Category Archives: Culture & Play

Atlanta BeltLine Transforms the Future of Urban Planning

Lauren White

The future of urban planning is taking shape in Atlanta, thanks to Ryan Gravel and his BeltLine project.

Described as “the most comprehensive transportation and economic development effort ever undertaken in the City of Atlanta and among the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment programs currently underway in the United States,” the Atlanta BeltLine is a sustainable redevelopment project along a 22-mile railroad corridor that was conceived by Gravel as a master’s thesis at Georgia Tech in 1999. The project will connect surrounding neighborhoods through railway, nature trails and parks and greenspaces and provide new housing, events and commerce for the city.

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Map of the 22-mile BeltLine surrounding Atlanta.

There’s a great article about this Atlanta “transit makeover” from USA Today here.

Though it has a ways to go to completion, the BeltLine project has already transformed parts of the city from an economic wasteland to an economic hot spot and cultural center.

Fourth Ward Park

Historic Fourth Ward Park south of Ponce City Market and west of the BeltLine trail. (Photo credit: Atlanta BeltLine)

Look at the Ponce City Market as an example. It’s a mixed use development in the renovated Sears, Roebuck & Company building in a neighborhood that used to be full of rock venues and adult entertainment clubs. Now it is a destination for local Atlantans, full of retail shops, restaurants and offices as well as host to many art, music and market events.

Gravel set up his office here in a space that’s inspired by nature. We found some great installations of Interface modular carpet tile throughout!

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Human Nature by Interface, installed in Ryan Gravel’s office.

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Another installation of Interface modular carpet, inspired by nature.

The building is pursuing a LEED Core & Shell Silver certification through water-efficient fixtures and landscaping, reclaiming rain water and other building-generated water, and using the latest in LED lighting and efficient HVAC systems.

Ponce City Market outside_Atlanta_575x350

Ponce City Market inside_Atlanta_575x350

Projects like the Atlanta BeltLine and Ponce City Market inspire and encourage Interface to continue Ray’s mantra of “doing well by doing good.”

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Investing in the Future

Gayle Smallwood

Businesses need talented, skilled individuals, and graduates – high school or otherwise – need jobs. But how ready are they for the workforce?

THINC Academy hallway

THINC College & Career Academy extends learning beyond the traditional classroom.

Recognizing the need for better prepared workers, Troup County’s Strategic Planning Group explored what other communities were doing for workforce development and discovered that the most successful had high school, college and career academies. Before moving forward with one here, they did a bit more homework and surveyed local businesses to learn more about their current workers and what their ideal workforce looked like. From that five educational pathways emerged – healthcare, engineering, mechatronics (highly skilled aspects of manufacturing), business & marketing, and energy. As Robby Burch, Interface’s Director of Customer Care and Treasurer for THINC Academy’s Board of Directors, puts it, “If the business community built a school, this is how they would do it.”

THINC Academy classroom

THINC Academy offers five educational pathways – healthcare, engineering, mechatronics , business & marketing, and energy.

Open to all Troup County high school students who are on track to graduate, kids spend half of their day at their base school and the other half at THINC pursuing their particular pathway. It allows the schools to offer equal opportunities for career education without the expense of a lab, classroom, materials and instructor at each school. In fact, unlike Georgia’s other college and career academies, THINC is funded outside of the Troup County school system. Space for the school was donated by West Georgia Technical College and nearly $10M was raised in both state grants and private funding from local businesses like Kia, which is providing $3M over a 5 year period. Furniture systems were donated by Bretford out of Chicago, IL, and of course, Interface carpeted the floors in a variety of styles and colors for a creative, energetic space.

THINC Academy classroom

Interface carpeted the floors in a variety of styles and colors for a creative, energetic space.

But what happens at THINC is unique as well. It’s all collaboration and hands-on learning through interactive projects. Robby explains, “They’re treated like adults and are expected to understand how to regulate what they’d like to do with what they’re expected to do. Thirty percent of their grade is based on “soft” skills – showing up on time, knowing how to collaborate, being respectful – skills that are needed to succeed in a business environment.”

THINC Academy public space

Interface is looking to THINC Academy students for employment and summer internship opportunities.

Ideally, students will engage with local businesses for real work experience and take advantage of dual enrollment opportunities with WGTC and graduate with both a high school diploma and a technical certification. Robby says that Interface is looking into what opportunities might be available here for high school students, as well as working with those who go on to college and bringing them back for summer internships. “We want to get in on the front end, so that we’re not taking what we can find, but getting what we need and want. It may take some companies a little longer to figure that out but we figured it out pretty quickly.”

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A Ray of Hope – Ray C. Anderson Foundation Global Design Challenge


How would Mother Nature design a company? When posed by Interface founder Ray Anderson in 1994, that question became part of the radical conversation that would reshape the company he founded. In 2016, this kind of radical thinking will guide criteria for the first-ever Ray of Hope prize in recognition of inspired biomimicry-based solutions.

“Don’t look at images of Nature,” encouraged Janine Benyus, founder of the Biomimicry Institute and a member of Interface’s Eco Dream Team. “Look at her organizing principles.”

NF400 NF401 Felt

How would Mother Nature design a carpet tile?

Back in 1994, founder Ray Anderson had his “epiphany”—a sea change that would reinvent Interface, then in its 21st year. At that time, biomimicry was not yet the phenomenon it is today, but its underlying principle—looking to Nature’s design systems to solve problems—was intuitive and embraced by Ray. He challenged the company to become sustainable, but no one could know how a carpet company might accomplish it. After all, we were so dependent on petroleum for energy and inputs that we might as well have been an extension of the oil industry. The spark for change lay in the simple question—How would Mother Nature design a carpet tile?—and the results are compelling: 50 percent of Interface materials are from bio-based or recycled sources.

By establishing the $100,000 annual Ray of Hope prize, the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, in association with the Biomimicry Institute, will recognize students, designers or other visionaries who are developing market-ready, scalable, biomimicry-inspired solutions. The prize complements the Global Design Challenge, also sponsored by the Foundation and the Biomimicry Institute, which launched in 2015. The first two years of the Challenge are focused on solutions to improve global food security, and will progress every two years through other global challenges.

Biomimicry Global Design Challenge

#Thinkoutside to fix our food system.

Both the Challenge and the Ray of Hope prize are designed to drive great ideas out of the lab and into the market where they can make the biggest impact.

As Ray would say, “So right, and so smart.

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A Tribute to Mentors

Lauren White

Tell me who you run with and I’ll tell you who you are. This was one of many words of wisdom from a group of highly successful business men and women who spoke on a panel at an American Marketing Association Atlanta Chapter event moderated by Interface’s own CMO Jo Ann Herold.


From left to right: Jo Ann Herold, Kate Atwood, Steve Behm, Ken Bernhardt, Julie Bowerman, William Pate and Shannon Harlow

The topic? “A Tribute to Mentors.” It was fitting that all of the participants were mentors or mentees of Jo Ann. And, wow! What great company she keeps! The panel included Kate Atwood, executive director at the Arby’s Foundation; Steve Behm, president of Edleman South; Ken Bernhardt, professor at Georgia State University; Julie Bowerman, vice-president of ecommerce at Coca-Cola Company; William Pate, president of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Shannon Harlow, vice-president at 22Squared.

Jo Ann learned early in her career the value of seeking out mentors to help her along her journey. “You’ll be surprised at how honored people will be when asked to be a mentor,“ she told the group. “Don’t be afraid to reach out for guidance.”

How do you find a mentor?
Shannon suggested starting your search with “people you admire,” and Julie added that it’s important to “have a few different types of mentors.” Ken also advised that, when seeking a mentor, “it’s important to have people you trust to tell you the truth, like your own personal board of advisors.” He added, “When faced with difficult decisions, don’t hesitate to ask for advice. Just like professional sports players have a coach, we all need a coach.”

Who can be a mentor?
As it turns out, we all can. Mentors can be those who already hold advanced positions in your career field, people who are in a different career field that you aspire to enter, college professors and other educators or even someone who is just getting started. Steve reflected on a time when he received some great advice from a junior member of his staff and the importance of having a relationship with people at all career levels. Kate said, “Don’t under value how powerful you [as a mentee] can be for a mentor.” The panel explained that mentors should be humble leaders, have integrity and be willing to tell the truth with kindness because, as Steve noted, “Words matter.”

mentor lunch

Members of the Atlanta AMA and friends gathered to learn about the importance of mentoring programs.

Advice from a mentor
Mentors offer real-life examples of challenges and lessons that may help you find the answer in one of your own challenges. One of William’s biggest lessons learned was a time he “almost got fired” over an advertising campaign in the mid-90s for a product that integrated emails, fax and pagers (oh my!). After the initial pitch, the CEO didn’t like the campaign but William believed in it. “He told me ‘I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll give you the money for it, but if it doesn’t work, then you’re fired.’” The campaign ended up being successful and William learned to “believe in what you’re doing.”

If you don’t have a mentor, seek one out. And be available to mentor others. We can learn a lot from one another.

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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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