Who Needs Beauty?

There’s a tantalizing mystery in our intuitive response to beauty and the sensual experience and associated pleasure from what we hear, touch, taste, smell or see. Science now tells us that we don’t simply desire this kind of beauty; we need it. In an era when we spend most of our time indoors, it is more important than ever that we fulfill this basic human need to #MakeBeautyHappen in our built environment.

Human intuition, neuroscience and building research are converging to tell us that beautifully designed spaces can bring out the best in people. So how does beauty become a functional design element and not just an aesthetic factor? 

Biophilic design helps us marry beauty to function in our built environments (well-placed windows that not only provide a view to the outside, but also allow in more natural light and lessen energy costs) in the same way that nature uses beauty (vibrantly colored blossoms that attract bees for cross pollination).

Some of our most enduring, beautiful and iconic buildings and spaces, including many Frank Lloyd Wright designs and Grand Central Station, meet the definition of biophilic design. We always knew these designs made us feel good, but now we know why. Research shows that people are more productive, learn better, heal faster, and have lower stress levels in spaces embodying the principles of biophilic design.

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Some of our most beautiful and iconic buildings and spaces meet the definition of biophilic design, like Tanner Springs by Atelier Dreisetl and the Fallingwater house by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Considering the positive, measurable impact of biophilic design on a building’s inhabitants, can a building be “green” without beauty?

We believe the answer is “no.” A high performance, green building should do more than lower environmental impacts. It must also renew and inspire the people who use them.

Beautiful, biophilic design offers a means of reliably producing these benefits, potentially making beauty one of the most important drivers of ROI for a building owner. The increased productivity of building occupants, whose salaries surpass the cost of any building over time, more than justifies making beauty a design priority.

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Companies like Google recognize the benefits of biophilic design on its employees and are implementing these strategies to improve the quality of their work environment.

Can beauty also save the world?

Author Lisa Samuels claims that “Beauty wedges into the artistic space a structure for continuously imagining what we do not know.” In other words, beauty can be a catalyst for creation. We believe that beautiful, biophilic spaces can help bring out the kind of compassionate, creative thinking needed to solve the world’s biggest problems. We call this kind of creativity “beautiful thinking,” and we believe it holds the key to unlocking the next wave of social and environmental innovation. We’ve already seen the results of beautiful thinking in restorative system projects like Waterbank Schools and Net-Works. And we hope these are just the beginning.

 

The latest research and guidance on the methodology of biophilic design are the subject of the new Terrapin Bright Green report The 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design.

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Evolution of the Sustainability Journey: Full Product Disclosure & Transparency

Melissa Vernon

Interface’s sustainability journey began in 1994 when customers started asking us questions about the environmental impact of our company and the fate of the used carpet we manufactured.  Our founder, the late Ray Anderson, heard these questions and knew that we did not have any compelling answers.  Interface complied with environmental laws.  What more should we be doing as a publicly traded, for-profit global manufacturer of petroleum-intensive carpet tile?

Upon reading “The Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawken, Anderson was struck by Hawken’s assertion that business has brought us to the brink of environmental degradation, and we can’t rely on government to save us, the power of business must find solutions.

Anderson, an entrepreneur and industrial engineer, took Hawken’s suggestions seriously and on August 31st, 1994, launched Interface towards the vision “To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits — by 2020 — and in doing so we will become restorative through the power of influence.”

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ray Anderson’s epiphany, we reflect on the evolution of the sustainability movement and on the 20 years we have been on our sustainability journey.

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We offer styles available in a full spectrum of stunning colors never thought possible in post-consumer content carpet.

In the early days, product manufacturers dealt with environmental issues by switching from virgin raw materials to recycled content, and focused on improving energy and water efficiency.  Ecolabels were developed to certify the ‘green’ attributes of products, and some even ventured to evaluate the manufacturing process as well.  Life was simple and straightforward.

At Interface, our focus on sustainability introduced us to new tools for looking at our products and processes.  We began to understand that the environmental impacts of our products extend far beyond the four walls of our factories.  In order to produce the raw materials to make carpet, resources are extracted from the earth, refined and processed to make the components that we assemble into carpet.  Transportation of raw materials and finished goods consumes diesel fuel and releases tailpipe emissions.  Maintenance and cleaning of carpet requires vacuuming which uses electricity generated from power plants, releasing emissions and generating waste.

In 2000, Interface started using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as a decision-making tool to better understand the full environmental impacts associated with the entire life cycle of our products, from raw material extraction and processing, manufacturing, use, transportation, and end of life.  LCA considers the energy and material inputs and the emissions and waste outputs for every process and step along the entire supply chain.  This analysis provides a more comprehensive view of the full impact our products have on the environment.

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Interface was the first to earn an EPD and now has four EPDs for four product categories covering more than 90% of our products.

LCA shows the environmental implications of choosing different materials or making products in different ways and also shows the environmental trade-offs you might make. LCA allows us to look at making products in fundamentally different ways, allowing us to see a product or process at all stages

In the late 1990s when redesigning our products to meet our sustainability goals, our carpet designer suggested eliminating one ounce of nylon fiber from the top of the carpet, and found no loss in performance or quality.  Using LCA to study the effect of using one ounce less fiber across our entire annual production, calculations showed that the energy not expended in the production of additional nylon was equivalent to the energy consumption by Interface’s two Georgia production facilities for six months. This ‘embodied energy’ of the nylon fiber, calculated using LCA, was a new lens for viewing environmental impacts.

And thus began Interface’s commitment to searching for deeper understanding of the impact of our company and products and sharing these learnings with our customers through full product transparency.

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All Interface modular carpet sold in North America is third party verified climate neutral Cool Carpet. Cool Carpet zeros out all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the entire lifecycle of your product.

LCA illustrates that the largest contribution to the environmental impact of our carpet is not attributable to our own manufacturing processes, but instead nearly 70% is a result of the extraction and processing of raw materials, of which nylon fiber accounts for a majority.  With our eyes open to the full life cycle impacts, our sustainability strategy shifted.  A new focus targeted dematerialization and reducing the use of raw materials per square yard of carpet, especially materials like nylon that have a high embodied energy.  Starting in 2009, our nylon fiber suppliers figured out how to make nylon carpet fiber from post-consumer nylon.  Using recycled materials significantly reduces the embodied energy and environmental impacts.  Today, many Interface carpet styles use 100% recycled nylon fiber, reducing embodied energy by over 40% compared to a carpet made with only 11% recycled content in the nylon fiber.

As the sustainability movement has grown over the last 20 years, ecolabels have proliferated, with over 400 in existence, thus overwhelming the market with too many labeling programs.  Architects, designers, and building owners no longer rely solely on these external assertions, and now want more access to very specific product information so they can make their own informed choices.  The building industry is in the beginning stages of publishing nutrition-label like information through the creation of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), allowing us to make more informed decisions about the materials we select.  EPDs are standardized life-cycle data disclosure tools often likened to the ingredient lists and nutrition facts labels found on food items, except you get data on such things as greenhouse gas emissions and water usage instead of calories and saturated fat.  Any product can have an EPD, just like any kind of food can have a nutrition label, healthy or unhealthy.

Interface is committed to being a leader in the transparency movement.  Interface was the first carpet manufacturer in North America to publish EPDs in 2009, and completed EPDs for all products globally by 2012. EPDs are developed according to guidelines from the International Standards Organization (ISO).  EPDs follow a consistent format reporting raw material ingredients, life cycle assessment results, and are 3rd party verified.  EPDs allow for an apples-to-apples comparison of products and in the carpet industry where many manufacturers have published EPDs, you can begin to identify what a ‘large’ or ‘small’  environmental impact footprint looks like across manufacturers, just as we understand the impact of 180 calorie candy bar on our health.  EPDs can help you see the impact of choosing a carpet with 30 ounces of nylon fiber vs 20 ounces.

The EPD Transparency Summary is a two-page summary of the most critical data presented in an EPD, published and third-party verified by UL Environment, This concise document features our favorite nuggets of EPD data, including carbon footprint, water footprint, and product ingredients.

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Since 1995, we have reclaimed more than 270 million pounds of carpet through our carpet reclamation program.

With the transparency of EPDs we are able to show some of the results of our 20 year journey towards sustainability, and the changes that have been made across our entire supply chain, to produce Interface carpet with lower environmental impact.  Thereby offering our customers assurance that quantifiable data is available to support our green claims.  This level of commitment is what is needed to further advance the sustainability movement.

Melissa Vernon is the Director of Sustainable Strategy for Interface in the Americas.  She is responsible for maximizing business opportunities by strategically leveraging Interface’s leadership in sustainable development.  

Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of the WAMOA Journal, courtesy of PTR Communications.

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Oh What a Difference We Can Make

Deb France

On Wednesday, Aug. 27, students returned to Reynolds High School in Portland, Oregon after the summer break. Media were gathered at the curb and security officers were poised to guide the parents, students, faculty and community members on a guided tour of the gym. This was only 47 days following a tragic shooting in the locker room where freshman Emilio Hoffman was shot and killed by a fellow student, and a teacher was injured before the shooter took his own life.

“The space has been transformed,” says Superintendent Linda Florence. “Remodeling the building plays a key role in helping students feel safe again.”

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Reynolds High School students excitedly gathered around a new video wall during the opening of the renovated gym lobby.

My firm, Oh planning+design, architecture, was working with the school district on summer projects that included a renovation of the locker rooms where the shooting occurred. I received the call after the June 10 tragedy that the gym lobby was damaged from the shooting and needed to be included in the design. The construction crews were already prepared to start work on the locker rooms, with only 46 days remaining until the new school year began.

There was no doubt that we had to renovate the lobby area, but time was going to be tight!  Design plans needed to be drawn, knowing that accessing available building materials within such a short timeline would be difficult. This had to be a project that represented the entire building community. If we approached all the needed improvements in a unified way, we could do more. The lobby transformation could only be completed if the materials were selected from overstock and readily available products.

We wanted to provide a sense of renewal, safety and hope to the students when they returned, so I made it my mission to personally reach out to the materials suppliers and ask them for whatever they could offer, including donations. The response was immediate and overwhelming. The outpouring of help was very touching and really sent a strong message of unity and support to the school, students and families. Each community member has a role in forming a safe environment for learning.

The project architect, Jackie Gilles, and the team at Oh planning+design, architecture, as well as contractors from Centrix Construction, worked long days and weekends to build the expanded design and install the donated materials. It was incredible to see how the design and construction team pulled together to make this project happen at lightening speed.

One of the first companies to respond was Interface. Interface was a natural fit for this project because of their support of the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools and their shared commitment to provide safe and healthy learning environments through the Green Apple Day of Service. When they received the call to participate, they did not hesitate even for a moment. Interface donated 1000 square feet of the entry walk-off carpet for the two main entrance doors.

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All of the building materials were wholly or partially donated, including the Interface carpet tile for the lobby entry-way.

Thanks to Interface and other manufacturers, no part of the gym lobby was left untouched. All materials were wholly or partially donated to make this a success. Other donations were received from Designtex, Pacific Window Tinting, 3M, JS Creative Arts, Viridian, 9Wood, Hunter Douglas, Beynon Sports, EB Bradley, Lumicor, Lewis Audio Video, Armstrong, Inpro, Miller Paint and Daltile.

The collaboration transformed not only the physical environment, but also the hearts of the students who attend Reynolds High.

Deb France is the founding principal at Oh planning+design, architecture in Portland, Oregon.

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Living Cully – Building a Park & a Lasting Legacy

Joanna Gangi

Creating a healthy, safe and vibrant community starts with dedicated residents who are committed to lasting change. The Cully neighborhood in Northeast Portland is rich with culture and diversity, yet it is one of the most underserved communities in Portland.

In a city where there is a plethora of parks and ample green space, the Cully neighborhood severely lacks access to this basic service. A team lead by Verde has been working to bridge this environmental justice gap and bring a much-needed park to the community with the Let Us Build Cully Park coalition. Once complete, the Thomas Cully Park will include a community garden and a safe place for children and adults to play and enjoy.

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Recently, the International Living Future Institute and founding sponsor Interface launched the first Legacy Project and teamed up with Verde* to transform a run-down public right-of-way into a safe, beautiful and refreshing green space. The Cully Adopt-a-Spot plot sits adjacent to the Thomas Cully Park and helps frame the park’s entrance to be an accessible area for residents to enjoy. The Legacy Project team worked with the Cully neighborhood residents over the course of four months to make this transformation possible. The process included three public workshops with the largely Spanish-speaking community to listen to their concerns, develop ideas together and design lasting solutions. Many of the residents expressed their desire to make this a safe and enjoyable walking path, as it is a highly utilized area and borders a busy roadway. The community modeled their vision for the space, and the passion was contagious to the design team as they included the residents’ ideas to the composition of the space.

The collaborative planning process culminated on May 24, when members of Verde, Interface, The Institute, Cully residents and volunteers rolled up their sleeves and spent the day planting and building the Cully Adopt-a-Spot. Interface was integral in the process by sponsoring the event and will continue to sponsor the project through completion. Dozens of shrubs and trees were planted in the ground. A walkway was constructed through the middle of the space to provide a safe and accessible avenue to local businesses. And a wall was built to border the busy roadway. All of the materials used were compliant with the Living Building Challenge materials Red List, which helped inspire the design team to seek certification, making it the second park ever to attempt the Living Building Challenge.

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Neighborhood families and children of all ages participated in the work party and were very excited to see the space transforming before their eyes. Children were enthusiastic to take part as they dug, filled wheelbarrows and watered the new shrubs. One child said, “This is like a work party, work isn’t fun but this is fun!” Another child stated, “I never came here before; it was gross and there were people here that we didn’t want to be around. It was scary and now it is so pretty!” Numerous people honked their horns in support as they drove by— showing that this not only effects the Cully residents but also effects people who would have never thought to look at this site before. It seemed that everyone involved, from young to old, knew the importance of investing in a community that lacks certain services like access to nature. As the walkway began to take shape, the newly formed pocket park portrayed a positive sense of community in the Cully neighborhood. The residents were all committed to making their home beautiful. And working together really proved that transformation is possible with a community-led effort.

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What was once an overgrown lot filled with weeds is now a beautiful, well-lit pathway, complete with a curving steel graphic wall and colorful landscape design filled with plants. The Cully community is a shining example of dedicated residents who care for their neighborhood and are committed to growing a healthy and vibrant community. The engagement of all involved parties is a testament to the potential for seemingly small community initiatives to serve as a catalyst for positive change.

*Verde is a Portland-based non-profit that serves communities by building environmental wealth through Social Enterprise, Outreach and Advocacy.

Author Joanna Gangi is empowered by the fantastic beauty of nature residing in Seattle where she works at the International Living Future Institute as the Editorial Director of Trim Tab.

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Why does sustainability need beauty?

Lindsay James

Rounding out our series on the intersection of beauty and sustainability, Interface vice-president of restorative enterprise Lindsay James reflects on what she learned after the Interface retreat and Living Future unConference. This is the final blog in the series.

More than ten years ago, when I was immersed in studying the business case for sustainability while pursuing my MBA, I would have been dumbfounded by the question, “Why does sustainability need beauty?” I can imagine my former self laughing and then quickly returning to a cost accounting case study.

Last March, Interface hosted a two-day workshop that brought together design and sustainability leaders from 20 architecture firms to explore how to “bridge the divide in the design world between beauty and sustainability.”  Between that event and the Living Future conference, which was themed “Beauty and Inspiration,” I had the opportunity to develop a better response than stumped confusion to the intersection of beauty and my chosen career of sustainability.

So what did I learn? I’ve learned that beauty isn’t something you observe as much as it’s something you experience. It’s multi-sensorial, yes, but even more than that, beauty is elegance at a systems level. I found implications of this lesson in terms of engagement as well as systems design.

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During the Interface retreat, architects and designers delved into the seeming divide between beautiful design and sustainable design and considered why these aren’t currently one and the same. Taking this further, I wonder: Should the sustainability movement be promoting images of distraught polar bears stranded on melting ice?  These images may be engaging, but they engage our sense of pity, not wonder. The CFL bulb became the dubious icon of our movement, but the bulb itself, and the light it produces, can hardly be called beautiful.  So why does sustainability need beauty?  Because doom and gloom images are not winning over the hearts of others. Despair is ugly; hope is beautiful. We need to leverage deep beauty to transform our movement from being based in the intellectual to being rooted in the visceral. Deep beauty can help us do that, engaging more of the skeptical public than a singular focus on scientific reason. Think of the graceful lines of a Tesla, sparking a love affair from our gut first, and our brain second.

When I heard Jason McLennan proclaim: “Beauty is our secret weapon, because what we want to change is ugly,” I nearly jumped up and shouted “YES!” from my seat at the Living Future conference. Here is a compelling battle cry that allows us to visualize not only the theoretical talk of ugly externalities (like impoverished children picking through piles of e-waste) but also the beauty embedded in the promise of solving these unintended consequences of our industrial system (imagine those same children with access to education, food, and water).

What will the world look like when we can design solutions where the consequences of our systems – intended or unintended – are beneficial? Imagine the beauty of a future where our industrial systems contribute to healthy lives on this planet, providing income as well as healthy air, soil, and water.

I don’t think anyone believes this level of systems re-design will be easy, but to paraphrase Ray Anderson, “we have to start somewhere (anywhere), and if not us, then who?” Our Net-Works partnership provides a tantalizing glimpse of what these beneficial system consequences could be: replacing virgin petroleum-based raw materials (negative externalities aplenty) with used fishing nets harvested by Filipino villagers (inclusive business generating positive social, environmental, and economic benefits).

Perhaps R. Buckminster Fuller, the father of systems thinking in design, saw past the false dichotomy when he said, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” I now see that the emergence of deep beauty in our business models is not laughably insignificant, but in fact offers confirmation that we are heading in the right direction – and doing so in a way that will inspire others to join us.

Read Lindsay’s full blog (and others from the “Radical Industrialist” column) on GreenBiz.com

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