understandably, Architects and Designers are utilizing cork as a sustainable building material. In Durable, Adaptable Cork, the New York Times highlights buildings in which cork usage was key. Speaking of a home whose facade and roof were covered entirely with cork, one Principal Architect stated, “It is a sort of wonder product in terms of sustainability. Before we researched it, we didn’t realize how sustainable it was.”
Another example is referenced in which cork was used for the building exterior. Although the architectural team initially intended to use cork as insulation only, both the client and firm were inspired to also use cork material for the exterior. The architect recalled that, “The color, the smell, the texture of the cork pleased everyone…It is a material that ages well.”
For yet another building, one designer used cork cladding for sound insulation, noting that “[Cork] is a product suited for being outside, having great durability and properties that are maintained over time. However, because it is a natural product, it undergoes color changes according to climatic variations.”
More Design Considerations for Cork
As alluded to above, Architects and Designers choose cork for its sustainability plus its other natural advantages. Cork cells contain over 200 million enclosed air cells per cubic inch, accounting for over 50% of its volume. This makes cork:
- Acoustic – excellent for soundproofing material for floors, walls and ceilings
- Insulating – inhibiting thermal transfer through the subfloor
- Comfortable – soft, like walking on air
- Healthy – helpful to those sensitive to mold and mildew or with allergies, thanks to its naturally occurring suberin that has anti-fungal and hypoallergenic properties
Cork is also highly water-resistant, fire-retardant, resilient, compressible, and frictional for non-skid purposes. All things considered, the collective benefits of cork make a very compelling case for it being the preferred sustainable design option!
Cork for Sustainable Interior Design
It’s only natural then (pun intended), that “designers are using this super-sustainable staple” as well. Architectural Digest explains in Designers are Clamoring for Cork—But Why?:
Nearly every material has undergone a greenwashing campaign by this point. There are even versions of plastic that are now branded as “sustainable.” But lately, designers are embracing one surface that really does seem like the real deal: cork.
This article offers fabulous examples of how designers are using cork in creative ways throughout homes and buildings – definitely worth a look for inspiration! And as die-hard cork lovers ourselves, WE Cork offers a host of cork products that can be used to design amazing residential and commercial spaces. Providing sustainable cork products since the 70’s, our portfolio today includes flooring, underlayment, wall coverings, and accessories.
Cork flooring options include a spectrum of colors and patterns ranging from traditional to contemporary. Some cork flooring features natural cork textures, while other commercial grade printed cork floors can have the appearance of cork, wood, stone, or other customer designs for special projects. This make the benefits of cork flooring available for virtually any surface design!
Glue-down cork floors come in Classic tiles of various thicknesses, and in extremely versatile Corkoleum rolls that are backed with recycled rubber. Alternatively, floating cork floors utilize a Uniclic locking system for quicker and easier installation.
A variety of cork underlayment options are designed for specific flooring materials (ceramic tile, marble, stone, LVT, linoleum, and engineered wood floors) for applications such as crack isolation, sound control, and thermal insulation. In addition to being 100% recyclable and resistant to mold and mildew, resilient cork underlayment will not compress and lose its efficacy over time, as will inferior foam products.
Cork wall coverings transform spaces with natural and rustic visuals, in bark and brick patterns. Function is added to form as wall coverings also reduce echoes and regulate room temperatures.
Get Designing with Cork!
Ready to get inspired? Samples are a great way to create that vision! Our sample store includes cork flooring, underlayment, and wall coverings, as individual items or in sets. Full boxes of wall covering and full rolls of Corkoleum are also available.