Learning Comes Alive with Aquaponics

Gayle Smallwood

How do you get a bunch of 5th-graders excited about science and math? With an aquarium of course!

Fifth-grade teacher Libby Mitchell and her colleagues at Ford Elementary School in Acworth, GA brought science to life during the 2014-2015 school year with an innovative project geared toward developing farming techniques for areas at high risk of floods and drought. It’s called aquaponics, an ecosystem that draws water and nutrients for plants from an aquarium of fish. The fish waste provides nitrates for fertilization and the plants’ roots filter the water that goes back into the tank.

Aquaponics display

Aquaponics is an ecosystem that draws water and nutrients for plants from an aquarium of fish. The fish waste provides nitrates for fertilization and the plants’ roots filter the water that goes back into the tank.

Libby explains that “Our school is very ecofriendly and we have a lot of learning gardens. After reading one of our required books that mentioned a boy wanting his father to get into doing hydroponics or aquaponics, several of us [teachers] wanted to know more about it. I looked into it and realized that creating this system that I knew nothing about could meet most of our science and math standards. It also met the requirements of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) certified project.”

To kick start the project, HATponics CEO Ryan Cox brought his mobile lab to the school to give students a hands on introduction to the system and explain how it can be useful around the world. It may sound surprising that a CEO would take the time to travel to an elementary school – and Mr. Cox came back more than once to help – but HATponics has a goal of feeding 20 million people by 2020. Sharing this innovative system is part of making that mission a reality.

After the introduction each student came up with a design for a classroom system and broke up into collaborative teams to compare and vote on the best one. Each group then created a scale model of their design and presented it to the class for a final vote. With financial assistance from Interface’s Environmental Education Grant the school bought the supplies and the students set to work. Except for sawing PVC pipe and drilling holes, the students built it themselves. The completed system was about 5.5 ft. tall, 4 ft. wide and 8 ft. long. Pretty impressive for a group of 5th-graders!

Kids working

Once the classroom system was completed, the students divided up responsibilities for the various jobs of maintaining the system and the garden.

Once completed they decided which of them would take responsibility for the various jobs of maintaining the system and the garden. And there was a lot of work to do. Libby says, “The whole year was a major learning curve and they were problem solving weekly. I was really proud of them because they worked through each issue and didn’t give up. Every student was actively engaged in the project, even those who seemed bored with science before.”

What did they learn over the course of the year? Perhaps one of the most important things was that you need the right fish for the crop you’re growing. They were growing lettuce, which is a cool weather crop, but the tropical fish in the tank required a higher water temperature. And in addition to trial and error keeping nitrates and pH at the right levels, the students also dealt with leaks and fish that fell victim to the pump.

“We had to design something to put over the mouth of the pump so the fish wouldn’t get sucked up but without blocking the water flow. And between each big PVC pipe there were hoses – garden hoses – with a connector. Originally, there were filters between each hose to keep solids from going back into the tank, but the filter blocked the flow so we had flooding. We had all kinds of issues,” Libby says.

Fifth-grade students also worked with the 4th-graders to get them ready to continue the project for the next school year. Libby says that they began the school year in 2015 with the completed system and hope to harvest at least once before Christmas. Then they’ll dismantle it and start all over, giving another class the opportunity to perhaps come up with an even better design.

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Good Guys Need To Hang Together

Erin Meezan

Why am I standing in the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta holding carpet tiles with several of my colleagues? To tell another courageous business that we support them.


Last week I heard that New Belgium Brewing was facing an interesting situation in their home state of Colorado. They are a progressive business that has made strong commitments to sustainability and community. They have done a lot of work on their own footprint, and they also support other environmental issues in the state and beyond.

Their support and partnership with a non-profit organization working to protect watersheds has put them in the cross-hairs of a mining company in Craig, Colorado, where New Belgium’s beer has been removed from stores and restaurants. As a business that shares their beliefs and supports non-profit and advocacy organizations, I wondered how we’d feel if we found ourselves in a similar situation. Then I remembered something our Founder Ray Anderson used to say about the small fraternity of businesses focused on doing business sustainably. He used to say, “Good guys need to hang out together,” knowing that it takes courage, sometimes found in numbers, to think and act differently.

I asked myself what we could do to let New Belgium know it’s not always easy to stand up for what you believe in – but we’re so proud that they do.  So, I sent around an email to my Interface colleagues sharing this news. I asked them to wear their bathing suits for a photo that we’d send to the New Belgium team. Eight brave souls showed up, survived a downpour, drank a Fat Tire and created this message for the New Belgium team.


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One Man’s Trash: From Landfill to Zerolandfill

Lauren White

Let’s get this straight. Old carpet samples were never trash to Interface Account Executive Jeff Krejci. Interface was already collecting used carpet tile samples from its customers, but Jeff recognized the need to also collect and recycle Interface’s swatch books and other  commercial product samples at Cleveland, Ohio design firms. So, he started picking up the materials every Friday and bringing them home rather than letting them go out into the landfill.


(Left) Interface account executive Jeff Krejci drove around to design firms and filled his car with discarded samples each Friday. (Right) He then took the samples home and paid his kids to help with the recycling efforts.

Out of this concern for discarded materials came the brainchild called Zerolandfill ­– an upcycling program that re-purposes expired specification samples (think carpet, laminate, upholstery, etc) and diverts this material from ending up in local landfills.

“Interface has the unique ability of instilling a philosophy of always looking for a better way to manage material that may have value to others,” Jeff states. “Zerolandfill was created to provide a way to repurpose commercial architectural and design materials that no longer have any value to the firms that used these materials.”

In the beginning (back in 2003), Jeff paid his kids $1 per book to pull out the carpet swatches, which were sent back to Interface for recycling, and he recycled the remaining cardboard binders at a local facility. “As you can imagine, my kids were getting rich and I was going broke,” he said. The Zerolandfill program was in motion but needed a better formula.

Jeff and some friends took the next step in 2006 and rented Pods (portable storage units) for holding the material. They organized drop-off days for interior designers to bring the material to them. The materials were sorted into separate Pods for concrete, wood, paper and carpet that Jeff and team would fill and recycle.


A stack of neatly organized product samples ready to be “upcycled” by teachers, artists and assisted living activity directors.

“Over time we realized that the material we collected had value, but we needed a way to make it easy for people to find and reuse these items,” he said.

Soon after, the Zerolandfill team found a vacant space to use for gathering and sorting the materials. The drop-off days are now known as “Pollination” days and the space is opened up to educators, assisted living program coordinators and artists on “Harvest” days to search through the materials and take whatever they need – for free.


Members of the IIDA chapter in Indiana work to sort donated and collected materials in preparation of an upcoming “Harvest” day.

“To our amazement we had lines of people waiting for us to open and our sorted material disappeared,” Jeff said. “It was a beautiful sight! People can’t get over the fact that we give the stuff away. For many teachers, it saves their art programs by providing supplies they otherwise couldn’t purchase on their limited budget.”

Thanks to a strong partnership with the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), the Zerolandfill program has grown over the last 12 years to 30 cities and has repurposed over one million pounds of architectural library materials. Most of the locations are now sponsored and managed by local IIDA chapters. Interface honored Jeff with the prestigious Ray C. Anderson Sustainability Award in sales for his leadership on the Zerolandfill initiative.

Jeff’s Interface sales team partner Katie Hauser adds, “Jeff and I both play integral roles in running our Zerolandfill programs in Akron and Cleveland. That’s right. We have so much ‘stuff’ we easily fuel two programs in just Northeastern Ohio!”

Our beloved founder Ray C. Anderson once said to “Brighten the corner where you are.” Zerolandfill is a bright spot in many corners thanks to the vision and determination of our own Jeff Krejci.


Old product samples have so many uses! Interior design students from Kent State University repurposed product samples for a “Diamond in Raw Form” couture dress for the IIDA Cleveland Akron Product Runway event.

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A Closer Look at Equal Measure and Near & Far

Mindy O'Gara

As designers, few things are more satisfying than creating a beautiful space. That’s why we love to supply you with innovative products and design solutions that transform the floor and enliven the experience.

Equal MeasureTM, a global collection of Skinny PlanksTM, draws its inspiration from cobblestone streets where the pieces are selected and placed into patterns that serve both the utility and the beauty of the road. Take a closer look at the way these three modular carpet tiles work together to create a beautiful, nature-inspired floor.

Nature finds a way to carpet the ground with endless textures blended in seamless compositions without ever drawing a straight line. When you use nature as inspiration for your interior design, beautiful things emerge. In the second video below, I’ll walk you through the Near & FarTM Collection and show how these two Skinny Planks complement each other.

I love to collect images that inspire me. You can explore more inspiration and color palettes on our Pinterest boards for these two product launches – in Warm and Cool Neutral.

Posted in Category Design Inspirations, NeoCon, Products & Services | Leave a comment

From Daylighting to Skateboards: An Exploration of Restorative Potential – Part 2

This is the continuation of a discussion on the potential of restorative business between David Stover, CEO and co-founder of Bureo skateboard company, and Bill Browning, expert in biophilic design and partner and co-founder of Terrapin Bright Green. Lindsay James, vice-president of restorative enterprise for Interface, moderated the discussion.


David Stover (left) and Bill Browning (right) discuss the potential of restorative business.

Lindsay James (Q): Do you think that there is potential for a restorative approach as more and more businesses embrace this idea and begin generating restorative technologies? Will those become leap-frog technologies that will allow our society to avert some of the pending crisis?

Bill Browning (A): I am going to go back to the social on that because I think it’s the mindset. When you have folks who are doing the work that David and his team are doing, it inspires other people to start thinking about different ways of doing things. When Ray first had his epiphany to go this route, a lot of folks doubted his proposal, but over time it became part of the culture. It inspired a lot of knockoffs—a lot of other companies looking at Interface and trying to do the same things. In some ways I think the technologies come along after that—after this inspiration and new way of thinking about the world.

David Stover (A): We founded one solution but we’re not in this alone. We look to other partners and other people doing great things around the world like Interface. We’re enticing people to do this on a broader basis. Bill’s point is that Interface is using its project to inspire others. Because we make skateboards, we get to touch a younger generation, which is really great.

Last year, we visited around 55 schools, telling kids our story. The younger generation is pretty inspiring. Last week I visited The Island School, which is a school set up in the Bahamas for people interested in ocean research. These are high school students from 15 to 18 years old. We watched a presentation about three 16 year-olds who were catching fish in the Bahamas, studying all the toxins in them and looking at their impacts on our environment. It made me realize that I became aware of environmental issues later in life. Through early awareness the next generation has a jumpstart on finding viable solutions.

Lindsay James (Q): What role should beauty play in designing our desired future?

Bill Browning (A): Everything. (laughs) If it’s not beautiful, we’re not going to take care of it. If it’s not beautifully designed, it’s not going to last. One example of biophilic design that we use quite a bit is the Great Workroom at Johnson Wax by Frank Lloyd Wright. A lot of times we’ll show a picture of that space and ask the audience how old they think the space is. It’s a contemporary picture that we took a couple of years ago. No one in the room guesses that it was designed between 1936 and 1939 and that it’s still used in the original configuration. We’ve talked to people who work in that space. Some of them are the grandchildren of the people who worked in the space originally. They love being there. It’s inspiring. It’s gorgeous. And it’s a productive space. Now think about that – an office design that is so good that it lasts that long.

David Stover (A): Beauty comes in from the beginning. You have to think about the end-product. We knew we wanted to set up a recycling project and make an eco-friendly product, but we had to make a great product that stood up next to competitors and in the market. If you don’t do that, then you really don’t accomplish what you want. If people aren’t buying it and people aren’t putting value into it, then you’re not able to create a sustainable program. It’s evident when there’s a lot of sustainability and eco-friendly practices going on, but most importantly there’s a beautiful product put in front of people. I think when you have that effect on people, you get them to smile and you get them to enjoy something. Afterwards, you explain that the product is created from collecting discarded fishing nets and cleaning up the water. You explain that the product is 100% recyclable. You’re able to capture them from the start with a beautiful product, then blow them away with the story behind it. I think it’s a powerful approach. I think it’s definitely changing the world of design and changing the way things are made.

Bill Browning (A): Look at this board! (holds it up) It’s beautiful with the reference to the fish tail and scales. How awesome is that?

Bureo Board

The “Minnow Cruiser Skateboard,” made from discarded fishing nets. Photo: @bureo Instagram

Lindsay James (Q): How important is happiness/well-being to the broader sustainability movement?

David Stover (A): There’s a saying on our team, “bringing joy in the marvels of risk.” This highlights the joy that you feel in nature, which was a lot of the influence behind our project. One of the things that hit home for us was that this place, the ocean, was special—being in the water, whether it was sailing, surfing, or swimming. This was where we were seeing the impact of pollution and we wanted to do something. But we also wanted to make a product that would bring joy and happiness to people while they were using it. I think a lot of people feel doom and gloom about what’s going on in the environment. But highlighting some of the more beautiful things that are out there and making sure to expose nature in design is really important.

Lindsay James (Q): If you had the power to change anything in our world, what would it be?

David Stover (A): Let’s go back to the issue of waste. Think about a cleaner tomorrow and what the world may look like without waste. If you can eliminate that word, you could live in a cleaner eco-system. I think that’s a pretty awesome world to think about.

Bill Browning (A): I want to conclude with the topic of restorative. One of the things that really pushed us when thinking about biophilic design is the fact that more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Some of those cities around the world are huge and sprawling but they don’t have much nature. It’s about how we reconnect people with nature in the built environment as a way for them to be healthy and more whole.

About the Panelists
David Stover is a global citizen. He is the CEO and co-founder of Bureo, a skateboard company. Bureo recycles used fishing nets into high quality, high design skateboards. David holds a Bachelor of Science and Mechanical Engineering and has a background in financial analysis. He grew up in a small island community and that is where he attributes his love for the ocean.

Bill Browning is an advocate for sustainable design solutions at all levels of business as well as government and civil society. His organization, Terrapin Bright Green, has brought biophilic design into the spotlight with their research and practice. They are also leaders in bringing biometric solutions to the forefront. Bill has been a long time advisor of Interface, serving on our eco-green team and advising our sustainability journey for nearly two decades.

Posted in Category Biophilia, Biophilic Design, NeoCon, Net Works, Sustainability | Leave a comment