Lichen, a modular plank carpet system from Mohawk Group, was the Best of Competition winner in the 2017 Nightingale Awards. The collection blends concepts of sustainability and biophilic design. It’s also the first flooring product to achieve the International Living Future Institute’s Living Product Challenge Petal Certification, a rigorous process that requires a product to comply with requirements in at least three of seven performance areas in the Living Product program as well as four core imperatives.

The achievement wasn’t lost on jurors, who commended the certification and overall sustainability story as well as the depth of design that was put into Lichen’s aesthetic.

The carpet system is the result of a collaboration between Mohawk’s designers and Jason F. McLennan, the founder of the Living Product Challenge and Living Building Challenge, and his team at McLennan Design. It’s inspired by lichens found in the natural world—their rich textures and colors as well as regenerative role in the ecosystem. The resulting look and feel was achieved through the creation of large-scale fields of “lichen blooms” that vary in shape and colorways, pile heights that simulate different species, and a product life cycle that gives more resources back to the environment than it uses.

Healthcare Design spoke with McLennan and Jackie Dettmar, vice president of design and product development at Mohawk Group, about the design process.

Healthcare Design: Where did the lichen inspiration come from—was it an aesthetic element or its role in nature that attracted you?

Jason F. McLennan: When I was a young boy, I used to hike in the hills around my house in Northern Ontario. The landscape was quite barren—except for lichen and moss that grew all over the rocks. It was the only thing soft underfoot, so I felt it was “nature’s carpet.” When it was time to design the product, I recalled these memories. I’ve always found lichen to be incredibly beautiful—yet overlooked—so the inspiration to bring awareness about lichens and the important environmental roles they play was important. In this case, both the beauty and the biophilic aspects inspired me.


How did you develop this very specific look?

McLennan: My team generated designs and then we collaborated closely with Mohawk to bring its new manufacturing developments to life. The great thing about the product is that each color represents a different species of lichen, with a distinct growth pattern and pile height—so it’s not merely “swapping” colors; it has more layered meaning. The customer can customize it further by specifying how much lichen versus rock substrate they want in their flooring solution. The aesthetic range then becomes very large, and you can transition from color to color across large areas, as well.


The collection is the first carpet to receive Living Product Challenge Petal Certification. Was it Mohawk’s intent initially to create a highly sustainable product or was that the result of your collaboration?

Jackie Dettmar: When the Living Product Challenge was launched, we knew we wanted to pursue the certification based on all the work we had done on our Declare labels and the Living Building Challenge experience at our Light Lab, the Mohawk Group design center. So that decision came first, and then we thought, “Who better to work with us on the design of a Living Product than Jason McLennan, the founder of the challenge?” We did an opening charrette with the International Living Future Institute at our Glasgow, Va., manufacturing facility to review the Living Product Challenge and all that it entailed. After that meeting, we could see a path to achieve the certification.


What was the design process like once you added in the sustainability requirements for the Petals program to the aesthetic concept of lichen?

Dettmar: As we were working on the Lichen designs for the aesthetics of the product with Jason, we were also developing a new heathered yarn system that reduces our water needs and processing steps. We wanted to use this process to manufacture the Lichen collection. Mohawk Group’s design team worked closely with McLennan Design to create the colors needed to tell the Lichen story and also answer designers’ needs for transitioning colors through interiors. We were on a tight timeline to achieve our launch at NeoCon 2017, but we were able to work quickly and efficiently with Jason and his team.


How did you identify naturally occurring lichen (colors, textures, etc.) and apply that to the carpet?

McLennan: McLennan Design works closely with a biologist named Juan Ravalo. He and others on my team (like Jason Wilkinson) then searched through a variety of different species that had different stories, so to speak, in terms of how they grew and what they looked like when mature. We then overlaid multiple options with an approximate color palette that we thought would have commercial appeal, along with working on a substrate that was a mix of gray colors we felt the industry would like, as well. At this point, the Mohawk team then began running samples and test runs that we looked at together, refined, and refined again.

Dettmar: To make the different lichen structures, we needed to use a new tufting technique that we call “pattern perfect tufting,” which allows precise placement of each color. We worked hard to show how the different species grow. Some grow more out of the rocks, and some species grow low and slick against the rock surface. We could use different pile heights and pattern placement to replicate those structures, and each colorway is a different pattern that mimics how that color grows in nature.


What makes this carpet product a fit for the high demands of healthcare settings?

Dettmar: It’s a very versatile collection with soft colors and a biophilic pattern that creates tranquil healing spaces. With a variety of colorways and the ability to control how much and where color is used, it’s also very effective for wayfinding. Additionally, carpet tiles are very functional in a healthcare setting as they can be changed out, if needed. The random nature of the patterns makes the ability to change out single tiles more appealing.


What else stands out to you about this collection?

Dettmar: As part of the Living Product Challenge, each manufacturer must look at how to create a positive effect on the world (a handprint) to offset the footprint of the resources used to create the product. For example, for every gallon of water used to create a square yard of Lichen carpet, we had to find a way to save a gallon of water. First, we innovated yarn and material choices to use the least amount of water possible in our manufacturing. Then, to create the gallon of saved water, we engaged in a three-year conservation strategy with Morehouse College in Atlanta, where we retrofitted 140 dormitory showerheads with low-flow fixtures.

The collection is already on track to give more back to the environment than it takes during its entire life cycle. Lichen is a perfect marriage of sustainability and biophilic design, existing as a concrete example of how companies can create positive change in the world.

Jennifer Kovacs Silvis is editor-in-chief of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at