Category Archives: Culture & Play

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.

Posted in Category Biomimicry, Culture & Play, Sustainability | 1 Comment

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: In Support of New Belgium Brewing

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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Documenting a Legend

Leanne Robinson-Maine

Environmental leadership documentary So Right So Smart is airing on Public Broadcasting Stations (PBS) in the US during 2015. Interface asked the makers of the film to tell us a little bit about the film’s origin.

“How and why did you decide to embark upon this filmmaking venture?”

MagicWig’s Leanne Robinson-Maine responds:

In simple terms, the answer to that question is a question: “How could we be in the video and filmmaking industry and NOT find a way to document and share with the world the inspiring story unfolding before our eyes?”

MagicWig Productions, Inc. has had a longstanding relationship with Interface as a client. Our founders have been producing meetings and videos for Interface, Inc. since 1995, right after Ray Anderson’s “Spear in the Chest” epiphany. We got to see first hand the changes that the company went through under Ray’s leadership: the initial reactions that “Ray had gone around the bend,” the growing pains involved in changing the culture, the steady embedding of sustainability into Interface’s DNA, and the emergence of a restorative mission for the company. And we have it all on tape. So, we were in a perfect position to use all of that archival footage to share Interface’s inspiring story of transformation with the world.

SRSS Filming Ray Anderson on his porch.

The crew (Justin Maine, Leanne Robinson-Maine and Christopher Haines) interviewing Ray Anderson in 2007 at his North Carolina home. Photo credit: Stephen Ross

At MagicWig we have been cheering for Interface from the sidelines all this time.  We watched in awe as Ray steered his “well oiled” carpet tile manufacturing giant, his third child, toward a completely new and revolutionary goal—one with environmental ethics that really resonated with us. In fact, Guy Noerr, one of the co-founders of our company, has always referred to Ray as “his personal Mickey Mantle”—a legend in his time and Guy’s true hero. And it was Guy who originally proposed to the MagicWig partners that we embark on this “passion project”, producing a full length feature documentary about Ray.

Co-founder Justin Maine, who heads up our video department, responded with the thought that although Ray’s story should be the central character arc of the film, we should explore a wider scope. Ray was a pioneer in his industry—a visionary. But even more interesting was how, with his almost evangelical outreach, Ray held up Interface as an experimental model to inspire other organizations. And the story of Interface’s eco-industrial leadership would be even more powerful when shown in the context of the greater environmental sustainability movement.

The MagicWig team agreed and decided Justin should direct the film. Soon afterward, they brought me on as a writer/producer on the project, and pre-production began. After a period of extensive research, we developed a list of the key parties we were interested in interviewing, from environmental advocates like Paul Hawken and David Suzuki to leaders of a host of other businesses at various stages in sustainability journeys. We wanted to put our finger on the pulse of the corporate sustainability movement from as many perspectives as possible. The list grew as we learned more in each interview and had new questions.

SRSS Story Cards

“The Board” was our visual reference for arranging scenes and topics throughout the editing process.

After two years of traveling around the country during the production phase, we had collected more than 60 interviews and over 350 hours of footage. Trying to decide what went into the film (when there was so much incredible content) was a big challenge and a long process of integrating multiple creative viewpoints (which is how we ultimately ended up with four directors!). Along the way we scripted narration to provide a through-line for all of the different topics covered in the film. Serendipity led us to Daryl Hannah, who turned out to be a huge fan of Ray Anderson. The rest is history. From pre- to post-production, the film took about four years to complete.

So Right So Smart had its world premiere at the Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival in January 2009 where it won Best in Festival.  It had its international debut at Reel Earth New Zealand where it won Best Feature. The film has played at over 30 festivals across the globe, has had a limited theatrical release in several US cities, and is currently being broadcast on PBS stations across the country throughout 2015.

SRSS Directors and Star

The four Directors (Leanne Robinson-Maine, Guy Noerr, Justin Maine and Michael Swantek) with Ray Anderson at the Atlanta Film Festival.

We hear so many wonderful responses to the film. Most of them include the sentiment that Ray Anderson, sharing his story the way only Ray could, was critical to their experience of the film and their receptiveness to its message. We like to think that So Right So Smart is continuing the outreach that Ray saw as his mission: using his amazingly magnetic, charismatic personality to engage people and then showing them a living example of change and hope for a more restorative future. We are honored to be able to take a supporting role in sharing the story that we have been so lucky to witness first hand.

To watch the film in your city, visit the film’s website to find the broadcast date for your local PBS channel.

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