Category Archives: Changemakers

Bringing Positive Thinking To Business

Erin Meezan

The business world is undergoing a powerful shift. It’s a shift beyond “responsible business” to optimism. A shift to expecting more of businesses than profitability and stakeholder engagement. It’s a way of thinking of business as a mechanism to deliver positive impacts, and a way to solve bigger problems. At Interface, we’re excited about this shift to positive business.

Positive business as an approach is still evolving. An exact definition doesn’t exist yet, but some important principles are emerging. The Net Positive Project is a collaboration of corporations, the World Wildlife Fund and Forum for the Future who are mapping out an approach to positive and its key principles.

In higher education the conversation is evolving through initiatives like the Positive Business project at the University of Michigan. Through scholarship and conferences intended to foster adoption, this approach is sharing early thinking, principles, and best practices.

Ideas from both these initiatives align with Interface’s early thinking on how to shift to a positive business. One powerful principle is the idea of partnerships and how important it is that companies form relationships with other organizations to create bigger positive impacts. We’ve not only seen the power of partnerships to amplify our impact in our explorations of positive business, but we find it to be essential.

Net-Works

Net-Works is a collaboration between Interface, ZSL and Aquafil.

Our Net-Works® project is a great example of making a positive impact. At its heart, Net-Works is a partnership with an NGO (the Zoological Society of London), a global yarn manufacturer (Aquafil), Interface and local communities in the Philippines. These partners came together to create an innovative supply chain program that harvests used fishing nets from the Danajon Bank as a source for recycled yarn for Aquafil, and ultimately Interface. Without the expertise, reach and resources of these organizations, Interface would not have been able to create a program that aspires to impact one million people by 2020.

It’s the last member of the partnership (the local communities) that also illustrates another really important principle of being a positive business – creating an inclusive approach. More specifically, this means ensuring that affected communities are involved in creating the positive effects. By working to make Net-Works a program that involves local community members in the design and governance of the program and pays them for the net collection, Net-Works is creating a powerful new model of inclusive business.

Forest

What would happen if factories operated the same way as forests? Image by © Radius Images/Corbis

Another pilot project we’re exploring at Interface illustrates a final principle important for positive businesses, which is a restorative approach. This means making sure the environmental implications of our business are not just about being less bad, but striving to have restorative environmental impacts. This thinking is showing up in a project we’ve created with Biomimicry 3.8 and named “Factory as a Forest.” The project explores how we might run our global factory locations in a way that enriches the local communities like a forest does. It sounds metaphorical, but we’re creating standards modeled on services of local ecosystems that will give us measurable goals and targets.

It’s an exciting time to be exploring what a positive business means and we invite you to join the conversation.

Author’s note: Last week at Clerkenwell Design Week in London, Interface launched its next step in sustainability: a turn to positive. After a few years of experimenting and a few pilot projects later, Interface is now mapping out our positive future. That means understanding how to be a positive business, how we define it, and how we will measure it. In the next few weeks we will have an even BIGGER announcement to share about our sustainability journey. Watch our Twitter channel for the latest updates and announcements.

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Bureo – Netting a Better Skateboard

Interface

The whimsy of a Bureo Minnow skateboard, with the raised scales that pattern its deck and its fishtail back-end, belies the serious mission it serves. At the core of each Minnow is 30 square feet of recycled fishing net that otherwise may have found its way into the tons of plastic that litter our oceans.

Bureo founders Kevin Ahearn, Ben Kneppers and David Stover didn’t set out to build a skateboard company that also happened to be sustainable. In a twist on reverse engineering, their primary impetus was to build a sustainable business. The decision to make skateboards its product came later.

“To make a sustainable business model,” said Stover, “we knew we had to make a product from collected materials, and we knew there was an abundance of potential materials in the ocean.”

Bureo skateboard

The Bureo Minnow skateboard features raised scales that pattern its deck and a fishtail back-end. (Photo courtesy of Bureo)

Specifically, there are 269,000 tons of plastics in our oceans, and five to 13 million metric tons more make their way there each year. Ten percent of that is estimated to be derelict fishing gear. Kneppers had prior experience in Chile and knew the country not only had an excess of discarded nets but lacked a recycling solution for them. After establishing the means to convert nets into suitable raw materials for skateboards in the U.S., the end-to-end manufacturing process—from recycling and repurposing through skateboard production—became based in Chile.

Results were immediate: in 2013, Bureo collected two to three tons of fishing net. In 2014, they reached seven tons—and the company expects 2015’s total to be a multiple of that number.

“That part of what we’re doing isn’t innovative —recycling has been around for decades,” said Ben. “But we can go further and create a net positive impact in our communities.”

ocean waste

Discarded fishing nets littering ocean fronts. (Photo courtesy of Bureo)

In Bureo’s case, this translated to a partner – ship with Chilean fisherman and fishing communities. Artisanal fishermen are paid an hourly wage for time spent harvesting nets and a price by weight for nets turned in for recycling. Larger commercial fishing operations direct the money Bureo pays for their nets to foundations that serve local fishing communities.

In speaking to future entrepreneurs and other companies, Kneppers says the Bureo message is simple: “We know we can’t solve these problems on our own. You are at your best when you work to improve something you feel passionate about—for us, it was our personal connection to the ocean. By working together, through these passions, we can truly address these global issues. Our goal is to catalyze this change.”

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