Since the UN Climate Change Conference in November (COP26) the climate conversation has intensified, with the discussion focusing on how to translate pledges and promises into measurable action. The conversation around how we protect the future of our planet was building across Europe, with the 20th National Sustainability Congress (NSC) in the Netherlands taking place at the same time. The NSC provides an annual platform for sustainability professionals to discuss and encourage sustainable development with best practices and innovative solutions.
The congress is the longest running sustainability conference in the world and holds a particular significance for us at Interface. Our founder, Ray Anderson, delivered a keynote speech at the fifth edition back in 2004, where he discussed climbing ‘mount sustainability’ – a roadmap to zero environmental impact and operating in a way that ideally takes nothing from the earth. Fast forward 18 years and we’ve declared Mission Zero® a success and we’re on to our next goal, Climate Take Back – to contribute to the reverse of global warming. It’s no longer enough to limit the damage we do, we need to work on having a regenerative, positive impact. How to achieve this formed a key part of discussions at the NSC.
It’s time to take action
Mirroring the conversations at COP26, taking action was unsurprisingly the hot topic of the day. We’re now in what’s been declared the ‘Decisive Decade’, with just under 10 years to go to keep global temperature rise limited to 1.5◦C.
A focus for discussion during the conference was the ‘green recovery’ and how funds for the recovery of the economy must go hand-in-hand with investments in combating further climate change.
The important question now is how do we take action? How do we, as consumers, manufacturers, businesses, NGOs and governments, work together to tackle climate change.
To start discussions on this, the congress kicked off with former Unilever CEO, and co-founder and chair of IMAGINE, Paul Polman, who along with leading CEOs announced that their companies had joined the United Nations’ Race to Zero. The UN’s global campaign rallies leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions and investors. The end goal is to create a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.
Setting the tone for the day, sustainable entrepreneur and energy commissioner Ruud Koornstra inspired the participants into taking action with a compelling opening speech. Keynote speakers Paul Polman and Chairman of the Rabobank Managing Board Wiebe Draijer then took to the floor to share their vision with the audience, which focused on the importance of regeneration. Paul Polman’s emotive, inspiring speech left participants reflecting on their own actions and responsibilities. He outlined that in order to transform businesses into ‘net positive’ and address the urgency of the climate crisis, business leaders should direct their business from the heart, using compassion and humility.
A personal highlight of the conference was delivering a workshop in partnership with the Dutch Green Building Council where I’m ambassador of their ‘#BuildingLife’ programme. The interactive session focused on raising awareness of embodied carbon and the carbon footprint of materials and products used to build or renovate buildings. If we continue to build and renovate in the current way, we will be out of the carbon budget that is left for the Dutch built environment in 5 to 7 years – based on the global carbon budget of the IPCC panel.
This means that the built environment needs to transform radically and start making conscious choices immediately and consider the embodied carbon footprint of renovations and new-build projects.
NS, the Dutch Railway organisation joined the discussion to explain how they reduced the carbon footprint of a recent building project by circular economy principles, for example re-using windows of old trains in the building. In order to realise a carbon neutral society, the built environment needs products and materials that are needed to support that.
At Interface, we recently took a huge step forward in this space. Last year, we launched Embodied Beauty, our first carpet tile collection to contain products that are not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative from cradle to gate. Made from at least 82.7% recycled and bio-based content and with a carbon footprint of -0.3kgCO2eq./m2, the tiles help businesses reverse the impact of global warming and are backed by an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) that contributes to all major green building standards.
To conclude the conference, true price expert Michel Scholte, former youth representative at the UN Hajar Yagkoubi and climate activist Werner Schouten talked about Network 2100, a group of 21 aspiring and established directors who have joined forces to prepare businesses for the future to ensure prosperity and inclusivity for people now and in 2100.
A key element of the event and a particularly important part for us as a company was the screening of Beyond Zero by independent documentary maker Nathan Harvey. The film, introduced by climate entrepreneur Maurits Groen, the 100 Months to Change campaign NL and conference owner and organiser Folkert van der Molen, offers inspiration and a roadmap for how businesses can transform radically and can contribute to reverse global warming. After the screening several pioneering companies were asked to the stage to explain how they make a difference.
The Beyond Zero film documents the journey of our founder, Ray Anderson, who set his company on a mission to change the world by changing his company into an enterprise that has a restorative and regenerative impact rather than a negative one.
The film explores how he ignited a new industrial revolution and helped his employees as well as businesses to understand the profit and potential in truly embracing sustainability – not as a nice to have, but as a way of doing business.
I was happy to be invited to the stage directly after the screening to share more on our most recent innovations including Embodied Beauty, and to pay gratitude to all colleagues from R&D and engineers, to operators and procurement in being persistent in continuing to showcase what is possible as a manufacturer.
Charlotte Extercatte of the 100 Months to Change NL campaign emphasised the importance for businesses to change and invited changemakers to unite in a community and get inspired by the documentary.
What needs to happen next
The outcome of both COP26 and the National Sustainability Congress is very clear – we need to take action now. Although, we saw positive progress with key pledges made at both conferences such as the UN Race to Zero, the time for talking is over and we need to make sure these pledges are translated into tangible action.
By holding companies accountable to their pledges, for example by requiring Net Zero targets to be science-based, this significantly raises the bar and ensures that businesses set both short- and long-term targets, and ensures trust in company claims to avoid greenwashing. At Interface, we fully agree with this and that’s why we have for 2030 ratified science-based targets to reduce our Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 50 per cent; our Scope 3 emissions from purchased products and services by 50 per cent; and our emissions from travel and commuting by 30 per cent (all from a 2019 base year).
There is a lot we need to do to make sure we’re on track to limit global temperature rise to 1.5◦C. As a manufacturer, we have an important role to play in helping to reduce our industry’s carbon footprint and our goal to become a carbon negative company by 2040 is our next step in this important journey.
The NSC were both brilliant platforms in terms of elevating the conversation – it’s so important that we keep that conversation going in 2022 and beyond, and maintain the sense of urgency that manifested immediately following the events. If we can share experiences and encourage one another on our individual journeys, we can make a collective and immediate difference.
The Dutch Green Building Council continues to take important steps with the recent launch of a roadmap for the built environment and a declaration of intent on reducing embodied carbon for the built environment. As an ambassador of the programme, I am happy to be contributing to the roadmap that gives insights on how stakeholders such as real estate, investors, architects and constructors can work to reduce the embodied carbon impact.
To find out more about the Building life program of the Dutch Green Building and the roadmap council, please visit: https://dgbc.foleon.com/building-life/building-life/voorpagina/
To find out more about Beyond Zero, visit: https://beyondzerofilm.com/