Category Archives: Sustainability

Evolution of the Sustainability Journey: Full Product Disclosure & Transparency

Melissa Vernon

Interface’s sustainability journey began in 1994 when customers started asking us questions about the environmental impact of our company and the fate of the used carpet we manufactured.  Our founder, the late Ray Anderson, heard these questions and knew that we did not have any compelling answers.  Interface complied with environmental laws.  What more should we be doing as a publicly traded, for-profit global manufacturer of petroleum-intensive carpet tile?

Upon reading “The Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawken, Anderson was struck by Hawken’s assertion that business has brought us to the brink of environmental degradation, and we can’t rely on government to save us, the power of business must find solutions.

Anderson, an entrepreneur and industrial engineer, took Hawken’s suggestions seriously and on August 31st, 1994, launched Interface towards the vision “To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits — by 2020 — and in doing so we will become restorative through the power of influence.”

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ray Anderson’s epiphany, we reflect on the evolution of the sustainability movement and on the 20 years we have been on our sustainability journey.

epd_blog_img4

We offer styles available in a full spectrum of stunning colors never thought possible in post-consumer content carpet.

In the early days, product manufacturers dealt with environmental issues by switching from virgin raw materials to recycled content, and focused on improving energy and water efficiency.  Ecolabels were developed to certify the ‘green’ attributes of products, and some even ventured to evaluate the manufacturing process as well.  Life was simple and straightforward.

At Interface, our focus on sustainability introduced us to new tools for looking at our products and processes.  We began to understand that the environmental impacts of our products extend far beyond the four walls of our factories.  In order to produce the raw materials to make carpet, resources are extracted from the earth, refined and processed to make the components that we assemble into carpet.  Transportation of raw materials and finished goods consumes diesel fuel and releases tailpipe emissions.  Maintenance and cleaning of carpet requires vacuuming which uses electricity generated from power plants, releasing emissions and generating waste.

In 2000, Interface started using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as a decision-making tool to better understand the full environmental impacts associated with the entire life cycle of our products, from raw material extraction and processing, manufacturing, use, transportation, and end of life.  LCA considers the energy and material inputs and the emissions and waste outputs for every process and step along the entire supply chain.  This analysis provides a more comprehensive view of the full impact our products have on the environment.

epd_blog_img3

Interface was the first to earn an EPD and now has four EPDs for four product categories covering more than 90% of our products.

LCA shows the environmental implications of choosing different materials or making products in different ways and also shows the environmental trade-offs you might make. LCA allows us to look at making products in fundamentally different ways, allowing us to see a product or process at all stages

In the late 1990s when redesigning our products to meet our sustainability goals, our carpet designer suggested eliminating one ounce of nylon fiber from the top of the carpet, and found no loss in performance or quality.  Using LCA to study the effect of using one ounce less fiber across our entire annual production, calculations showed that the energy not expended in the production of additional nylon was equivalent to the energy consumption by Interface’s two Georgia production facilities for six months. This ‘embodied energy’ of the nylon fiber, calculated using LCA, was a new lens for viewing environmental impacts.

And thus began Interface’s commitment to searching for deeper understanding of the impact of our company and products and sharing these learnings with our customers through full product transparency.

epd_blog_img2

All Interface modular carpet sold in North America is third party verified climate neutral Cool Carpet. Cool Carpet zeros out all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the entire lifecycle of your product.

LCA illustrates that the largest contribution to the environmental impact of our carpet is not attributable to our own manufacturing processes, but instead nearly 70% is a result of the extraction and processing of raw materials, of which nylon fiber accounts for a majority.  With our eyes open to the full life cycle impacts, our sustainability strategy shifted.  A new focus targeted dematerialization and reducing the use of raw materials per square yard of carpet, especially materials like nylon that have a high embodied energy.  Starting in 2009, our nylon fiber suppliers figured out how to make nylon carpet fiber from post-consumer nylon.  Using recycled materials significantly reduces the embodied energy and environmental impacts.  Today, many Interface carpet styles use 100% recycled nylon fiber, reducing embodied energy by over 40% compared to a carpet made with only 11% recycled content in the nylon fiber.

As the sustainability movement has grown over the last 20 years, ecolabels have proliferated, with over 400 in existence, thus overwhelming the market with too many labeling programs.  Architects, designers, and building owners no longer rely solely on these external assertions, and now want more access to very specific product information so they can make their own informed choices.  The building industry is in the beginning stages of publishing nutrition-label like information through the creation of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), allowing us to make more informed decisions about the materials we select.  EPDs are standardized life-cycle data disclosure tools often likened to the ingredient lists and nutrition facts labels found on food items, except you get data on such things as greenhouse gas emissions and water usage instead of calories and saturated fat.  Any product can have an EPD, just like any kind of food can have a nutrition label, healthy or unhealthy.

Interface is committed to being a leader in the transparency movement.  Interface was the first carpet manufacturer in North America to publish EPDs in 2009, and completed EPDs for all products globally by 2012. EPDs are developed according to guidelines from the International Standards Organization (ISO).  EPDs follow a consistent format reporting raw material ingredients, life cycle assessment results, and are 3rd party verified.  EPDs allow for an apples-to-apples comparison of products and in the carpet industry where many manufacturers have published EPDs, you can begin to identify what a ‘large’ or ‘small’  environmental impact footprint looks like across manufacturers, just as we understand the impact of 180 calorie candy bar on our health.  EPDs can help you see the impact of choosing a carpet with 30 ounces of nylon fiber vs 20 ounces.

The EPD Transparency Summary is a two-page summary of the most critical data presented in an EPD, published and third-party verified by UL Environment, This concise document features our favorite nuggets of EPD data, including carbon footprint, water footprint, and product ingredients.

epd_blog_img1

Since 1995, we have reclaimed more than 270 million pounds of carpet through our carpet reclamation program.

With the transparency of EPDs we are able to show some of the results of our 20 year journey towards sustainability, and the changes that have been made across our entire supply chain, to produce Interface carpet with lower environmental impact.  Thereby offering our customers assurance that quantifiable data is available to support our green claims.  This level of commitment is what is needed to further advance the sustainability movement.

Melissa Vernon is the Director of Sustainable Strategy for Interface in the Americas.  She is responsible for maximizing business opportunities by strategically leveraging Interface’s leadership in sustainable development.  

Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of the WAMOA Journal, courtesy of PTR Communications.

[Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Twitter] [Email]
Posted in Category EPDs, Perspectives On EPDs, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Mind the Gap

Julie Hiromoto

Continuing our series on the intersection of beauty and sustainability, Julie Hiromoto of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill reflects on her retreat with Interface and fellow architects when these thought leaders discussed how to close the gap between sustainable design and beautiful design. This is the second blog in the series.

In March, Interface, working with Nadav Malin of BuildingGreen, invited a group of architects from small and large practices across the U.S. to warm and sunny San Diego. Our task was to explore the question of why green buildings are not usually considered beautiful, and conversely, why the sexiest buildings are often not very sustainable. What is good green design and why isn’t there more of it? Unlike a typical conference center, our meeting room was enclosed on two sides with floor to ceiling windows facing the water, with a covered boardwalk as breakout space. While we talked, the sky changed colors, and the sun beckoned us outside after a long and relentless winter. Our hotel was located on a private, man-made island, landscaped to resemble a lush Southeast Asian paradise. Despite the irony of it all, or perhaps because of it, the discussions were lively, and we powered through the two and a half days. What an appropriate location to tease out our collective thoughts on this complex topic, as we earnestly worked together to close the gap.

As designers, we craft a vision for the environments in which we live, work, and play. Good design is mindful of the sensory experience in and around these spaces, whether visual, aural, or tactile; old or new; high tech or natural. The decisions we make range from broad sweeping concepts to minute details. We specify products that are included in systems that, in turn, complement other systems. They serve a particular use and group of people in a particular environment. Our intentions are constrained by time, cost, codes and other feasibility questions. On each project, these choices are based on our own values, those of the client, and the communities the project will serve. Our success depends on aligning the project goals with these values.

blogimage2

Green must be a part of good design. As architects, we have a responsibility for the health and well-being of building occupants, the community and the environment. Greater energy and water efficiency requirements are making their way into building codes and design criteria. Owners are gaining awareness of financial incentives and savings. Health concerns are gaining traction as architects advocate for product transparency through grass roots initiatives like the Health Product Declaration or more established advocacy and education through the AIA’s Design & Health Leadership Group. But along the way, in our scientific pursuit to validate high performance design strategies, did we lose sight of beauty? Are we mired in the myriad charts, graphs, facts and figures used to justify and validate our ideas? Will we have better results realizing our sustainable strategies if instead we promote beautifully integrated solutions with narrative?

How do you define beauty? Countless philosophical and scientific treaties have been written on this topic, but design sensibility is difficult to validate. Beauty, pleasure, and inspiration are subjective; to one person a space may be ideal, to others it may fall short, but aesthetics cannot be cast aside as a frivolous amenity. This is the soul and life-blood of our work. The delight and experience of a space causes us to linger or smile. A unique sense of place makes a building special and memorable. These feelings motivate us to maintain and restore our homes, workplaces, community centers, schools and cultural spaces. The longevity of our architecture is the real lasting sustainable impact of the watts/square foot and liters/day savings. Even if technical advances help us achieve better performance metrics, demonstrated improvements in the buildings we construct and cherish today will build a foundation for further advancement in the next projects. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it’s still there!

Editor’s note: This blog was originally written before the Living Future unConference in May when the definition of design values continued with an interactive discussion between Julie, Joann Gonchar (Architectural Record), Nadav Malin (BuildingGreen), and Susan S. Szenasy (Metropolis) on the topic of Connecting the Dots: Beauty, Sustainability, and the Occupant Experience. It was held for publishing to be included with our blog series on the intersection of beauty and sustainability.

[Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Twitter] [Email]
Posted in Category Design Inspirations, Sustainability | Leave a comment

The Intersection of Beauty and Sustainability: Twitter Chat Recap

To kick off our latest blog series on the intersection of beauty and sustainability, design and sustainability gurus Lance Hosey of RTKL Associates and Julie Hiromoto of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill joined our own Vicki deVuono, VP of Creative, and Lindsay James, VP of Restorative Enterprise, in a live Twitter chat. What unfolded was a thought provoking discussion in bite-sized nuggets – 140 characters or less, of course.

@Julie_Hiromoto began the chat by addressing the balance of sustainability and beauty. She tweeted:

  • Design excellence has always been a part of our practice, our ethos.
  • As a Designer you must always remain true to aesthetics.
  • We work to integrate green building performance criteria within the design intent. Sometimes this is a challenge.

The conversation later evolved to address the core concept of Interface’s Human Nature collection – the belief that where we create inspires what we create. @LanceHosey chimed in to answer the question: Should designers focus on the mental, emotional and physiological impact end users experience vs. their own style?

  • Designers often design exclusively for vision, not for the other senses.
  • Architects aren’t trained in visual literacy. Courses such color theory aren’t required in most design schools.
  • We think of great design as art, not science or something that results from diligent study.
  • The more we learn about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, the better design can become.

The chat concluded with a discussion on biophilic design. Lance cited examples of historical buildings that employed biophilic principles, and Julie closed the discussion with the following question regarding implementation of green building practices:

  • How can we encourage our industry to continue striving towards these goals by positively encouraging all progress?

Find the entire chat, including all questions and responses, by searching #IFinHumanNature and scrolling to the tweets posted on July 10.

Lance and Julie, along with other sustainability leaders, will continue this discussion over the next few weeks. Stay tuned for more!

[Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Twitter] [Email]
Posted in Category Sustainability | Leave a comment

Carbon Canopy

Announcing Carbon Canopy – How unlikely partners are coming together to save southern forests and address climate change.

trees_blog

Interface announced at Greenbuild 2013 that it became a pioneer purchaser of forest carbon offsets for its Cool Carpet™ program from an exciting new source—Southern forests.

This simple announcement came after years of effort by conservation organizations like Dogwood Alliance, landowners and others to establish an innovative partnership called the Carbon Canopy.

Interface watched the project evolve from an idea supported by a grant from our Foundation and others to a successful model that protects Southern forests while reducing carbon.

This happens quite simply. Carbon credits that are generated from forest management are sold to companies like Interface and Staples, and landowners use this additional revenue to invest in FSC certification.

The partnership serves as a bridge that links these corporate buyers who want to balance their climate impacts with landowners allowing projects like the Balsam Mountain Preserve in Sylvia, NC to happen. Projects like this not only reduce carbon, but also:

  • Preserve a forest legacy for future generations
  • Support millions of forest land owners
  • Create wood and paper product options that come from responsibly managed forests

The Carbon Canopy shows what is possible when unlikely partners team up to address some of our larger sustainability challenges.

[Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Twitter] [Email]
Posted in Category Sustainability | Leave a comment

Redesign Economy

Nadine Gudz

Interface collaborates with many organizations as it climbs Mount Sustainability. Our commitment to redesign commerce necessarily requires collaborations in communities across our value chain in order to effect the systems changes required for a sustainable society.

This year, Interface was proud to accept the invitation to join the Council for Clean Capitalism, an esteemed group of business leaders. The Council is a “think/do tank” for raising the policy bar to enable infrastructure changes for green growth. I had the pleasure of asking its founder, Toby Heaps, to elaborate on the evolution and vision of the Council.

What is the Council for Clean Capitalism and how did it start?

In 2007 I was working with some colleagues to build support for a sensible carbon price in Canada. As part of that effort, I asked a number of CEOs who had shown leadership on climate change to put their name to an editorial we were placing in “The Globe and Mail”. We were calling for an elegant carbon price as an initial supporting salvo for the 21st century moral imperative of reversing human-induced climate change. I couldn’t get a single major CEO to put his/her name to the op-ed (Every Tonne Hast Its Price).

Then in 2009, Apple, Exelon, Pacific Gas & Electric, Nike and Procter and Gamble all quit the US Chamber of Commerce to protest its retrograde climate policy. The problem is there wasn’t anywhere for these large companies to go—no home for raising the policy bar so that companies who create more value than they destroy are more valued in the marketplace.

We live in a world where the private sector plays a significant role in designing and influencing public policy. Unfortunately, the voice of business is often subsumed by traditional industry associations, which are often prisoner to the lowest common denominator of their membership.  Where things start to get interesting is when the leaders of significant corporations from across sectors bind together to articulate a stretch vision tailored to the highest common denominator, in which those who create more value are also more valued in the marketplace.

Creating this community of leaders with a high impact and pragmatic vision was and is the essence of the Council for Clean Capitalism.

The Council’s aim is to create a sustainable society by ensuring that the rules of the economy are supportive of this goal. This entails 4 I’s:

  • Information (ensuring that natural and social capital is included on core corporate and public economic financial documents)
  • Incentives (ensuring a clear path and level playing field for leaders)
  • Infrastructure (supporting enabling infrastructure for green growth)
  • Investment (unclogging the financial system so that capital can flow more readily to resource and social productivity enhancing investments)

In terms of impact we will continue to take a pragmatic high impact approach to advancing our core priorities: green buildings (speed for LEED, energy disclosure), green bonds (sovereign issues), green accounting (putting natural capital on the balance sheet), and subject to Council approval, adding green infrastructure (transmission lines to rescue stranded renewable energy assets). When we achieve success, we will seek to scale the success by writing up case studies to share with targeted forums via op-eds, The Council of the Federation, Federation of Canadian Municipalities/Big 5 Mayors Caucus, various governments in pre-budget consultations, Council of Environment Ministers, Council of Energy Ministers, the Privy Council, and significant corporate forums such as the Globe Conference.

Why was Interface Canada approached?

We specifically limited Council invitations to companies that are leading by example on sustainability.  From the spirit of Ray Anderson to the tangible progress the company has made on its Mission Zero® journey, Interface is recognized globally for blazing a trail to the gold standard for sustainable business.

The Council is currently at 10 members plus one special working group member. In the next two years we would like to grow core membership to 20 leading corporate leaders covering all sectors of the economy.

In terms of the progress reached so far, what are you most proud of? What excites you most going forward?

So far we have good reception in the corridors of power. Our first “win” was convincing the Premier of the government of Ontario to announce a significant green bonds program to be initiated in 2014. This will enable investors to direct billions of dollars toward valuable green infrastructure projects.

The 21st century Corporation is one of the most powerful forces our civilization has ever known. Initiatives like the Council and Richard Branson’s B-Team (a sort of international version of the Council) show that business leaders can shape a society where corporations are a force for good.

ABOUT TOBY HEAPS

tobymap small_webToby is the CEO and co-founder of Corporate Knights, CK Capital and the Council for Clean Capitalism. He spearheaded the first global ranking of the world’s 100 most sustainable corporations in 2005, and in 2007 coined the term “clean capitalism.” He sits on the Sustainability Accounting Standards Advisory Board and the University of Toronto’s Environment and Finance Committee. He also is a Director at the Natural Step Canada. Toby has been published in the “Financial Times”, “The Wall Street Journal” and “The Globe and Mail”, and is a regular guest speaker on CBC. In 1998, he played centrefield for the Yugoslav National Baseball Team.

[Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Twitter] [Email]
Posted in Category Sustainability | Leave a comment