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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Shake the Cobwebs Loose: A Design Tour of Chicago

Chip DeGrace

For a guy like me who has teams of people working on two showrooms and a massive party venue, the Friday before NeoCon isn’t a good time for a boondoggle. That is unless the talented and convincing guys that produce the highly entertaining “Lunch and Learn” for Designer Pages call you to hang. Then it’s time to lean on your interns and turn the cell phone off.

So, I agreed to be the non-thespian foil for their band of pseudo designer participants in a NeoCon-themed episode titled “NeoCon’d.” The set up was for me to play myself, the design guy from Interface, and tour the memorable, misfit band around Chicago, exposing them to some unique, inspirational venues. These would be places near to my eccentric, designer heart. Places that most out of town conventioneers wouldn’t know existed, and if they did, they’d only go there on a dare.

Chip DeGrace in Lunch and Learn

“Lunch and Learn” characters Brick and Sebastian meet Chip DeGrace in the Interface showroom.

Consistent with the jag Interface has been on about the power of +Positive spaces, I noodled on a range of spots from the ridiculous to the sublime. The kind of joints that can shake the cobwebs loose in your noggin after you’ve been on back to back conference calls for the better part of a day. Our subtext for Interface’s product focus this year is creating flooring systems that can help designers create interiors that have variable, spatial moments that bring a full range of experience. Imagine your office legitimately surprising you, inspiring you and conversely calming you down just when you need it. I pondered the places I go to be as far from my regular inputs as possible. Inputs that can come romantically from nature or perversely from something you’ve found stuck on your shoe. Then, with three places in mind, we set off.

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“This is all about positivity!”

Tour Stop #1: The Odd

The first location on the tour was a crazy ass, retail emporium called Woolly Mammoth Antiques and Oddities.

Woolly Mammoth Antiques and Oddities

It was started in 2010 by a young couple who were inspired by a set of teeth that had been passed down to them. The shop has continued to collect medical oddities, preserved animal fetuses in jars, and other bizarre relics that now crowd every inch of shelf space. Countless bones and skulls are spread throughout the store, as well as biology manikins, outdated medical equipment and manuals, and copious amounts of strange taxidermy. The two-headed calf shares merchandising duties with an alligator that has been turned into a lamp with the bulb in its mouth.

Chip DeGrace at Woolly Mammoth

(Left) Actor Jamie Campbell examines the merchandise; (Right) Designer Pages CEO Jake Slevin gives Chip some pointers between takes.

Every inch is filled with interesting, one of a kind finds. Each solitary baby doll arm and vintage set of artificial eyeballs begs investigation and demands consideration. You become absorbed within the complexity of the goods presented, part of the composition, both staring and being stared at. Whatever was clogging your head is forgotten, giving you space for something new. Many an aspiring artist frequents this establishment for materials to use in their work, and original art by the owner is also available for sale. The Woolly Mammoth is a popular stop for Chicago locals who enjoy sifting through the overwhelming collection to unearth unique cultural fragments. The store even offers classes for anyone who wants to make taxidermy of their own, although philosophies on death are not included.

Tour Stop #2: The Peaceful

My tour group was just starting to breathe normally when we pulled up to the gates of our second stop, Graceland Cemetery. Though this choice seemed equally unorthodox at first glance and is full of the remains of dead people, it is a beautiful and serene oasis in the center of the city.

Graceland Cemetery

Founded in 1860, Graceland was a new type of cemetery. It wasn’t just a utilitarian place to bury the dead. Lush, sculptured, pastoral landscapes with sweeping vistas and carefully designed plantings create a park like atmosphere. The natural beauty surrounds grand mausoleums commissioned by wealthy patrons, designed by the best of the day. Many of the landscape designers and architects who shaped the cemetery are themselves buried there. This type of “rural cemetery” offers dignity to the dead and pleasure to their living visitors. So, many years later, the vibe is one of stepping into a textbook of the significant architecture and landscape design of the twentieth century. The bonus is your ability to talk to the authors, albeit it may be a one way conversation.

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Graceland Cemetery just what a cemetery should be: peaceful, contemplative and rich in spirit.

Graceland is sometimes called the “cemetery of architects” because so many esteemed members of the profession have been laid to rest here.

The list of significant contributors to modern architecture and design seems incomprehensible. Daniel Burnham, one of the city’s planners and head of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, is buried there on his own private island on Graceland’s placid lake. John Root and his partner William Holabird, Louis Sullivan, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, David Adler, Bruce Graham (architect of the Willis (Sears) Tower), William Le Baron Jenney (father of the American skyscraper), Marion Mahoney-Griffin (one of the first female licensed architects in the world) and many others who designed the Chicago we know today can also be found here. The architects’ and designers’ graves reflect in one last expression the ethos of their lives and practices.

Additionally, there’s no end to the names of famous Chicagoans that you’d recognize as you walk amongst the monuments, like Goodman, Palmer, Getty, Marshall Field, McCormick, Pullman, Wacker, the Cubs’ great Ernie Banks, Jack Johnson, and Medill, just to name a few. Their tombs and mausoleums range from magnificent opulence to surprising simplicity, and there’s plenty to explore away from the much-visited graves of the famous. Louis Sullivan’s design for Carrie Eliza Getty’s tomb has been called “the beginning of modern architecture in America.” It’s a testament not only to Sullivan’s imagination, but also to the way that such an environment can accommodate and even inspire a design that forever altered the world of architecture.

Perhaps the best thing about Graceland is that it’s just what a cemetery should be: peaceful, contemplative and rich in spirit.

Tour Stop #3: The Sublime

When we turned into the parking lot of the Lincoln Park Zoo at Fullerton and the Lake, my co-conspirators thought they were going to hang out with the gorillas. But I had something much more sublime in mind.

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The lily pond is an example of transcendent space. It’s difficult not to sit down, slow your breathing and take time.

Leaving the busloads of kids and the din of expressway speed traffic on Lake Shore Drive, we passed through a Prairie School style gate into an overlooked garden of unmatched beauty. Magically, only bird songs and the sound of a gentle waterfall break the restful silence. Interestingly, this pond is on the migratory path of over 5,000 songbirds. Follow the limestone walk encircling the lily pool and discover a pavilion, council ring, and diverse native plantings. This is the vision of landscape architect Alfred Caldwell: a hidden garden for the people of Chicago designed to resemble a river meandering through a great Midwestern prairie.

The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

The site of the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool was originally part of a Victorian garden built in 1889 that displayed tropical lilies and other aquatic plants. When the Victorian-style garden fell out of popularity, the hour-glass shaped pond and its environs had fallen into ruin and disrepair. the Lily Pool fell into disrepair until 1936 when Alfred Caldwell redesigned the pool and its surrounding area. By the 1930s Landscape architect Alfred Caldwell was hired by the Works Progress Administration to completely redesign this area of Lincoln Park. Caldwell realized that the Lily Pool presented him with the unique opportunity to realize his poetic symbolism and design theories and philosophies.

Small in scale, it was designed to bring the Midwestern prairie natural planting vocabulary to a lily pond. Niagra limestone lines the walk, and once you stop and view the pond, depending upon where you are standing, you may view it as a running brook or as a pond. The stunning, small, pergola-like buildings in Prairie style are often mistaken as a work of Caldwell’s friend Frank Lloyd Wright.

Lily Pool

The small, pergola-like buildings are often mistaken as a work of Caldwell’s friend Frank Lloyd Wright.

In 1938 the project was nearing completion and the park district decide to cut a major expenditure for wildflower plantings. Caldwell cashed in his $5000 life insurance policy for $250, bought thousands of plants and transported them from Sauk County, Wisconsin. The next day he planted them all around the lily pools with the help of four others.

Ironically, the history of the pond and the small park that surrounds it has had cycles of decay and rebirth, not unlike the prairie that it attempts to emulate. In the early 1950s, the pool was transformed into a water exhibit featuring exotic birds and water fowl and came to be known as The Rookery. Overgrazing by zoo birds had a devastating effect on the lily pond. A lack of landscaping management (allowing invasive plants and “weed” trees to take over the understory), heavy human foot traffic, uncontrolled erosion and the introduction of plant materials that were invasive to the existing lilies substantially damaged the garden. In 1997, the Chicago Park District, with the help of private donations, created a Master Plan to restore Caldwell’s historic landscape and improve accessibility.

The lily pond is an example of transcendent space. It’s difficult not to sit down, slow your breathing and take time. My message to my band of design padawans was that the job of designers is to create spaces that engage and enrich the user. Not in a specific, linear, programmed way, but rather by giving people the opportunity to experience the ridiculous to the sublime in their every day. To mimic the magic, wonder and even fear we experienced in both the designed and organic environments we sampled on our travels is to create enriching, positive spaces.

Chip DeGrace in Lunch and Learn

“I feel… positive.” That’s a wrap.

For inspiration with a side of laughs, watch our episode Neocon episode of “Lunch and Learn.”

Posted in Category Design Inspirations, NeoCon | 1 Comment

Building a Sustainable Future

Rick Ridgeway

This is a guest blog post from Rick Ridgeway, Vice President of Public Engagement at Patagonia, Inc. On April 6, Interface’s Erin Meezan participated in an ISSP webinar with Rick Ridgeway, of Patagonia, and John Tran, of Unilever.

As a follow-up to this webinar, we wanted to answer some questions we could not get to in the short time frame. One follows below, answered by Ridgeway.

What is Patagonia’s outlook towards sustainable buildings?
One of our corporate bylaws (and benefit purposes) is ‘conduct operations with no unnecessary harm.’ A large part of this corporate mandate applies to our own operations, so we take our own footprint and ‘cleaning up our own act first’ very seriously. We always try to minimize the impacts of our buildings to the greatest extent possible. For example, for retail stores we use repurposed materials from local sources as much as possible for store build-outs; at our Ventura campus we have solar panels and bioswales; and at our Reno distribution center we have a unique ‘air flush’ system that pumps cool air in at night to naturally regulate the temperature of the building.

Patagonia solar panels

Solar panels installed at the Patagonia headquarters. Photography courtesy of Patagonia. Credit: Tim Davis.

But, we also know what we are constrained at times, since we don’t own many of our locations, but rather are long-term tenants. So, we don’t have full control over the building systems or characteristics in many places. We try to approach each of our locations individually in context and see what we can do that is most feasible and impactful. We recently adopted a set of ‘Sustainable Building Principles’ that is largely based off of the International Living Futures Institute’s ‘Living Building Challenges’ criteria for sustainable buildings. These are principles that guide our building design and operations and integrated into our facilities, retail, and operations teams to implement.

For more information on Patagonia’s sustainable buildings, please visit: www.patagonia.com/resource-use.html

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Better Habitats for Humans – Part 1

David Gerson

The Living Future unConference in Seattle celebrated its 11th anniversary this May. The enthusiasm for creating buildings and interiors that support positive, healthy and equitable environments for all was palpable.

The kick off to three days of learning, sharing and festivities was the 2nd annual Biophilic Design Summit. The goal for this year’s program was to provide a day of learning and interactive experiences that took attendees beyond the more familiar aspects of biophilic design and explore lesser practiced patterns, such as non-rhythmic sensory stimulation.

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Members of the Biophilic Design Advisory board who helped to shape and facilitate the event. From left to right: Richard Placenti, Sonja Bochart, Vivian Loftness, Amanda Sturgeon, Julia Africa, Bill Browning, David Gerson, Nicole Isle and Judi Heerwagen (Not pictured: Edna Catumbela and Denise DeLuca)

The day began with the renowned author, speaker and practitioner of biophilic design, Judi Heerwagen of the US General Services Administration. Her presentation centered on how we could create better “Habitats for Humans.” She challenged us to consider our built spaces from an evolutionary psychology and biology perspective and incorporate the aspects of our ancient habitats that made us feel safe and connected to our tribe. In short, a green wall or windows alone cannot create a “habitat.” It must be holistic and integrated.

She also provided striking examples of modern habitats that are drastically different. Some incorporated our innate needs as living beings and others discounted them in favor of convenient, yet draining environments.

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Although Judi showed numerous examples of good human habitat design, she focused in on six key points:

  • Focus on indoor geography – prospect, refuge, pathways
  • Create an indoor atmosphere with daylight, sky and operable windows
  • Provide sensory change and variability
  • Support social engagement
  • Use natural patterns
  • Enable ongoing connection to nature

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Buildings can do more than simply house people. They can create habitats that fulfill our needs to connect with the earth, nature and each other.

For more information on the effects of biophilic design in the workplace, check out the Human Spaces research report.

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Shifting the Game: A Discussion on Climate Change

Nadine Gudz

“Are you really a carpet company?” asked the City of Toronto’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat. “I am just so inspired by what you are doing and that is an unexpected outcome of being here this afternoon.”

That’s just one of the comments I heard during an event that Interface and the David Suzuki Foundation convened in Toronto with an esteemed group of leaders from across many business sectors, including commercial real estate, energy, tech, banking, building and construction.

Talking climate change

Our goal was to facilitate a dialogue with these leaders to spark new thinking and challenge one another to raise our ambition levels to address climate change. As we embark on our Climate Take Back mission, we’re eager to partner with other thought-leading, reputable, influential organizations to advance our thinking on carbon.

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Long time champion of the environment and world-renowned geneticist, Dr. David Suzuki opened with reflections on some of the first science-based research and early predictions he had seen on global warming in the 1970s and 80s. He lamented the slow, detrimental pace to address the largest issue facing humanity while atmospheric carbon continues to reach unprecedented levels. He reinforced how governments don’t tend to be the pioneers of change and that the business community has an opportunity to leverage its influence and innovate.

“We need to shift the game!” Dr. Suzuki exclaimed during his opening speech. He pointed to Ray Anderson as an example of a unique visionary who fundamentally understood the interconnectedness of life on Earth and redesigned his business accordingly. Sustainability just makes good business sense on a finite planet. Dr. Suzuki talked about Ray’s original vision for climbing Mount Sustainability to zero footprint and the relevance it still holds today for the business community.

Reflecting on a climate journey

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I found it quite meaningful to have the opportunity to reflect on the evolution of our journey with a thoughtful, iconic ambassador of the environment like Dr. Suzuki. He has been a long-time supporter of Interface. At the age of 81, Dr. Suzuki remains one of the world’s strongest, most passionate and insightful champions of sustainability.

Members of the audience asked for his perspective on the current political climate and how this will impact needed advancements. Dr. Suzuki said he refuses to lose hope and referred to US President Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord as a gift to the rest of the world. The galvanizing of efforts around the world, including governments and business leaders stepping up to form new alliances and coalitions tells a very hopeful story.

Citybuilding

Following Dr. Suzuki’s opening, Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat passionately reinforced how citybuilding is key to a healthy climate future. Addressing tensions between needs and wants is part of the challenge. She stressed the importance of learning to live “smaller,” drawing lessons from New York City where residents are among city dwellers living with the smallest environmental footprints in North America.

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I then had the honour of joining a panel discussion with Jennifer Keesmaat and Lisa Bate, green building guru and principal with B+H Architects, to share perspectives from industry and the building community. How do we go beyond zero carbon? Believing it’s possible is the first step. The group acknowledged that this can be hard when dominant media messaging is doom and gloom and explored the need to reframe the conversation. We have an opportunity to create the future that we want, but we start by asking what that looks like. Creating a climate fit for life needs more than the energy transition. It’s time to broaden our understanding of the carbon opportunity and shift it from a liability to a resource.

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In addition to sharing our Climate Take Back plan and Proof Positive prototype tile, the panel shared other examples of solutions underway, including Canadian innovations like Carbon Cure. Carbon Cure technology recycles waste carbon dioxide into greener, more affordable concrete products.

My biggest takeaway? Dr. Suzuki echoed what climate leaders said in a recent survey to climate leaders: business as usual is a barrier to creating a climate fit for life. The solutions exist and they are starting to shift the game, cultivating a new wave of climate optimism. Game on!

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