Case Study: Interface
For 21 years Interface operated instinctively under the traditional industrial model of ‘take-make-waste’, being heavily reliant on fossil fuels for their products, transportation and manufacturing. The turning point came in 1994 when a series of events led Ray Anderson to realize how little attention was being paid to the future, and the leading role the company could play in carving a new path, aiming towards a more sustainable industrial model and society. Interface wanted to show that if even a company that depends extensively on oil can transform itself, then any business can do it and no one will have an excuse not to do it.
It is clear Interface has successfully dispelled the myth that focusing on sustainability negatively affects the bottom line. If anything they have proven exactly the opposite. Since 1996 to 2013, Interface has reduced the manufacturing waste it sends to landfill by 84 %. About 49 % of all raw materials are now either recycled or bio-based, including 36 % of yarn and 51 % of carpet backing. Savings from avoided waste costs amounted to $450 million. In terms of energy, total energy use at the global factories has been reduced by 39 % per unit. Also, 36 % of energy consumed globally is from 100 % renewable sources (with 7 out of 9 facilities operating with 100 % renewable energy), and actual greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 41 %.
Climbing the 7 fronts of Mount Sustainability to reach Mission Zero
Restoring natural habitats by reclaiming and recycling old fish nets and turning them into carpet tiles
Introducing new systems such as the revolutionary TacTiles™ stickers, which allow for the installation of carpets without glue
Collaborating to build a biogas plant to convert methane from landfills into energy
Close the loop
ReEntry 2.0™, which separates the fibres and backings of old carpet tiles. The fibre is then recycled into new threads, which are combined with recycled yarn from discarded fishnets, to produce Biosfera™, a carpet with 100% recycled yarn
Interface applies carbon offset programs for both product shipping and employee commuting
Equipping everyone within Interface’s network with knowledge about sustainability and the 7 Fronts, offering tools and opportunities to promote that agenda
Tile exchange and Tile care programs aim to extend the life of a carpet through maintenance, reducing both costs for clients and environmental impact, as well as creating new jobs and markets
The Natural Step
Interface became the first US Company to adopt The Natural Step (TNS) framework and methodologies. Under the guidance of The Natural Step and other sustainability visionaries, a new vision for Interface was crafted – Mission Zero™; to eliminate any negative impact Interface has on the environment by 2020, showing it’s possible to create a better world, and being restorative by the power of our influence.
Interface included aspects from TNS’s Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development in the company’s strategic planning process and all employee training. Gradually the FSSD became a vital and visible part in the company’s operations and culture, and it was consistently positioned as providing the most rigorous definition of sustainability.
“Interface is committed to shifting from linear industrial processes to cyclical ones. To do this, we use a compass to guide us, and a set of tools to help us. They are both the result of The Natural Step”
“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 – and in doing so, become restorative through the power of influence”
“The Natural Step has helped us take strategic steps toward sustainability; build confidence, competence and commitment in our top managers; and communicate sustainability in a creative, clear and credible way. We realize that TNS’ systematic and holistic way of thinking is very similar to our FIRO inspired leadership program, they both start from the same position – it’s all about basic human needs!”
- Reduction in landfill manufacturing waste 84%
- Total recycled or bio-based raw materials 49%
- Reduction in greenhouse gas emission 41%
- Reduction in total energy use at global factories 36%
Shaping the Future
Interface’s business model as captured by Mission Zero has given it the edge over its competitors, and the company has been setting the pace for others by being the first to publish corporate sustainability reports, receiving LEED and ISO14001 certifications, and accrediting all their products with Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). Ray Anderson received a host of sustainability related accolades throughout his lifetime, as have other individuals at Interface and several of its products. The company itself was named by Fortune as one of the “Most Admired Companies in America”, and in the UK the company was recently awarded a second Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development. In addition, in 2012 the company was recognized as ‘Most Sustainable Large Corporate’ in the world by the International Green Awards initiative.