Category Archives: Sustainability

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.

Interface_Booth-2

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.

Interface_Hawken&Benyus

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.

Interface_EDR

Audience of Sustainability and Design Leaders

[Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Twitter] [Email]
Posted in Category Biophilic Design, Greenbuild, Greenbuild 2014, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Serving Schools Around the World with Green Apple

Melissa Vernon

Working at Interface, our commitment to close the loop and make our carpet out of 100% recycled materials has made us incredibly aware of the scarcity of natural resources. But there is scarcity of another precious and limited resource that the Green Apple Day of Service illustrated to us – our time. In our hurried, fast-paced, and busy lives, it takes real effort to slow down and focus on what matters.

GreenApple_Blog_feet_285x285

At Interface, we often spend our days with our heads down, staring at the floor. But when we see visuals like this, big smiles appear across our faces and we know we are making a difference.

In 2014, our 3rd year of sponsoring the Green Apple Day of Service, we experienced an even greater interest from employees and customers around the world to take action and create better learning environments for students.

Interface is in a distinctive position because we are able to directly impact the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools’ mission of putting all students into a green school within a generation. Working in partnership with our customers from the interior design profession and USGBC Chapter community, we literally created better learning environments for students by removing dirty, worn carpet and replacing it with high performing, low-offgassing, nature-inspired Interface carpet tiles. Students at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City, Utah received new carpet in their multipurpose room. The principal reported, “The students have been so funny about wanting to keep it really clean and nice.”

GreenApple_Blog_Uintah_575x285

Installing new carpet at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City, Utah

At Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Atlanta, Georgia, school staff remarked, “Your donation serves as an example to our students that they should not only take pride in their school work, but also in the school itself,” thereby illustrating the motto of the Center for Green Schools – #wherewelearnmatters.

Leveraging Interface’s leadership in sustainability, we educated students around the world about sustainability challenges and opportunities. We inspired the Charter High School for Architecture and Design students in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania about the importance of recycling on a local and global level. The students were given the challenge of designing recycling containers that will hopefully be produced and distributed throughout the school.

GreenApple_Blog_MZ_575x285

Left: Students from Charter High School for Architecture & Design in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Right: “Mission Zero Heroes” from the Boys & Girls Club of West Georgia.

Students repurposed waste from our manufacturing facilities around the world and created stools and savings banks in Thailand and costumes for “Mission Zero Heroes” with the Boys & Girls Club of West Georgia.

In total Interface contributed over 50 projects globally to the 3,700 total Green Apple Day of Service projects. Every division of our company participated, including our FLOR stores and manufacturing facilities in Thailand, Australia, Georgia, and Holland. Our sales teams from Latin America, Europe, and across the United States joined forces with customers to leave a lasting legacy with schools and students.

The schools reminded us of our limited resources. Staff at Cristo Rey High School in Atlanta said, “Interface demonstrated that giving time is just as important as giving material things. As our Principal, Fr. Van Dyke likes to say, ‘there is always an opportunity to make more money. But time is not something we can make more of.’  So when we choose to give time, it is a much greater gift.”

Interface’s mission to be restorative inspires us to leave a positive social impact in a way that is good for our business. The Green Apple Day of Service is also important to Interface because it taps into the power of business and leverages the design solutions that we offer to create better learning environments for students around the world.

GreenApple_Blog_frame_285x285

Green Apple is a great sponsorship to strengthen and build new relationships with our customers and partners, particularly in the education market segment. These projects inspire customers, our communities, and our own employees to make a difference by “doing well by doing good,” and as Ray Anderson used to say, to “Brighten the corner where you are.”

[Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Twitter] [Email]
Posted in Category Culture & Play, Sustainability | Leave a comment

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

Why does sustainability need beauty?

Lindsay James

Rounding out our series on the intersection of beauty and sustainability, Interface vice-president of restorative enterprise Lindsay James reflects on what she learned after the Interface retreat and Living Future unConference. This is the final blog in the series.

More than ten years ago, when I was immersed in studying the business case for sustainability while pursuing my MBA, I would have been dumbfounded by the question, “Why does sustainability need beauty?” I can imagine my former self laughing and then quickly returning to a cost accounting case study.

Last March, Interface hosted a two-day workshop that brought together design and sustainability leaders from 20 architecture firms to explore how to “bridge the divide in the design world between beauty and sustainability.”  Between that event and the Living Future conference, which was themed “Beauty and Inspiration,” I had the opportunity to develop a better response than stumped confusion to the intersection of beauty and my chosen career of sustainability.

So what did I learn? I’ve learned that beauty isn’t something you observe as much as it’s something you experience. It’s multi-sensorial, yes, but even more than that, beauty is elegance at a systems level. I found implications of this lesson in terms of engagement as well as systems design.

sunshine_on_my_face

During the Interface retreat, architects and designers delved into the seeming divide between beautiful design and sustainable design and considered why these aren’t currently one and the same. Taking this further, I wonder: Should the sustainability movement be promoting images of distraught polar bears stranded on melting ice?  These images may be engaging, but they engage our sense of pity, not wonder. The CFL bulb became the dubious icon of our movement, but the bulb itself, and the light it produces, can hardly be called beautiful.  So why does sustainability need beauty?  Because doom and gloom images are not winning over the hearts of others. Despair is ugly; hope is beautiful. We need to leverage deep beauty to transform our movement from being based in the intellectual to being rooted in the visceral. Deep beauty can help us do that, engaging more of the skeptical public than a singular focus on scientific reason. Think of the graceful lines of a Tesla, sparking a love affair from our gut first, and our brain second.

When I heard Jason McLennan proclaim: “Beauty is our secret weapon, because what we want to change is ugly,” I nearly jumped up and shouted “YES!” from my seat at the Living Future conference. Here is a compelling battle cry that allows us to visualize not only the theoretical talk of ugly externalities (like impoverished children picking through piles of e-waste) but also the beauty embedded in the promise of solving these unintended consequences of our industrial system (imagine those same children with access to education, food, and water).

What will the world look like when we can design solutions where the consequences of our systems – intended or unintended – are beneficial? Imagine the beauty of a future where our industrial systems contribute to healthy lives on this planet, providing income as well as healthy air, soil, and water.

I don’t think anyone believes this level of systems re-design will be easy, but to paraphrase Ray Anderson, “we have to start somewhere (anywhere), and if not us, then who?” Our Net-Works partnership provides a tantalizing glimpse of what these beneficial system consequences could be: replacing virgin petroleum-based raw materials (negative externalities aplenty) with used fishing nets harvested by Filipino villagers (inclusive business generating positive social, environmental, and economic benefits).

Perhaps R. Buckminster Fuller, the father of systems thinking in design, saw past the false dichotomy when he said, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” I now see that the emergence of deep beauty in our business models is not laughably insignificant, but in fact offers confirmation that we are heading in the right direction – and doing so in a way that will inspire others to join us.

Read Lindsay’s full blog (and others from the “Radical Industrialist” column) on GreenBiz.com

[Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Twitter] [Email]
Posted in Category 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