Category Archives: Sustainability

Leading with Ambition: A Conversation with Bloomberg

Christine Needles

Recently, Interface’s CEO Jay Gould was interviewed at the Bloomberg Third Sustainable Business Summit in New York City. A self-described “accidental environmentalist,” Jay discussed how sustainability drives innovation at our company in a conversation with Bloomberg’s Sustainability Editor Eric Roston.

Here are some highlights:

Sustainability and performance

Sustainability and innovation have always been core to Interface’s DNA. When Jay came to Interface, he knew that to raise our ambition level even further would require a solid business case. As a company, we spend 20 to 25 percent of our operating income on sustainability initiatives, which, he pointed out, is something almost unheard of at other companies. That means decisions about what goes past the research and pilot stage to market must be vetted and tied back to our business performance.

Jay believes that performance and purpose are symbiotic. He told the crowd, “We have to perform along the way – it’s really dangerous to say, ‘I’m not going deliver in the top quartile financial performance because I’m purpose-driven or focused on sustainability.’”

Driven by ambition

Jay became COO of Interface during somewhat of a “mourning period” at the company after the passing of our late, visionary leader, Ray Anderson. At the time, Interface was underperforming our peer set. He shared with the audience how he was hired with two key objectives: to focus on growing the business and to create a tangible plan to deliver our Mission Zero commitments. The leadership team brought together Interface’s original Eco Dream Team, including leaders like Paul Hawken, Janine Benyus and Bill Browning. Expecting a pat on the back for the company’s efforts, he was surprised when Paul insisted instead that “doing no harm is not enough” and that, to truly build on Ray’s legacy, we must step up, do more and take on climate change.

Humanity

The team went back to the drawing board. After spending over a year studying the science, climate change trends and industry efforts, we launched our new mission: Climate Take Back to demonstrate that a business can indeed make our climate fit for life again while staying profitable and competitive.

Climate Take Back

One of the core tenets of Climate Take Back is incorporating a mindset to “love carbon” – to stop seeing carbon as the enemy and instead look at it as a resource. We must shift the old industrial model of “take, make, waste” to an entirely new framework of “waste, make, re-take.” The language is intentionally provocative.

Bloomberg quote

Instead of using more raw materials, we want to push using waste materials as manufacturing inputs. And we’re starting to make progress – such as our latest Proof Positive tile, a carbon negative concept carpet tile – a first in the industry. Over the next two years, we aim to introduce Proof Positive as a financially viable product in the market and hopefully lead the next wave of innovation in our product category.

The critical role of the Board

Jay also recognized that while setting ambitious goals is today an embedded part of Interface, having a Board of Directors willing to look at Interface’s performance and health from a 20-30-year time horizon, remains a critical factor in our company’s success. This type of flexibility is rare in today’s business environment, he noted, where most boards are tied to creating short term shareholder value, instead of promoting a culture of innovation and long-term thinking.

Emphatically responding to a question from Eric, Jay said, “[We’ve proven that] sustainability drives innovation. We have 20 years of history on how our approach to sustainability has created profitable differentiation for Interface.”

Leading the way

The movement for us started in 1994 and fortunately, other businesses have since caught on. However, the space has become quickly crowded making the technical differences between companies’ sustainability efforts blurry.

In his closing remarks, Jay stressed to the audience of business leaders and media that this is why Interface has decided to change the general sustainability conversation from “do no harm” to specifically focusing on using carbon as an asset. “We’re hopeful that we can take a leadership position in this space. As a relatively small company, we have to be the pioneers. We have to lead the way.”

Along with leading the way on solutions, we also believe that we must lead the way on building a more positive narrative on our ability to solve climate change. Because, as experts told us overwhelmingly, solutions exist. In our recent global survey we found that 95 percent of climate experts and 91 percent of emerging business leaders believe we can create a climate fit for life. With more demand, we can build a more scalable economy of solutions. Focusing on what’s not working leads to inertia. So along with pursuing our mission to make our climate fit for life again, we are also working on spreading a more optimistic narrative regarding our collective ability to do so.

Visit our site to learn more about Interface’s Climate Take Back mission and get involved.

 

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New California Legislation Moves Us Closer to a Circular Economy

Jay Gould

Governor Brown of California recently signed into law an important piece of legislation that will take us a step closer to the realization of a circular economy in the State of California. The Governor signed into law AB 1158, enhancing California’s carpet recycling program.

California Coast

At Interface, we see this new law as a positive step forward to driving a truly circular economy in our industry. We have been committed with our own ReEntry product take back program, and have been recycling product for more than two decades. But, we felt it so important to push for this legislation that we joined a broad coalition of organizations to support and lobby for this bill.

Meanwhile, the majority of our industry – including the carpet industry’s trade association and most of our competitors – aggressively opposed it or chose to do nothing.

Doing the right thing – in this case supporting legislation that improves recycling in the U.S.’s largest state – is in our DNA at Interface. We took this step for our customers, our people and the environment. It’s important for us to be good stewards of the waste our industry creates. Carpet is one of the top 10 landfill materials, consuming 3.2 percent of total landfill space. We know that advocacy sometimes makes people uneasy, but advocacy is also sometimes necessary. Failure to speak up changes nothing, and if we want to create a circular economy, we need to change our current approach.

How does AB 1158 support more carpet recycling?

This new law refines the State of California’s commitment to create a recycling system for carpet products. It establishes tangible goals for the recycling program including targets for recycling rates by annual deadlines. It creates a multi stakeholder council to provide input to the state’s organization and importantly, it requires the state of California to purchase carpet with post-consumer recycled content. Additionally, AB 1158 prohibits spending assessment money on incineration, as some in the industry have skirted landfill diversion through incineration, rather than recycling, of reclaimed product.

The State of California is the only state with a law and a recycling program like this. It provides subsidies to recyclers of California carpet to help them grow and, consequently, raise the recycling rates in the state. State supported carpet recycling like this is important to help transition toward a circular economy model, sending a market signal to manufacturers and providing the needed certainty and incentives to help establish recycling infrastructure.

How can you participate in driving a circular approach?

There are a few key steps you can take to help support this effort.

  1. Make sure you include post-consumer recycled content requirements in your purchasing criteria.
  2. Ask critical questions of carpet manufacturers to ensure they have active recycling programs. Also, ask for details on what happens after the products are collected for take back.
  3. Encourage more carpet recycling whenever you have the opportunity to do so – raise it with your customers on refurbishment projects and talk about it with general contractors.

Together we can make the circular economy a reality. A circular economy is also a low carbon economy, which will help us address global warming and create a climate fit for life. We applaud Governor Brown for signing this new bill into law, with California taking the lead on a critical issue in our industry.

Jay D. Gould
Interface CEO

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Sustainability for Beginners: Lessons Learned from 2017’s Living Product Expo

Sonya Myers

There’s no better way to learn a new subject than to immerse yourself in it completely, right? And if you’re on your second week of the job, it makes sense for your employer to just throw you in headfirst.

Before I started at Interface, I thought I knew some things about climate change and sustainability. The 2017 Living Product Expo in Pittsburgh, hosted by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), proved me very, very wrong.

2017 Living Products Expo in Pttsburgh

“Hello from beautiful Pittsburgh!”

What’s nice about going to something of an “insider” conference is that everybody already gets it. People attend the Living Product Expo because they want to find practical, sustainable solutions to their problems. They’re talking about how to build better buildings. They’re introducing innovations in sustainable products and materials. They’re taking on ILFI’s Living Product Challenge or Living Building Challenge.

As I am not a designer, builder, manufacturer nor sustainability enthusiast, I attended the Living Product Expo to get an education in all of the above.

What I learned was eye opening. There are tons of organizations and companies working to make positive impacts on the environment and tackling sustainable solutions to global warming worldwide. Some were obvious; some were not. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Reversing global warming

Paul Hawken’s keynote gave plenty of reason reasons to be optimistic on the climate change front. And he laid out a new goal of working to reverse global warming completely. The Paris Climate Accord was a good first step, but aiming to simply reduce is not enough.

“When you believe something, you believe it into existence and it becomes your experience.”

Having a goal of reducing global warming implies complacency. It says that we’re okay with letting harmful pollution go unchecked if we can possibly offset it elsewhere. Therefore, we have to reverse global warming if we want to do any good for the earth and the people who live on it.

(For the record, Hawken’s Project Drawdown has compiled a list of scalable, sustainable solutions to global warming to look at and support if you’re interested.)

How chemicals affect human health

It’s crazy how many chemicals we are exposed to simply because of the materials that make up our built environment. And given that we spend the vast majority of our lives indoors, this is something that affects everyone.

Living Products Expo: Slide on C02 in the atmosphere

A visualization of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere over time.

Several panels centered around how we measure our chemical exposure, how that affects our health, and what we can do about it. One of the major barriers to change? There have been no major environmental protection laws passed in 20 years. And, government regulation in general has slowed compared to science.

From an industry perspective, the compounding effect of chemical exposure and how to address it is a difficult but necessary discussion. Just look at the debate about PVC and whether it can be a responsible, sustainable material. It’s clear that industry needs to change, but it’s a slow and difficult process.

Making more noise about how built environments affect our individual health could spur change that much faster. And that’s not just at the manufacturer level, but also at the legislative level.

What can we do about it?

I’m not the person with all the answers—that much should be clear. And, my education in these topics is far from over. But one of the Living Product Expo’s recurring themes was the power of individual action to create change.

We as individuals have more power than we think. Beyond recycling more and driving less, we can make the biggest impact by leveraging our position as consumers. If we can’t get the government to pass stricter regulations, we have to give consumer feedback to the companies we buy products from. In a society where money talks, monetary support (or lack of) can really create change.

If consumers pushed back more on industry, it would force a perspective shift from simply focusing on profit to focusing on corporate responsibility. That impact would spread outward, adding to all the other countless efforts to find sustainable solutions to global warming and really do some good.

 

As I reflect back on my few days at the Living Product Expo and get immersed in life at Interface, I’ve started to change my own personal habits. It may be my small contribution, but it’s nice to be part of a company that’s tackling the tough questions and really making good on its mission to address global warming head on.

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Sustainable Plastics: Oxymoron or Responsible Approach?

Mikhail Davis

A new vision for plastics: green chemistry, the circular economy, and a climate fit for life.

When reviewing recent news about plastic waste filling the oceans, toxic additives leaching from plastic products, and the impacts of fossil fueled global warming, making a plastic product – like Interface’s modular flooring – sustainable can begin to seem like an impossible task. But resolving that contradiction has been at the heart of Interface’s sustainability mission for over 20 years. As Ray Anderson often said, “If we can do it, maybe anyone can.”

In this spirit, Interface convened a group of stakeholders at a Sustainable Plastics Symposium in San Francisco this summer, including experts in green chemistry, the circular economy, and life cycle assessment (LCA). Symposium participants came together around a shared goal of creating a set of criteria to define sustainable plastics in a holistic way that goes beyond a Red List approach.

If only making a plastic product healthy and sustainable were as easy as making sure it had no Red List ingredients!

Sustainable Plastics Symposium: Intro to Sustainable Plastics

Green Chemistry

Dr. Lauren Heine of Northwest Green Chemistry, known for developing the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals and the EPA’s Cleangredients database, started off the expert panel by showing three NGO efforts to define sustainable materials. Each effort uses different terms, but all agree that in addition to using safer chemicals in products and processes, we need to consider the ability to reuse a product at end-of-life and its overall environmental impact or we’ll have exchanged one problem for another.

Circular Economy

Dr. Mike Biddle, known for developing the world’s first at-scale mixed plastic recycling technology as founder of MBA Polymers, emphasized that plastics are often the best material choice for lightweight and durable performance. However, unless the disastrous impacts of plastic waste filling the oceans can be solved, plastic products can never be sustainable. Biddle pointed out that while most plastics are technically recyclable, very few actually get reclaimed or recycled in a circular economy. According to Biddle, using recycled plastic not only keeps it out of the oceans, but also allows us to have all the performance advantages of plastic with 80-90% less energy use (and 2-4 tons less contribution to global warming per ton of recycled plastic).

Sustainable Plastics Symposium: It's All About the Carbon

Embodied Carbon

Kirsten Ritchie, Sustainable Design Principal at Gensler, shared her pioneering work using LCA data from Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to guide product selection. She emphasized that EPDs allow designers to understand the contribution the products they select have to global warming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and other experts, nothing is more important to public health right now than stopping global warming. Ritchie’s analysis showed that carbon footprints of carpet tiles vary by over 2X within a single manufacturer’s line and by as much as 5X between manufacturers.

Connie Hensler, Interface’s Director of Life Cycle Assessment Programs, then used the type of criteria described by Heine, Biddle, and Ritchie to demonstrate that once we look at plastic products holistically, we may come to new conclusions. As an example, Interface’s standard GlasBac carpet tile products contain 9-10% PVC plastic in their backing, which is one of the few petrochemical plastics included on the Living Building Challenge Red List. But after more detailed analysis, well-managed PVC turns out to be the best choice for modular plastic flooring.

Sustainable Plastics Symposium: Responsible LVT

Interface carpet tiles on GlasBac backing:

  • Green Chemistry: Interface has eliminated all formaldehyde, phthalates, heavy metals, and fluorocarbons from these products while reducing the amount of virgin PVC consumed to make a tile by 57%.
  • Circular Economy: Interface has designed a 3rd party-verified closed loop system for this backing. We process millions of pounds of vinyl backing every year into new GlasBacRE carpet tile backing. Products on GlasBacRE contain 80-89% recycled content and no virgin PVC.
  • Life Cycle Assessment of Environmental Impact: Interface products on GlasBac and GlasBacRE have the lowest average carbon footprint of any standard carpet tile platforms in the US as a result of very high recycled plastic content and the use of 96% renewable energy in manufacturing.

A New Approach to Sustainable Plastics

The goal of the Sustainable Plastics Symposium in San Francisco was to begin to engage subject matter experts and other stakeholders in creating an approach that moves the marketplace past outdated ways of product assessment that can create unintended and regrettable trade-offs. If an entire “system” for determining how healthy and sustainable a plastic product is consists of single question (“Is it PVC or non-PVC?”), a product may end up being selected that contributes to other types of toxicity, will never be recycled, and contributes disproportionately to global climate change. At the end of the day, this product’s only “green” claim will be “PVC-free” or perhaps “Red List Free.” Those who participated in the Symposium aspire to see plastic products do much, much more.

We’re committed to developing tools that will help our customers choose the best plastic products. This commitment will lead us to host other symposiums and participate in other forums. Recently, Interface joined a historic panel discussion at the Living Product Expo in Pittsburgh, Pa. to discuss the future of PVC plastic with leaders from Perkins+Will, Healthy Building Network, Tarkett, and Construction Specialties. We’re working to identify a path for improving PVC production and use today while looking toward a future where products are made without virgin petrochemical plastics.

Interface shares the vision of the Living Product Expo: a future where products make the world better, not just less toxic, less wasteful, or less polluting. And we have confidence that products like ours can be part of that positive future. If Interface can make a plastic product that is free of petrochemicals, removes plastic from the oceans, and helps create a climate fit for life, maybe anyone can.

 

To see an illustrated summary of the topics discussed at the Sustainable Plastics Symposium, please reference the slides below:

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Actions Speak Louder than Labels

David Gerson

Sustainability isn’t easy. Although some product labels claim to be an indicator of health and/or environmental performance, many have little or no evaluation of the ultimate environmental or health impacts of a product. So, a label with a few check boxes does not necessarily mean that one product is more “sustainable” or “healthy” than another. For example, did you know that at the basic levels of Cradle to Cradle or Living Product Certifications, there are no requirements for renewable energy use or carbon footprint reductions, or even recycling? We need more than what these labels provide.

At Interface we have recently achieved a new third-party certification from GreenCircle Certified, LLC called the Certified Environmental Facts Label. This provides the highest standard and best product evaluation tool we know of in the industry. Recycled content, water usage, renewable energy and carbon footprint are listed in a simple format akin to USDA nutrition labels. Only when we know the facts and science, can we make good decisions for our health and our planet.

Interface Factories to Zero GreenCircle label

Interface Products to Zero GreenCircle label

But for all of the data and numbers in GreenCircle, one metric rises above the rest: Carbon Footprint. If you focus on carbon, everything else falls into place – recycled content, toxicity, renewable energy, water usage, health and safety through the entire value chain, etc. AND, it addresses the most important issue of our time, climate change.

Our comprehensive approach to sustainability on all fronts has enabled us to achieve the lowest carbon footprint in our industry. In fact, it is over three times lower than another flooring product in our industry that has achieved the Living Product Certification.

Interface carbon footprint

So, while achieving sustainability and keeping business as usual may not be easy, it is easy to see who is doing the most to halt climate change and reduce their carbon footprint. If we are all successful in this fight, then we’ll be well on our way to creating a more equitable and healthy future for everyone.

Ask every manufacturer for their third party verified Certified Environmental Facts Label.

For more on how we’re looking at taking the carbon footprint from 7kg to -2kg, view our Proof Positive tile, part of our new Climate Take Back mission

To learn how climate change affects human heath, go to: https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/

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