Category Archives: Greenbuild

What Does Beautiful Thinking Mean?

Jean Nayar

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder. But when we see beauty—whether in a glorious sunset, a majestic mountain, an inspired building, or a fellow human being—we know it. Visual beauty is tangible.

When it comes to thinking, though, how do we know when our ideas are beautiful? Interface has been dwelling on this question a lot lately—particularly with respect to how it impacts a sense of well-being in sustainably designed spaces. They also recognize that visionaries both past and present—from the legendary architect, R. Buckminster Fuller, to the brilliant founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, to the CEO of the International Living Future Institute, Jason McLennan, one of the most influential individuals in the green building movement—have pondered this question, too, and have applied their theories to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems with transformational results.

beautiful thinking

What is “beautiful thinking?” The people at Interface have been dwelling on this question a lot lately—particularly with respect to how it impacts a sense of well-being in sustainably designed spaces.

To give shape to the idea of “Beautiful Thinking,” we asked some thought leaders: “What does ‘Beautiful Thinking’ mean to you?” Their responses yielded some interesting common threads. Read on for seven of the most compelling of them.

What does beautiful thinking mean?

Nature and beauty are inseparable—and humans are part of it

“Research has shown that humans have an innate love of and need for nature,” says Jason McLennan, CEO of the International Living Future Institute and the founder and creator of the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most progressive and stringent green building program. “Our ‘biophilia,’ according to studies, is hard-wired,” he says. “We naturally seek out environments where nature is present and react negatively to environments that are sterile, cold, and without any connection to nature.”

Science and beauty are innately interconnected

“Buckminster Fuller would take on any challenge with a systemic approach to problem-solving,” says Elizabeth Thompson, executive director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. “For him, there was no greater source of ‘Beautiful Thinking’ than in the patterns of nature, and in how efficient Nature is with her use of materials. He was sometimes referred to as a ‘radical utopian,’ who relied on fundamental truths of science and research to uncover truths about how the universe is structured to get to the root of things, and it’s been said that if you’re at the root you’re touching the spiritual,” she adds. “Fuller himself once said, ‘When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty, I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.’”

In other words, beauty may not be the goal of “Beautiful Thinking,” but invariably it emerges as a result of it.


“When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty, I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” -Buckminster Fuller

Nature has much to teach us about creating great human habitat

“In the same way that nature creates conditions conducive to life,” says Lindsay James, a certified biomimicry professional, “businesses can think of ways to create conditions that are conducive to life, both for the larger ecological system and for the well-being of the people in the company. One step we can take is to create spaces for our people that promote health and wellness. One of the pitfalls we seem to be running into is to define health in buildings purely in terms of the absence of potentially hazardous chemicals. This has the potential to allow fear of chemicals to overshadow other ways that we can make buildings ‘life-friendly.’

The increasingly robust research on biophilic design shows us how better designed buildings produce some of the proven physiological and psychological benefits of spending time in nature. Our current value-engineering practices don’t take this kind of benefit into account,” she explains. “But when companies see health-care costs of employees declining in biophilically-designed spaces, then there’s an economic argument for good design.”

Variety is the spice of stimulating spaces

“We should strive to create places where we fit and where we belong; places with both prospect and refuge that appeal to us on a deep psychological level,” says McLennan. “There is additional emerging evidence indicating that we also crave beauty in the form of order, proportion, texture, color, and localized symmetry. I refer to this instinct as ‘’ The pleasure we experience when we witness symmetry in nature—as in sacred geometry or the elegant layout of the human face— demonstrates this powerful force.”

Holistic environments inspire creativity and innovation

Spaces derived from “Beautiful Thinking” can have a ripple effect on people and the broader systems they’re a part of. “Interface is a carpet tile company that mimics nature in its manufacturing process and continues to develop restorative circular economy strategies to drive all industries to a new level of success in business,” says George Bandy, Mohawk Group’s Vice President of Sustainability.

morning room

Spaces that allow people to be connected to nature while providing them with the freedom to push their professional and productivity limits creates a contagious spirit of success.

“This model considers financial profitability on the same level as environmental and social success on the balance sheet. It also involves the type of mental engagement that delivers a comprehensive positive impact on ‘tomorrow’s child.’ A space that allows people to be connected to nature while providing them with the freedom to push their professional and productivity limits creates a contagious spirit of environmental, social and economic success.”

What we do to the planet, we do to ourselves

“Biophilia implies humility on ourpart in and respect for the four billion years of life’s existence,” says Canadian environmental activist, Dr. David Suzuki. “We are a very clever animal but now our clever inventions are so powerful, that they can have immense consequences and we don’t know enough to anticipate them,” he adds. “When DDT was found to be insecticidal, we didn’t know about biomagnification until eagles began to disappear. When atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, we didn’t know about radioactive  When CFCs began to be used in spray cans, no one knew about their impact on ozone. Over and over, our clever inventions have unanticipated deleterious consequences. Biomimicry asks nature for solutions to problems and nature has had billions of years and a multitude of ways to resolve them. Chances are nature’s solutions will be far more benign than ours.”

We can improve the quality of our lives by mimicking nature

“When we think about biophilic design that’s evocative of the patterns, forms, and textures in nature, it isn’t limited to literally copying or using natural features in our spaces. We can strive to mimic the type of sensory stimulation our brains receive when we are in nature, including things as simple as flooring with variable hardness and texture, just as you would find underfoot in any forest,” James suggests. “Our brains have evolved over the past 200,000 years in natural settings, so if we want our spaces to bring out the best in people, Nature is where we should look for design inspiration.”

human nature

We must look to Nature for design inspiration.

Posted in Category Biophilia, Greenbuild, Sustainability | 1 Comment

Moments and Memories from Greenbuild 2014

Mikhail Davis

Led by the indomitable George Bandy, Vice President at Interface, and Chairman of the USGBC Board of Directors, our team had a great week of learning, sharing and collaborating at Greenbuild in New Orleans.

Melissa Vernon, Director of Sustainable Strategy (Americas)
This year we saw much broader recognition that green building is about humans too. From the introduction of three social equity pilot credits in LEED, to the sold-out WELL Building Summit, and case studies of biophilic design research at Google offices globally on the health and wellbeing of building occupants, the community and supply chain had a growing presence at Greenbuild.

One of my favorite sessions was led by Deepak Chopra. He provided insights about mindfulness, and I found his talk ties to our exploration of biophilic design and the biochemical response in our bodies when exposed to nature. It was enlightening to hear more on the mind-body connection and our ability to impact our gene expression with our thoughts. He ended with a 12-minute guided meditation – what a reprieve from the craziness of Greenbuild and a nice way to recharge.

Jennifer Kreyssig, Account Executive (Toronto, Canada)
Lindsay James’s opening remarks at the Women in Green breakfast were a highlight. She said: “My father raised me to ‘think like a man, because it’s a man’s world,’ but I’m telling my daughters to think like Nature, because it’s her world.” This kind of shift is the only way to affect positive change.

Strangely, another highlight was spending two full days in our booth space, which was dynamic, thoughtful, beautiful and biophilic, a true respite from the inevitable boredom and physical fatigue that one associates with tradeshows.


A biophilically inspired booth, perfect for encouraging show attendees to #MakeBeautyHappen in their next projects.

Lauren White, Interactive Marketing Manager (Americas)
There was a young woman – Jennifer – who came to the booth immediately following the Women in Green breakfast. She was so inspired from hearing about Interface and the Net-Works program that she just had to meet us. It was exciting to see the enthusiasm of others generated by our initiatives.

Plus, as a relative newbie to Interface it was really cool to meet members of Interface’s Eco Dream Team during sessions in our booth – Paul Hawken, Bill Browning, Janine Benyus and John Picard. Bill reminded us, “If we’re creating spaces that are beautiful, then we’ll take care of them and love them.”

Interface_Dream Team-2

Interface’s Eco Dream Team members Bill Browning, Janine Benyus, Paul Hawken and John Picard reflected on 20 years of “beautiful thinking” during two Greenbuild sessions.

Nadine Gudz, Director of Sustainable Strategy (Canada and Latin America)
Two of my favorite moments include:
1) Paul Hawken’s keynote where he questioned whether climate change is happening ‘FOR’ us (not ‘TO’ us) sparked critical discussion among many Greenbuild delegates about strategies and opportunities to accelerate game changing innovation to manage carbon.

2) During the closing plenary, Roger Platt, President of USGBC, shared his highlights from Greenbuild and started with Lindsay James’s remarks and the Net-Works video at the Women’s Breakfast!

Erin Meezan, Global VP of Sustainability
One of the big themes I heard was about reframing. How do we reframe our current environmental challenges to have a more hopeful vision for our future? For example, around climate change, like Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown. Or around the future of the built environment and design like Janine Benyus’s vision of cities and buildings that can functionally replicate the local ecosystem’s services. At Interface, we have experienced the power of an amazingly big vision, one that has stood the test of 20 years, and continues to inspire us and challenge us. Twenty years ago, we essentially reframed the vision of our company toward a much more hopeful and positive one that many of our employees instantly felt connected to. We think this is possible for the entire movement.

Lindsay James, VP of Restorative Enterprise (Americas)
I heard that Interface’s evening event with Paul Hawken and Janine Benyus was a highlight for many attendees. Some of my favorite thoughts from their inspirational discussion about the relationship between beauty and sustainability include:
• Beauty is enduring, but beauty is constantly evolving. Beauty exists in our perception, which is why information matters, because new information can shift how we perceive beauty. Are conflict diamonds beautiful?
• Beauty is a sacred pact between our senses and our ability to know what is healthy, developed over tens of thousands of years. In nature, beautiful flowers signal future availability of seeds and fruit, and sparkling water, which we find beautiful, signals cleaner water. In today’s world, we have broken this connection, and it is up to all of us, but especially designers, to re-couple the signal of beauty and healthy choices.


Janine Benyus and Paul Hawken engage with a large crowd during an after hours event on beauty and sustainability. Nadav Malin moderated.

Mikhail Davis, Director of Restorative Enterprise (Americas)
One of the most inspiring things about Greenbuild is being part of a community of champions. In our daily lives, we may be a voice in the wilderness, trying to bring sustainability into our work, whether in design, construction, manufacturing, journalism, public policy, or technology, but at Greenbuild, we are reunited with our community. I was struck by this when presenting on Net-Works for the Sustainability and Design Leaders gathering at the offices of Eskew+Dumez+Ripple Architects. Typically when I present to architecture firms, there are a few green design champions in a larger audience, but this was an entire audience of these champions, a diaspora from dozens of firms, large and small, jam-packed into one small conference room to celebrate and share our common mission.


Audience of Sustainability and Design Leaders

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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.

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.


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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What is Restorative Enterprise?

Mikhail Davis

At Greenbuild 2014, we did not so much have a message as we had a question: What does it mean to be a restorative enterprise?

A WHAT? Yes, it bears some explanation.

Restorative enterprise

When Interface founder Ray Anderson made his first sustainability speech to the company in 1994, he referenced a comment made by a man who had worked on the NASA’s moon landing. The problem with the moon mission, the man told him, was that it was too small. When the mission was accomplished in under 10 years, NASA was rudderless and lacked the same focus. Ray didn’t want that to happen to us, so rather than set us on a course to become the world’s first sustainable company, what he actually said was:

“I want to know what we’ll need to do to… make Interface a restorative enterprise. To put back more than we take from the earth and to do good for the earth, not just no harm. How do we leave the world better with every square yard of carpet we make and sell?”

Where are we now?

Corporate sustainability reporting, such a radical notion in 1994, is now almost a requirement for larger companies, yet no company, including Interface, can claim to have achieved sustainability. Many would say that sustainability is no longer an inspiring vision. But what about that lesser known part of Ray’s challenge, the one beyond the “moon shot” of sustainability?

Mission Zero® commits Interface to eliminating our negative impact on the environment, but what about our positive impacts? Could we knit together fractured communities, economies and ecosystems as we do businesses?

There are no metrics for restorative enterprise; it is uncharted territory in the same way “sustainable business” was in 1994. So we started by asking questions.

What does “restorative” mean?

We asked people through our Greenbuild booth and through social media to tell us what “restorative” meant to them. We shared the story of Net-Works as a provocation. If we can begin sourcing nylon for carpet yarn in a way that helps the economy, community, and ecology of remote fishing villages, what else might business help to restore?

Here’s a sampling of what we heard from thought leaders and Twitterati alike when we asked them to complete the phrase “Restorative is…”:

“Taking inspiration from the past to envision a positive future.” — John Peterson, Public Architecture

“Planting the seeds for renewal.” — Joel Makower, GreenBiz Group

“Humans learning to fit in and flourish on this planet, as all species must, by creating conditions conducive to life.” — Janine Benyus, Biomimicry3.8

“Creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society.” — Connie Hensler, Interface, Inc.

“Looking at the larger impact of every decision and giving back more than we receive.” — Elif Tinney, BNIM Architects

Certainly, we do not understand the full implications of “restorative enterprise” yet, but a few things are becoming clear.

Restorative enterprise and sustainability

With the word “sustainability” now commonplace, “restorative” has more power to inspire and get people dreaming of a better world.  And with how interconnected the world has become, maybe putting our focus on increasing our positive, restorative impacts will take us further than merely eliminating our negative ones.

In hopes that attendees would take this inquiry home with them, we also gave away a bookmark at Greenbuild that asked 5 more questions. Let us know what answers you come up with.

  1. Is it possible for commerce to leave the world a better place?
  2. What does it mean for a business to be restorative?
  3. How would you know if a business was having a restorative effect?
  4. What are examples of businesses that are making a profit while addressing social and environmental problems?
  5. How would you change your business model or products to create social and ecological value?
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What Does Restorative Mean to You?

Erin Meezan

“How do we leave the world better with every square meter of carpet we sell?” That was Interface Founder Ray Anderson’s response to the question, what does restorative mean to you?

The year 2014 will mark 20 years since Interface began its radical transformation, redesigning process and products in pursuit of sustainability.  Along the way, we have reimagined our business, reducing our impacts by using less energy and water and sending substantially less waste to the landfill.  We’ve also radically redesigned our products, substituting recycled for virgin materials, dematerializing and putting in place systems to harvest used carpet.

While we still have work to do to achieve our vision of zero environmental footprint, we believe we have shown the industrial world what is possible.

Considering the full impacts of what we do and how we do it has challenged us to innovate outside the walls of our business, and to be creative about how we design, source, manufacture, sell and reclaim our carpet tile at the end of its useful life.  Looking through the lens of sustainability has opened our eyes to new ways of doing things and caused us to consider nontraditional partnerships in the pursuit of this very aspirational idea of “restorative.”


Net-Works, a program in partnership with the Zoological Society of London, yarn producer, Aquafil, and villagers and fishers in the Philippine Islands, is helping us to understand the complexities of this aspiration.  In this case, we were motivated to look at how our corporate goal of increasing the availability of recycled nylon might sync up with conservation goals (cleaning up the ocean) and social goals (alleviating poverty).  As a result, we’re now sourcing a large percentage of post-consumer nylon via a project that compensates Philippine locals for gathering spent fishing nets from a threatened double barrier reef.

Net-Works is a glimpse into what restorative might mean for Interface, and as we think more about it, we’d like to know, what does it mean to you?  We’re kicking off the conversation at Greenbuild; follow #RestorativeIs to follow along and add your own insights.

I’ll kick it off by saying that to me, restorative means doing business in a way that creates both economic and social value.  What do you think?

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