Category Archives: Sustainability

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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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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From Daylighting to Skateboards: An Exploration of Restorative Potential – Part 2

This is the continuation of a discussion on the potential of restorative business between David Stover, CEO and co-founder of Bureo skateboard company, and Bill Browning, expert in biophilic design and partner and co-founder of Terrapin Bright Green. Lindsay James, vice-president of restorative enterprise for Interface, moderated the discussion.

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David Stover (left) and Bill Browning (right) discuss the potential of restorative business.

Lindsay James (Q): Do you think that there is potential for a restorative approach as more and more businesses embrace this idea and begin generating restorative technologies? Will those become leap-frog technologies that will allow our society to avert some of the pending crisis?

Bill Browning (A): I am going to go back to the social on that because I think it’s the mindset. When you have folks who are doing the work that David and his team are doing, it inspires other people to start thinking about different ways of doing things. When Ray first had his epiphany to go this route, a lot of folks doubted his proposal, but over time it became part of the culture. It inspired a lot of knockoffs—a lot of other companies looking at Interface and trying to do the same things. In some ways I think the technologies come along after that—after this inspiration and new way of thinking about the world.

David Stover (A): We founded one solution but we’re not in this alone. We look to other partners and other people doing great things around the world like Interface. We’re enticing people to do this on a broader basis. Bill’s point is that Interface is using its project to inspire others. Because we make skateboards, we get to touch a younger generation, which is really great.

Last year, we visited around 55 schools, telling kids our story. The younger generation is pretty inspiring. Last week I visited The Island School, which is a school set up in the Bahamas for people interested in ocean research. These are high school students from 15 to 18 years old. We watched a presentation about three 16 year-olds who were catching fish in the Bahamas, studying all the toxins in them and looking at their impacts on our environment. It made me realize that I became aware of environmental issues later in life. Through early awareness the next generation has a jumpstart on finding viable solutions.

Lindsay James (Q): What role should beauty play in designing our desired future?

Bill Browning (A): Everything. (laughs) If it’s not beautiful, we’re not going to take care of it. If it’s not beautifully designed, it’s not going to last. One example of biophilic design that we use quite a bit is the Great Workroom at Johnson Wax by Frank Lloyd Wright. A lot of times we’ll show a picture of that space and ask the audience how old they think the space is. It’s a contemporary picture that we took a couple of years ago. No one in the room guesses that it was designed between 1936 and 1939 and that it’s still used in the original configuration. We’ve talked to people who work in that space. Some of them are the grandchildren of the people who worked in the space originally. They love being there. It’s inspiring. It’s gorgeous. And it’s a productive space. Now think about that – an office design that is so good that it lasts that long.

David Stover (A): Beauty comes in from the beginning. You have to think about the end-product. We knew we wanted to set up a recycling project and make an eco-friendly product, but we had to make a great product that stood up next to competitors and in the market. If you don’t do that, then you really don’t accomplish what you want. If people aren’t buying it and people aren’t putting value into it, then you’re not able to create a sustainable program. It’s evident when there’s a lot of sustainability and eco-friendly practices going on, but most importantly there’s a beautiful product put in front of people. I think when you have that effect on people, you get them to smile and you get them to enjoy something. Afterwards, you explain that the product is created from collecting discarded fishing nets and cleaning up the water. You explain that the product is 100% recyclable. You’re able to capture them from the start with a beautiful product, then blow them away with the story behind it. I think it’s a powerful approach. I think it’s definitely changing the world of design and changing the way things are made.

Bill Browning (A): Look at this board! (holds it up) It’s beautiful with the reference to the fish tail and scales. How awesome is that?

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The “Minnow Cruiser Skateboard,” made from discarded fishing nets. Photo: @bureo Instagram

Lindsay James (Q): How important is happiness/well-being to the broader sustainability movement?

David Stover (A): There’s a saying on our team, “bringing joy in the marvels of risk.” This highlights the joy that you feel in nature, which was a lot of the influence behind our project. One of the things that hit home for us was that this place, the ocean, was special—being in the water, whether it was sailing, surfing, or swimming. This was where we were seeing the impact of pollution and we wanted to do something. But we also wanted to make a product that would bring joy and happiness to people while they were using it. I think a lot of people feel doom and gloom about what’s going on in the environment. But highlighting some of the more beautiful things that are out there and making sure to expose nature in design is really important.

Lindsay James (Q): If you had the power to change anything in our world, what would it be?

David Stover (A): Let’s go back to the issue of waste. Think about a cleaner tomorrow and what the world may look like without waste. If you can eliminate that word, you could live in a cleaner eco-system. I think that’s a pretty awesome world to think about.

Bill Browning (A): I want to conclude with the topic of restorative. One of the things that really pushed us when thinking about biophilic design is the fact that more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Some of those cities around the world are huge and sprawling but they don’t have much nature. It’s about how we reconnect people with nature in the built environment as a way for them to be healthy and more whole.

About the Panelists
David Stover is a global citizen. He is the CEO and co-founder of Bureo, a skateboard company. Bureo recycles used fishing nets into high quality, high design skateboards. David holds a Bachelor of Science and Mechanical Engineering and has a background in financial analysis. He grew up in a small island community and that is where he attributes his love for the ocean.

Bill Browning is an advocate for sustainable design solutions at all levels of business as well as government and civil society. His organization, Terrapin Bright Green, has brought biophilic design into the spotlight with their research and practice. They are also leaders in bringing biometric solutions to the forefront. Bill has been a long time advisor of Interface, serving on our eco-green team and advising our sustainability journey for nearly two decades.

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From Daylighting to Skateboards: An Exploration of Restorative Potential – Part 1

Interface

Our relationship with the natural world should be a two-way endeavor. Understanding how our surroundings impact and restore us can help us to recognize our relationship with our environment as a reciprocal one. How do we expand our sustainability practices beyond eliminating bad behavior to actively creating positive impacts for us and the planet?

We had the pleasure of hosting David Stover, CEO and co-founder of Bureo skateboard company, and Bill Browning, expert in biophilic design and partner and co-founder of Terrapin Bright Green, at our Chicago showroom during NeoCon for a panel discussion on the potential of restorative business.

Our panelists discussed the ways in which biophilic design practices and restorative business models take inspiration from Mother Nature to create a happier, healthier environment for earth’s inhabitants, with insights from their own unique experiences and compelling case studies.

Lindsay James, vice-president of restorative enterprise for Interface, moderated the discussion.

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Pictured left to right: Lindsay James, David Stover, Bill Browning

Lindsay James (Q): What does restorative mean to you and how have you established restorative practices through your business?

David Stover (A): Restorative for us is taking an eco friendly practice a step further. It’s not just worrying about the ecological footprint of your products. It’s about creating products that have a positive impact on the community as well as the environment. Through our Net Positiva initiative, we’re collecting and recycling fishing nets in Chile, providing local fisherman an environmentally sound way to dispose of nets and creating a source of recyclable materials for manufacturing Bureo skateboards.

Bill Browning (A): Our take on restorative is similar but we may be a step further. Through biomimicry we are looking at ecosystem services. For example, how does the ecosystem in your workplace deal with water? How does it deal with energy? What is its net biological productivity? Basically, developing a set of metrics around the ecology of your workplace, then asking yourself, “Could I design an operative building in a way that performs as well as the original ecosystem that was here?” It is really place-based.

In the conversation about resilience, you get into this question of how to harden technology. People are holding conversations about the next flood but the next natural disaster that could kill more people than another flood will probably be a heat wave. The way you solve a heat wave, besides building stuff, is setting up resilient social systems: resilience for the people themselves, restorative of community and restorative of social relationships.

Lindsay James (Q): I’m glad you brought in the resilience aspect of this as well. In the study of biomimicry, we learn that nature is not sustainable as much as it is restorative and resilient, and it is those two emergent factors that have allowed life to survive. So what would the world look like if every business embraced its restorative potential?

David Stover (A): I think our program and our system in Chile is honestly just a small part. We work in six communities right now. One thing that we have learned is this idea of utilizing a waste material to put into a product. It’s important to think about how you’re making a product from that material and what your end of life solution will be for the product. For us it was making a product that is recyclable – the skateboard decks. When you talk about the world and embracing restorative practices, I think one thing that we see is this idea of waste not necessarily going away immediately, but looking at waste as a different word. The thought of living an almost waste free lifestyle with compost and recycling solutions and the idea of a closed-looped system is something that we are really excited about. For us the biggest concern is the waste and toxins leaking into the water ways. This was our motivation for starting the project. We should be thinking about how a waste free life might impact the health of our society.

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“For us it was making a product that is recyclable – the skateboard decks,” said Bureo CEO David Stover.

Bill Browning (A): I love what you guys are doing with the nets. A fishing net, even after it is discarded, is still catching things; it is still having negative ecological impact. Besides the fact that it is trash and it is material out of place, nets don’t stop catching and killing things. Removing these out of the ecosystem and recycling that fiber is really beneficial for those places.

Lindsay James (Q): Bill, you and I were having a conversation recently on this topic. If every business embraced restorative potential, not just at this macro scale, but also at the individual impact level when talking about biophilic design, do you think that there is some potential to cultivate a shift in awareness for building occupants?

Bill Browning (A): “Connection to Nature” is one of our 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design. It’s sometimes the hardest to explain because it’s not like “Prospect.” This is about how we, in our design, do things that make people aware of the processes and things going on around them.

For example our sister firm, CookFox Architects in New York, installed a 4,000 square foot green roof right outside the windows of the studio that can be seen from almost any desk in the work space. It was originally planted with Sedums and now has some native grass. When we put it in, it was beautiful, But it was beautiful in a way that people thought of as decorative. Then we started seeing insects and dragonflies hunting the insects, and birds chasing the insects. A pair of Kestrels (sparrow hawks) took up the roof as part of their hunting territory. One day a Kestrel killed a bird right in front of the windows and ate it. Some people were horrified; some were spellbound. But it got everybody’s attention and it shifted the whole culture of our relationship to that roof. People suddenly realized that this was not just decorative, it was a functioning ecosystem right outside. That led to people becoming much more engaged, so we ended up putting in a big vegetable garden and kept bees out there as well. It went from being a place of simple restorative effect to a place of deep engagement.

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Photo: ©COOKFOX Architects

The team I work with at Google has said publicly that this “Connection to Nature” pattern might be the most important one of all.

Lindsay James: It reminds me of the Rachel Carson quote, “The more clearly we focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

More Q&A to follow in Part 2.

About the Panelists
David Stover is a global citizen. He is the CEO and co-founder of Bureo, a skateboard company. Bureo recycles used fishing net into high-quality, high-design skateboards. David holds a Bachelor of Science and Mechanical Engineering and has a background in financial analysis. He grew up in a small island community and that is where he attributes his love for the ocean.

Bill Browning is an advocate for sustainable design solutions at all levels of business as well as government and civil society. His organization, Terrapin Bright Green, has brought biophilic design into the spotlight with their research and practice. They are also leaders in bringing biometric solutions to the forefront.  Bill has been a long time advisor of Interface, serving on our eco-green team and advising our sustainability journey for nearly two decades.

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Can we identify “healthy” products? Three essential questions to ask manufacturers

Mikhail Davis

What’s hot in green building right now? No, global warming isn’t hot, despite growing alarm about extreme weather events. What’s hot is health. Specifically anything related to the potential health impacts of building products.

The rise of the WELL Building Standard and the addition of a day-long Materials and Human Health Summit to Greenbuild provide two data points supporting this overall trend. Despite growing interest and a host of new tools, the expansion of the health trend beyond simplistic building material “Red Lists”, and into more comprehensive, transparency-based material assessments, is still in its infancy. Many architecture and design firms aspire to do material health screenings, but lack the technical expertise or established processes to consistently add this element to their already-strained project budgets.

As a frequent speaker on this topic, including both Greenbuild Materials and Human Health Summits, I offer three questions that need to be considered as firms begin to engage manufacturers in an effort to identify “healthy” products.

What’s in your product?
This question forms the foundation for understanding what possible health issues a product might present when used in a building. Many new tools are being developed to help manufacturers disclose ingredients in a consistent way. But even the confusingly-named Health Product Declaration (HPD) format doesn’t actually tell you whether a product is healthy – it just tells you the ingredients. Many of the tools like HPD aspire to become as standardized and broadly used as the Nutrition Facts Label we find on packaged foods, but the fact that a box of cookies discloses their Nutrition Facts does not make them healthy. It does, however, allow for more informed choices about what you buy, which is the true value of standardizing transparency.

What comes out of your product?
This is an important question because many building product ingredients, if you gargled with them every day, would seriously damage your health. Yet the vast majority of these ingredients are used in such a way that there is no foreseeable way for a user to be exposed to them. This is the big difference between ingredients in a building product and ingredients on a Nutrition Facts Label; for a Nutrition Fact Label, exposure is a given (or what’s the point?).

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The big difference between ingredients in a building product and ingredients on a Nutrition Facts Label? On a Nutrition Fact Label, exposure is a given.

The question of likelihood of exposure to ingredients in plastics and other building materials is fraught with technical questions that live in the complex world of toxicology and risk assessment, so I would like to offer a common-sense alternative:  focus your analysis on materials that (1) release volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) or (2) receive heavy wear and abrasion during use.

VOCs, by nature, are emitted from the product, so some level of exposure is guaranteed. Anything you smell is releasing VOCs into your nose, ranging from the wholesome and harmless (fresh baked bread) to the carcinogenic (formaldehyde). Fortunately, green building standards, with help from the California Department of Public Health, have now standardized tests for the most worrisome common VOCs released from interiors products. Numerous industry standards (e.g., Green Label Plus for carpet, FloorScore for hard surface) are harmonized to the strict California standards (CA 01350), so finding low-offgassing products has become as easy as looking for the right certification.

The second category, chemicals used in high-touch surfaces, becomes more complex because exposure only occurs over time and only under the right conditions, usually when repeated washing and abrasion of surfaces causes ingredients to migrate out and end up in dust. The most famous recent example of this is highly toxic and persistent flame-retardants migrating out of furniture and electronics over time. While some potentially hazardous chemicals break down quickly outside the product, usually broken down by microbes, others are highly persistent (no critter yet seems to have acquired a taste for polybrominated flame retardants) and accumulate in the environment over time.

In carpet, the high-touch surface is the face fiber, usually nylon, which is often coated with a stain and soil resistant chemistry based on perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). Due to the toxicity of some members of this chemical family and the persistence in the environment of all PFCs, they were recently added to the Living Building Challenge Red List. Increasingly, premium brands of carpet yarn are moving to integrally stain resistant nylon that requires no coatings that can wear off over time. Interface Americas received an award from Environmental Building News in 2011 for producing the first PFC-free carpet tile platforms and is PFC-free in all products.

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Interface Americas is PFC-free in all products.

How is your product made?
Finally, health impacts that might affect the end users of a product are but a small piece of the healthy product puzzle. Many of the worst health impacts associated with the life cycle of a product happen far from the comparative tranquility of a school or office environment. Exposure occurs in the mines, oil and gas drilling operations, chemical refineries and plastic factories that supply the raw materials that ultimately make up the products we manufacture. Plastic products traditionally come from chemicals derived from oil, gas, and coal as well as from mined mineral fillers. The air and water pollution associated with resource extraction and refining are typically thought of as environmental impacts, but for the people who live and work nearby, they are definitely health issues. Is a Red List Free product still a “healthy” product if its ingredients come from natural gas fracking that left the local water supply tainted by heavy metals and petrochemicals?

At Interface, we see increasing recycled content and end-of-life recycling as the only viable solution to the many systemic pollution issues associated with the lifecycle of products made from oil, gas, and mineral resources. When a product comes from 80% recycled content, it allows us to know we’re doing our part to address the effect industrial operations have on their surrounding communities.

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When a product comes from 80% recycled content, like our Net Effect™ Collection, we know we’re doing our part to address the effect industrial operations have on their surrounding communities.

Staying out of the fear trap
The way most of the discussion of healthy buildings is going, we are quite focused on eliminating the negative impacts building products might have on our health. But we also know that becoming chronically stressed, in this case about all the toxic chemicals in the world, is not good for your health. The challenge is to find your own “Goldilocks” level of worrying that keeps you motivated to change our industrial system without living in constant fear.

I find that it helps to spend equal time on the positive side of the health equation, investigating all the ways interiors products can be designed to help enhance building occupants’ well-being, boost their productivity, and ameliorate their stress levels. So when thinking about toxic chemicals has you down, I recommend picking up Terrapin Bright Green’s new report “The 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design,” and pondering all the ways interior products and designs could help people feel as healthy and productive as when they are outdoors. Because after all, designing products that won’t expose you to toxic chemicals is truly only the beginning of the exciting work of designing spaces conducive to health and happiness.

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