Interface promotes Environmental Sustainability
By Mariyam Khaja
For Canada to become a low carbon economy, consumer choices with respect to heating and transportation will need to change. However, so will business models still dependant on a take, make and dispose philosophy.
Carpet tiling and flooring company, Interface is a shining example of a business that remodeled itself to become a world leader in zero waste and an emerging giant in an effort to reverse climate change. How did this happen?
Interface’s mission to prioritize environmental sustainability initiatives launched in the early 1990s, when the company lost out on an opportunity to sell carpet tiles to one of the first green buildings in California.
“The consultant on that project was asking all these suppliers what the environmental position of each company was,” said Eric Meezan, Chief Sustainability Officer at Interface. “’I understand the product, but what is your company doing?’”
“Our sales team had no idea how to answer that question, and we eventually lost that project.”
While questions regarding the company’s environmental stance had been floating around prior to the deal falling through, this particular sale prompted then Interface CEO, Ray C. Anderson, to fundamentally re-consider the environmental impact of the company’s production and manufacturing.
Policies that started out as a way of appeasing consumer concerns quickly turned into an environmental mission. While researching sustainability initiatives, Meezan says Anderson became “truly inspired” to undertake a larger role in transforming Interface as an environmentally friendly company.
“He didn’t just set percentage production targets or say, ‘I’m going to do a little bit here or there,’” she said. “Rather he was so moved and put a hugely aspirational goal out there: zero impact, which he named mission zero.”
Twenty-five years later, mission zero is still active and in its final stages of completion. The goal behind the initiative is to turn Interface into a carbon-neutral company, effectively eliminating any negative impact the company has on the environment by the year 2020.
Meezan says Interface implemented key strategies to achieve this goal, which included making products and factories zero-foot print, moving their supply chain to have zero impact, ensuring systems were in place to re-use and recycle products at the end of their useful life, as well as ensuring programs were in place to help employees “live the mission.”
A 2017 evaluation of Mission Zero’s goals showed tremendous progress in the years since the initiative was launched. Some of its key highlights include: 88% of energy used at manufacturing sites come from renewable sources of energy, greenhouse gas emissions intensity at manufacturing sites is down 96% since 1996, and 58% of raw materials in selling products are derived from recycled or bio-based sources.
In 2016, the company expanded its environmental mission by launching “Climate Take Back”: an extension of the Mission Zero strategy that positioned Interface to focus on reversing global warming. Working towards this intiative meant not only reducing carbon emissions to net zero through Mission Zero goals, but also removing the excess carbon dioxide present in the environment.
While Interface is still experimenting with strategies that allow products and factories to store carbon, one prototype in the works is a carbon negative carpet tile. Individual parts of the tile, including the fibres on the carpet, the backing and some of the filler materials collectively store more carbon throughout its lifecycle than it takes to make the product.
Meezan says the company is working towards making a fully carbon negative carpet tile by the summer of 2020.
Reflecting on the company’s environmental mission, Meezan says it has helped Interface keep a competitive edge. “There’s a lot of data that says consumers believe that businesses need to put equal weight on societal interests and business interests,” she said.
“Incorporating sustainability practices- the way I see it- is that it isn’t a way to outcompete, but more of an idea that if you don’t have these policies in place, are you able to compete at all?”
To learn more about Interface’s environmental strategies, visit their website.
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